clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Brew Crew Ball Mailbag #4: Evaluating first base defense and trading for Bryan Reynolds

Answering this week’s questions for the weekly mailbag

St. Louis Cardinals v Milwaukee Brewers Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

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

We had some great questions this week, so let’s dive right in.

Mtcunning3 asks:

Are you willing to walk back on your McCutchen take from your 2nd mailbag? Or are you still not a believer?

I certainly won’t complain about the nice run that McCutchen has been on since snapping his 0-32 streak. He’s slashing .301/.402/.482 since June 3, which is good for a 150 wRC+.

What stands out most is that McCutchen is back to drawing more walks, posting a 12.4% walk rate during this stretch. I previously argued that his more aggressive approach was not leading to more power and was limiting his usefulness on the roster. Perhaps he’s made the adjustment.

That said, McCutchen’s recent performance does nothing to change my take on the Brewers signing him to be a big bat. My displeasure is based on his numbers against right-handers in recent seasons, not a reaction to how he has performed this year.

I don’t think he’s done enough to disprove the criticism. He still has a below-average 89 wRC+ against right-handed pitching this year. If he ends up with solid numbers in that area by the end of the season, I would be happy to eat my words. I still don’t expect it to happen, though.

AnExiledBadger asks:

What percent of Brewer runs are from home runs, and what is the MLB average?

Baseball Prospectus has that data available here in what is referred to as Guillen Number, named after former White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen.

The Brewers have the third-highest Guillen Number this season, scoring 48.7% of their runs via the long ball. The league average is 39.3%.

Big10freak asks:

I find the advanced fielding assessments of Rowdy unduly harsh. When I watch the man I see a guy who provides a good target on throws, soft hands, and he’s always where he is supposed to be on the classic in-between plays that evolve involving a pitcher or second baseman. But apparently his range is ‘so’ limited Baseball Ref and Fangraphs gives him Fielderesque grades. Which having seen both players I find rather absurd. Love Prince who gave effort but that was about it. I mean he wasn’t Juan Francisco but Fielder was a poor first baseman. Tellez strikes me as being adequate where his range restrictions offset to some degree by other things he brings to the position. Long-winded way of saying, what the hell?

I think that advanced defensive metrics, while imperfect, are a much better way to evaluate a player’s glovework than simply looking at fielding percentage. That said, I don’t think range-based stats are great for evaluating first basemen because such metrics do not focus on the most important aspects of playing the position.

Most plays at other infield positions involve handling a ground ball and making a strong and accurate throw, so great range and arm strength are necessary to be a plus defender. That’s not the case at first base, where the defender’s main job is to be a good target and turn any remotely close throw into an out. The most important skills at first base are stretching for errant throws while maintaining contact with the bag and picking low throws out of the dirt.

Unfortunately, there is no metric for stretching or having soft hands. Tellez has poor range, which is not surprising for a man of his stature, but he makes most of the plays you would count on a solid first baseman to make. He’s a big target, and he has made some pretty impressive picks at times.

If you take a peek at the Defensive Runs Saved leaderboard among qualified first basemen since 2020, you’ll notice that most of the defenders with a positive DRS also have a positive range evaluation (rPM). While having great range is a plus at any position, including first base, I don’t think it’s a prerequisite to playing solid defense there. Tellez does just fine in the field.

metalmilitia844 asks:

Should the brewers try to go “all in” in attempting to acquire Reynolds from the pirates? The cost will be very high but the brewers need an upgrade at CF. The brewers tried to get him before the season and a source has indicated Reynolds prefers to be traded to either the Rays or Brewers (even though it’s out of his control) If not Reynolds, any other CF should the brewers try for?

The Brewers should absolutely go all-in for Reynolds. He fills a position of need, is in the prime of his career, and is making just $6.75 million a year in 2022 and 2023 after signing a two-year, $13.5 million deal he signed with the Pirates to buy out his first two arbitration years. After that, he is controllable through 2025.

Most importantly, he can hit. Outside of a tough 2020 in which many established hitters struggled due to the unusual nature of the season, Reynolds has been a well-above-average hitter in every season of his career. His 122 wRC+ this season would be a career-worst, but it would be second to only Rowdy Tellez among qualified Brewers hitters. After a slow start, Reynolds caught fire in June, slashing .337/.384/.624.

Milwaukee reportedly made a competitive offer for Reynolds at last year’s deadline, so it would not surprise me if they make another attempt to acquire him. Any prospect should be on the table.

However, I think we’re more likely to see the Brewers swing a deal for the Royals’ Michael A. Taylor. He’s a rental with a track record as a below-average hitter, but he is having a breakout season (119 wRC+) that is fueled by improved plate discipline and hitting dramatically more fly balls and fewer grounders. Taylor has long graded out as a strong defender in center field, and this year has been no different (+7 DRS).

kozlow22 asks:

Do you see anything in Yelich’s current hot streak that shows its sustainable? There’s an improvement in BB% and LD% that is correlating with a better wOBA and wRC+ over the last few weeks. This at least suggests his approach has improved but his BABIP has also risen considerably. Some of it is likely from the better LD% but his LD% is fluctuating from roughly 19.5% to 21.6% during this stretch which is well below his career norms, so a good portion of his BABIP is likely luck or regression. So I think its more of a hot streak then true improvements however, make me a believer.

Hitting more line drives has helped Yelich since moving to the leadoff spot, but he’s also batted .400 on ground balls in that span. That’s not going to continue.

If you want a positive spin, it’s that Yelich seems to be pressing less atop the lineup. His hard-hit rate and average exit velocity are actually down during this streak. Combine that with the higher line drive rate, and it seems like he’s more focused on trying to poke singles rather than drive the ball.

Maybe that’s the best approach for him at this point. I think he can find some success with such a process, even if not to the extent we’re seeing now.

Continuing with the Yelich questions...

Dunedainwrangler asks:

What, if anything, can Yelich do to start elevating the ball again? Related: is it realistic to hope that his line drive percentage will return to something approaching his career average of 25%?

As Craig Counsell has said a couple of times this season, it’s mainly a timing issue. He’s not catching the ball out in front as he did in the past.

I’m not a hitting coach, nor can I see what Yelich is working on in batting practice or in the cage, so it’s tough to say much more than that. Based on his track record, I would have to say that his line drive rate will tick up. It was still 22% last season when he seemed off for much of the year.

Ben Reagan asks:

The Brewers have been winning tough games (and series) against tough opponents over the past two weeks. Have they turned a corner, or are they on a highway to hell?

The Brewers’ success is heavily predicated on having a lead by the middle innings, which allows Craig Counsell to turn things over to his “A” bullpen to finish off close wins. They’ve been doing much more of that lately, mainly due to more early scoring against opposing starters.

There have been exceptions, of course. They pounced on Rays reliever Matt Wisler to take the lead in Tuesday’s win. More often than not, however, the state of the game by the sixth inning will be a pretty accurate indicator of how that game will end for Milwaukee.

With Brandon Woodruff and Trevor Gott back and Aaron Ashby on the mend, I think the Brewers are returning to the state they expected to be in: scoring just enough runs to back up a strong pitching staff.

Thanks for your questions this week! We’ll check in again next Friday.