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Brewers sign Jake McGee to major-league deal

The Brewers are buying low on the former Giants closer

San Francisco Giants v San Diego Padres Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

The Brewers are adding a veteran arm to their bullpen, as Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports that the club is signing Jake McGee to a one-year major-league contract.

The club has not yet announced the signing. When they do, McGee will take the 40-man roster spot of Angel Perdomo, who was claimed by the Rays earlier this week. The Brewers will still need to clear a spot for him on the 26-man roster.

The 35-year-old is no stranger to high-leverage innings, having tallied 79 career saves across 13 big-league seasons with the Rays, Rockies, Dodgers and Giants.

The left-hander saved a career-high 31 games for San Francisco last year, pitching to a 2.72 ERA and 3.35 FIP. However, Camilo Doval stepped in as the team’s closer when McGee suffered an oblique strain in September and remained in the role after his return.

McGee was expected to fill a late-inning role again this season, but his numbers fell apart in his second year in the Bay Area. He struggled to a 7.17 ERA and 7.76 xERA in 21 23 innings and also missed two weeks in May with a back strain.

The veteran has never excelled at inducing weak contact, so when his strikeout rate tumbled from 24.3% to 11.5%, it yielded horrific results, prompting the Giants to release him before the All-Star break.

Because the Giants are still paying him the remainder of his guaranteed 2022 salary, the Brewers will only owe McGee a prorated portion of the league minimum for his services.

McGee stands out as arguably baseball’s most fastball-heavy pitcher. Since 2020, he has thrown his four-seam fastball 90.3% of the time, which leads all pitchers who have thrown at least 1,000 pitches in that span. The runner-up is Richard Rodriguez at 81.9%.

That’s a feature, not a bug. As a member of the Dodgers in 2020, McGee struck out 41.8% of opposing hitters en route to a 2.66 ERA and 1.67 FIP while throwing his heater 96.4% of the time.

McGee’s fastball usage is “down” to 85.2% this season, and opponents are hitting .316 with a .372 wOBA against it. He has maintained his velocity (94.9 mph last year, 94.7 this year), and his movement profile remains the same, making those dramatically worse results a bit surprising.

It appears McGee’s problems stem from falling behind in counts and failing to attack the zone aggressively. In 2020 and 2021, he threw a first-pitch strike 65.7% of the time, 52.1% of his pitches were in the strike zone and his walk rate was 4.1%. This year, those numbers have deteriorated to 59.4%, 44.8% and 6.3%, respectively.

The Brewers have a track record of helping former closers improve their performance, with Brad Boxberger and Hunter Strickland serving as recent success stories. If they can help McGee rediscover his previous self, they’ll have added a bona fide late-inning reliever to their bullpen.

UPDATE: The Brewers have officially announced the signing. Utility man Jace Peterson was placed on the 10-day injured list in a corresponding move.

Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.