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Brew Crew Ball Mailbag #1: Christian Yelich, trade targets, and hitting labs

Answering this week’s questions for the weekly mailbag

San Diego Padres v Milwaukee Brewers Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images

Happy Friday, and welcome to the first Brew Crew Ball mailbag of the year!

Every Friday, I’ll be answering your burning questions about the Brewers, baseball in general, and other occasional nonsense that you deem worthy of discussion.

With that, let’s get to this week’s questions.

metalmilitia844 says:

Suter, it was fun while it lasted but your stuff is pure garbage that isn’t fooling anyone this year

As you said, it has been fun most of the time. From his return after Tommy John surgery in September 2019 through the end of last season, Suter posted an excellent 2.70 ERA (161 ERA+) in 123.1 innings as a multi-inning reliever and spot starter.

I wouldn’t describe his stuff as pure garbage. Yes, he throws slow, but a deceptive delivery and the unique “rise-cut” movement on his fastball have made it an effective pitch for most of his career.

This season, however, Suter has struggled to a 5.32 ERA in 22 innings. Some of it is bad luck—his average exit velocity and hard hit rate are in the 93rd and 98th percentiles, respectively—but he is suffering from a career-worst .329 BABIP and 64.1% strand rate.

At the same time, the veteran is not exactly putting himself in positions to succeed. The whiff rate on his fastball is down to 17%, and his overall strikeout rate has fallen to just 15%. Meanwhile, he is issuing walks at a career-worst 9.5% rate.

I’m not ready to give up on Suter quite yet, and the Brewers probably aren’t, either. His K/BB ratio is awful, but hitters still are not squaring him up. He’s been relegated to low-leverage duties lately, so he’s not hurting the team when he pitches. There’s no harm in keeping him on board to see if he can turn things around.

kozlow22 asks:

Why wont Yelich adopt his approach from 2018 and 2019? Fangraphs has a great article about what he was doing well then and it wasn’t an overall launch angle improvement. He was attacking the right pitches and elevating those.

Now he seems like JJ hardy and has no real intentions to swing at the first pitch even if its hittable. He also, seems to be too passive in general on hittable pitches. Being selective is good until you go too far.

His 1st pitch swinging % is down 10 to 11% from his MVP seasons and his meatball swings are down 5ish%. There are more numbers to back this up but I digress

I’ve talked about this before, but Yelich has not been any more passive in recent seasons than he was when he was with the Marlins, and he was a successful hitter in Florida.

In Yelich’s case, I think those first-pitch swings and overall aggressiveness are just as much a reflection of his comfort level in the box as they are a conscious approach. He was about as locked in as a hitter can be in the second half of 2018 and all of 2019, so it’s not all that surprising that he was more aggressive early in counts and on pitches in the zone.

It’s sort of a chicken or the egg scenario. Did Yelich break out because he swung more, or was he swinging more because his swing was so locked in and he felt like he could crush anything in the zone?

Either way, I’m still more concerned about what happens when Yelich does swing than how often he’s swinging. Is he hitting the ball hard and finding the barrel, or is he fouling back hittable fastballs over the plate and flailing at breaking balls?

I’m not opposed to Yelich swinging more, especially if his struggles continue for a few more weeks and he reaches a point where there’s nothing to lose. However, I’m not convinced that it’s all that likely to help him.

Spaul149 asks:

Who is a realistic trade target(s) for the Brewers?

What is about the price of that acquisition?

In terms of offensive trade targets, David Stearns and Matt Arnold have usually focused on rental hitters with a 100 to 110 wRC+ who can be had for some upper-level minor league players who were not in the big league team’s future plans. Mike Moustakas for Brett Phillips and Jorge Lopez, and Eduardo Escobar for Cooper Hummel are great examples.

If they want a left-handed corner outfield option to replace Andrew McCutchen against right-handed pitching, Royals left fielder Andrew Benintendi (career 108 wRC+) might be the best fit. Diamondbacks veteran David Peralta (career 111 wRC+, 105 this season) also fits the bill.

