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For the Brewers, lineup construction may go deeper than simple platoons

Expect position player high-stakes roulette in 2020

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

While we all would love for the Milwaukee Brewers to collect top-tier players you can rely on daily, that was not necessarily in the cards for 2020 (maybe that was due, in part, to a planned Christian Yelich extension). Instead, GM David Stearns has put together a unique group of mostly-versatile guys boasting mixed success at the big league level.

On the surface it looks like a strategy to focus on quantity over quality - a belief that if you bring enough players in, one or two of them will have a standout season. At worst, multiple positions have the feel of being manned by traditional platoons among the men.

But somehow, that seems a bit too simple for Stearns and company. If we have learned nothing else from Milwaukee´s back-to-back playoff appearances, it is that the organization explores various avenues, metrics, and outside-the-box thought to maximize talent and give their club an edge on any given night...position player high-stakes roulette.

So there has to be more to the roster construction for 2020. The traditional left-right platoon does not seem to be what is truly in play here. While it could work out that way at times, the sheer volume of players who can be swapped in and out at multiple positions is an indication that something else is afoot.

Assuming health entering the regular season, Yelich and Keston Hiura may be the only two Brewers to realistically see 135+ starts in 2020, with Avisail Garcia around there, too. This comes from a combination of trying to keep players healthy and fresh (Lorenzo Cain, Ryan Braun) and the potential lineup and position variance Craig Counsell will play with.

I recently said on a podcast that the Brewers could feature 120 different lineups by the end of the season. No, really. Expect them to mix and match in every way imaginable beyond simple platoons, while rotating more than 20 position players through the clubhouse.

Without knowing what type of advanced statistics the Brewers like to use or which metrics they trust most, the organization and Counsell will dig deep to separate the wheat from the chaff.

One significant area to watch for is how each hitter fares against certain types of pitches. Keep in mind, this is just my theory on what the Brewers may use to determine some lineups, but an example of potential thinking.

While pitchers have slight differences in velocity, spin, and movement of pitch types, it may be an indicator of how - in general - a hitter can manage a particular pitch. For example, Fangraphs has a statistic called pitch values per 100 where run value is given for each type of pitch - in this case, per 100 of those pitches.

Yelich has a 1.71 wFA/C (pitch value versus a four-seam fastball per 100) in his career, but boasted a 3.02 wFA/C in 2019...or 3 runs per 100 fastballs. On the flip side, Orlando Arcia had a -3.02 wFA/C in 2019 and a -1.61 mark for his career. That displays a bit of the value on a basic level.

In fairness, there can be various factors that impact these numbers, including changes in swing, the quality of the type of pitch a hitter faces, etc. So while this may not have a true predictive value, it can still be a valuable tool, at least in my humble opinion. But certain pitches may be easier or tougher for hitters because of swing mechanics, approach, or other hidden factors - so why not examine it?

So how would this work with the 2020 Crew?

Using a metric like this may sometimes go directly against a typical left-right advantage. For example, when the Brewers face Luis Castillo of the Cincinnati Reds, a guy whose changeup accounted for 32.5% of his pitches last year - and is nasty to boot. With Castillo being a righty, you might think Eric Sogard would start at third base over Jedd Gyorko.

However, Sogard has a -2.05 wCH/C (runs per 100 changeups) in his career while Gyroko is basically average at -0.18 overall, despite a brutal 2019 campaign. It may be similar when a hurler features a cut fastball where Gyroko has a sizeable advantage over Sogard.

This statistic could also be used to determine when guys like Cain, Braun, or even Garcia get their days off - at times when they may have been more likely to struggle anyway. It can also afford Counsell to put players in ideal spots against pitch types that they have had success against in the past.

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Milwaukee Brewers
Cain and Braun may see more time off at strategic times each week.
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Pitchers utilizing a cutter might be one of those cases for Ben Gamel to get a rare start. Gamel has had lots of success hitting cutters (2.59 wFC/C), while that pitch has been among the least valuable for Garcia (-0.71), Cain (-0.38), and Braun (0.60) in their careers - and an even bigger issue for Braun the last two seasons.

Of course, that is if Gamel is even on the active roster when that situation arises. You know the Brewers will have guys up and down at various points, only adding to the likelihood of 120 or more different lineups.

If Hiura needs a day off, choose a starter who features a good curve. That is a pitch Sogard and Luis Urias (small sample) have enjoyed, while Hiura has not (small sample). Facing a southpaw who throws a quality changeup? Maybe Omar Narvaez still gets the start over Manny Pina, despite the platoon disadvantage with Navarez at 0.13 and Pina at -1.86 against that pitch.

Some (many?) may say pitch value per 100 is not a reliable stat to work from and that it is in a similar category as pitcher versus hitter stats. Plus, there can obviously be variance from pitcher-to-pitcher on quality.

However, even if are not a believer in this specific set of numbers, trust that Milwaukee will have an array of other metrics to use on a daily basis to create the optimal lineup for success. A lot of times, it will not make sense to us on the surface, but they do not do anything without checking every angle.

One other note: defensive value could come into play as well. While it appears the Brewers worried less about infield defense this season, they may emphasize it more depending on who is pitching for them that day or how much offense they think either team will get.

If a ground ball pitcher like Adrian Houser or Brett Anderson are starting, better defensive options on the infield might be the focus. How much does the defense outweigh the offense in each situation.

Counsell did this late in 2017, starting Hernan Perez at shortstop over Arcia when more of a fly ball pitcher was on the mound. So when it was less likely the shortstop position would see much action, Counsell chose offense over defense while looking to find ways to score more runs. Just another layer to the use of depth in 2020.

In the end, the goal is to prove that for the Milwaukee Brewers, the sum of its parts are greater than the whole - and that will lead to another playoff berth. Know one knows if it will actually work, but I think we will all have a lot of fun watching it unfold.

Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs