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Brew Crew Ball Mailbag #3: Where do Jason Alexander and Pedro Severino fit on a healthy roster?

Answering this week’s questions for the weekly mailbag

MLB: JUN 23 Cardinals at Brewers Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Happy Friday, everyone, and welcome to this week’s edition of the Brew Crew Ball Mailbag!

The Brewers spent most of this week treading water, which is not necessarily a bad thing. After sweeping the Reds, they split another four-game series with the Cardinals. The two teams enter today tied atop the National League Central. Next up is a three-game showdown with the Blue Jays.

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

Duckbroh asks:

What has happened to Kolten Wong’s defense this season? He is in the first percentile of Outs Above Average this season while he has been near the 80th percentile for most of his career, including being in the 75th percentile last year. I don’t know how to read fielding stats very well, so I’m curious, what are the driving factors behind his defense being so bad this season?

I wish I had an answer for you on the root of Wong’s problems in the field, but I definitely think that they’re not being covered enough.

The two-time Gold Glover has been legitimately dreadful in the field this year. In addition to ranking near the bottom of the league in Outs Above Average, he has also been two runs below average according to Defensive Runs Saved, putting him on pace for a -6 mark in a full season.

It looks even worse if you’re more of a traditionalist when it comes to evaluating defense. Wong has committed seven errors in just 428 innings, which translates to the worst fielding percentage of his career. That doesn’t include the numerous times he has fumbled a ball trying to take it out of his glove but recovered to make a throw.

This aspect of his struggles is most concerning. If it was strictly a range issue, it could be attributed to a nagging injury. However, it looks like Wong has lost the ability to handle the baseball. There are no obvious solutions for such a problem, making it even more severe.


What should the brewers do with Alexander once Woodruff and Ashby are back healthy? Personally, if he’s still pitching well I’d keep him in the rotation and move Ashby back to the pen where he excelled earlier in the year. Thoughts?

I’m bullish on some elements of Alexander’s performance and more bearish on others. His sinker is a legitimately good pitch. It may even be better than Adrian Houser’s. The pitch averages 30.2 inches of sink as it approaches the plate. That’s an extra 6.8 inches compared to the typical 92-93 mph sinker, ranking sixth among all sinkers this year.

Thanks to that bowling ball sinker, Alexander has the ability to post elite ground ball rates. That’s partially why he’s been able to work through so much traffic this year.

That said, I don’t think it is enough to make him a viable big-league starter. Even after striking out five Cardinals on Thursday, Alexander still has just a 10.5% strikeout rate against an 8.9% walk rate. That just won’t cut it.

It’s also pretty clear that the magic of the sinker begins to wear off once opponents have seen him multiple times in a game. He has allowed seven of his 12 runs in the fifth inning and beyond, which has usually coincided with hitters facing him for the third time.

Finally, Alexander’s xERA, SIERA, and DRA are all north of 5.00. Even if he can beat those estimators to an extent with lots of ground balls, some significant regression is on the way.

Once the rotation is closer to full strength, I think Alexander fits best in the bullpen as a ground ball specialist. The Brewers can match him up against some right-handed hitters in the middle innings, and his ability to induce double plays could help him excel at stranding inherited runners.

You’re not the first to suggest moving Ashby back to the bullpen. Personally, I don’t understand the eagerness to stop giving him starts. His slider, curveball and changeup already look like plus pitches, and his 95-99 mph sinker has incredible movement from the left side. Ashby has the arsenal to be a fantastic starter. Give him some time to grow and iron out the command issues.

leche010 asks:

What do you suppose the plan is for when Severino is reinstated, given he’s out of options and post-season ineligible?

I think Severino will see plenty of at-bats at designated hitter and first base against left-handed pitching. He has made two starts as a DH and one at first base so far during his rehab assignment in AA Biloxi.

Severino’s presence on the roster as a third catcher will also give the Brewers the option to start both Omar Narvaez and Victor Caratini in the same lineup against right-handers. If one of them catches and the other serves as the DH, Severino would still be available off the bench as the backup catcher. That could be preferable to starting Andrew McCutchen.

Is Craig actually a good in-game decision manager? Obviously this is recency bias looking at last night, but I find myself criticizing his decisions quite often. I know there’s differing strategies between long term vs short term, but he doesn’t seem to be very good at maximizing his team’s chances to win a specific baseball game

I think that having a strong starting rotation and back end of the bullpen the past couple of years has led Counsell to be less creative and use a more traditional approach with his pitching management. You don’t have to worry about three times through the batting order with guys like Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta. Josh Hader, Devin Williams and Brad Boxberger are all good enough that you don’t need to mix and match who pitches which inning to create the perfect matchups.

However, injuries have cut into the pitching depth in recent weeks, which is why I think we’re seeing some starters get the chance to work deeper into games than they otherwise should have. It’s also forced some shaky middle relievers into higher leverage spots.

As for the long-term versus short-term debate, I think Counsell’s management style benefits the Brewers on both ends of that spectrum. This is most true with his bullpen management.

Counsell usually refuses to use his high-leverage arms when the Brewers are losing by any margin. It may seem like he’s punting the game, but win probability proves that comebacks in such games are not as common as you might think. Instead of wasting his best bullets in games that the Brewers are highly likely to lose, he keeps them fresh for games in which they’re leading. It’s no coincidence that Counsell’s teams have racked up so many one-run wins in recent years.

ShodoanSS asks:

Keston has played I believe one game in the outfield so far this season. Is there any chance he could play their semi-regularly? Seems like his arm couldn’t be worse than Christian’s...

I’ve been saying since last year that while Hiura is a poor defender no matter where you put him, outfield is the closest thing he has to a natural position.

It’s become increasingly clear that Hiura is not an infielder. His struggles with throwing the ball to first base are well documented, but his footwork is also poor. Furthermore, his small stature makes him a poor fit at first base.

Most of Hiura’s playing time in college came as a center fielder. Between the regular season and summer ball, he played in 137 games on the grass, including 92 in center. While Hiura’s arm in left field would be poor, I bet he’d be better at running down a fly ball than he is at fielding a ground ball and throwing to first base.

Of course, whether Hiura actually sees much time in the outfield depends on his offensive performance moving forward, Andrew McCutchen’s role, and whether or not Christian Yelich starts spending more regular time at DH.

nullacct asks:

Christian Yelich in the leadoff spot is
a) a fantastic move
b) long overdue
c) the perfect way to use his talents
d) a way to release the pressure of being ‘the guy’ n the middle of the order
e) all of the above

E. Yelich still has an excellent understanding of the strike zone and can draw a ton of walks if he isn’t pressing to be a run-producer. He’s also an excellent baserunner with above-average speed. Let him use the two skills that have not disappeared while his bat has remained inconsistent.

Laueroutage asks:

Hi Jack, I think everyone would assume Cardinals had a much better lineup. Yet interestingly, Brewers got a much better team xwoba(0.331) and xwobacon(0.394) than Cardinals xwoba(0.318) and xwobacon(0.358). Why is it that guys like Adames and Tellez had much better batted ball profile than Goldschmidt and Arenado, yet their performance lagged behind so much. I had my own theories as to why it happens, but I really want to know your thoughts.

I’ve been a lot more cautious with using Statcast’s “expected” stats this year than I have in years past because we’re dealing with a different ball this year. Stats like xwOBA and xwOBAcon arrive at their conclusions by drawing from the entire sample of batted balls since Statcast went public in 2015. A significant portion of that sample includes results from “juiced” balls that behaved differently than the current ones.

This is worth taking a deeper look at, but my initial hunch is that the Brewers—especially Adames and Tellez—are hitting lots of fly balls that often became home runs or doubles with the old balls but are now routine flyouts with the new balls. For this reason, Statcast thinks that the Brewers have gotten unlucky.

Statcast has labeled 29.4% of Milwaukee’s batted balls this season as fly balls, which is the third-highest among all teams. That would certainly make them potential victims of a deadened ball. The Cardinals, meanwhile, have a flyball rate that sits more in the middle of the pack. Milwaukee is underperforming their xwOBA, but the Cardinals’ actual results (.319 wOBA) line up perfectly with their expected ones (.318 xwOBA).

WiscoJoe asks:

Which Brewers players would you guess we will see better production from during the second half of the season?

Luis Urias. A late start to his season and the thumb injury he has battled in recent weeks have left him in a tough spot offensively. He’s a talented young player, and I wouldn’t rule out a big second half from him.

Thanks for the great questions this week!