I also wouldn’t rule out the Brewers making a run at Pirates’ centerfielder Bryan Reynolds. They supposedly made a “big-time offer” for him at last year’s deadline, and Reynolds seems like the kind of player they would make a rare all-in move to acquire. He’s in his physical prime, hits both for average and for power, draws walks, and has some speed—similar to Yelich when Miami shipped him out. As a bonus, he would slot in nicely in center field, where the Brewers have gotten lackluster performances from Lorenzo Cain and Tyrone Taylor.

However, Reynolds has gotten off to a tough start this season, and the Pirates may be hesitant to deal inside the division, so there are significant hurdles to such a deal. But it’s possible.

AKBrewFan asks:

Your intuition is correct. The Score’s Travis Sawchik recently covered the current state of hitting versus the state of pitching at the game’s highest level. The piece contained a couple of interesting quotes from coaches within MLB organizations.

Cardinals minor-league hitting coordinator Russ Steinhorn believes that hitters are currently going through a process with new technology and evaluation tools that pitching already did. It took pitchers and coaches a few years to figure out what various metrics mean, their significance, and how to use them to their advantage. Hitters are currently going through these same steps with their own data.

Meanwhile, former Brewers hitting coach Andy Haines noted that hitters are still trying to find ways to catch up to the recent developments in pitching.

“The reality is, we’re constantly trying to catch up on the offensive side to the pitching infrastructure in the game. That’s the reality of it.”

It’s important to remember that hitting is more reactionary than pitching. Pitchers control the game. Every play starts with them. They decide which pitch they want to throw, how they want the ball to move, and where they want to throw it.

New technology and training methods directly assist with that. Pitchers are throwing harder than ever with sweeping breaking balls, and they are throwing fewer fastballs in every count.

Hitters, meanwhile, can try to follow along and sit on a certain pitch based on the scouting report and the situation, but at the end of the day, they have to react to the ball’s velocity, spin and movement when it comes out of the pitcher’s hand. They have less than half a second to do this. Hitters don’t have the same level of control as pitchers.

I think a “hitting lab” that mirrors modern pitching facilities is possible, but it would take a few years before we see any results. Hitters are still trying to figure out the best way to understand and use technology and how to respond to modern pitching.

Brew Crew Buster asks:

The development of statistical modeling has transformed the game into a three true outcome fest. What can baseball do to move the needle back to a game with more nuance and greater opportunities for runs to occur without reliance on homeruns?

Baseball would need to find a way to make putting the ball in play and racking up hits a more practical method for scoring runs than swinging for the fences.

The reality is that in the current playing environment, the best way to score runs is by being passive on anything off the plate and trying to do damage on anything in the zone. Because of how good pitching and defensive positioning have gotten, stringing hits together is not as easy as it used to be. Strikeouts continue to rise, and batting averages continue to drop.

Research has also proven that small ball plays like sac bunts were never as effective as people perceived them to be, which is another reason why we’ve seen an increased emphasis on players who specialize in driving the ball versus simply putting it in play.

If you’re looking for the league to intervene, deadening the baseball and banning the shift are places to start. That would make it more difficult to drive the ball over the fence and easier to pick up hits on balls that are not elevated.

After that, there are no easy answers. Pitchers are really good, and you can’t force them to throw slower, throw fewer breaking balls, or stop trying on the mound.

bucky1gizmo2 asks:

A train carrying the Brewers team leaves Milwaukee at 8:00 am heading south, averaging 30 mph.

Another train carrying the Cardinals headed in the same direction leaves Milwaukee at 11:00 am, averaging 60 mph. To the nearest tenth, how many hours after the Cardinals train leaves will it overtake the Brewers train?

Math was my worst subject in school.

Thanks for your questions, everyone! Submissions for next week’s mailbag will open next Wednesday.