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Brew Crew Ball Mailbag #11: Is the run prevention unit doing its fair share?

Answering this week’s questions for the weekly mailbag

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MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at Los Angeles Dodgers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

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

A critical stretch begins for the Brewers tonight. The Dodgers pummeled them in the final two regular-season matchups of the season, but Milwaukee made it out better against Los Angeles than most teams have this year. The Crew is six games out of first place in the division and a game-and-a-half back in the Wild Card race, and they have two weeks worth of games against very beatable teams. This is the time for Milwaukee to make up the ground they lost earlier this month.

With that, let’s dive into this week’s questions.

WAN2 asks:

Predict when our new centerfielder arrives from AAA.

Next week. The cutoff time has passed for Sal Frelick to retain his rookie status into next season, but he seems unlikely to be promoted within the next 48 hours because the Brewers are scheduled to face two left-handed pitchers against the Cubs. If they wanted to, they could give Jonathan Davis’ spot to Esteury Ruiz right now, but he has taken a bit of a step back offensively since reporting to Triple-A Nashville.

wiguy94 asks:

What is your guess on these players being Brewers next year?
Hunter Renfroe
Kolten Wong
Brent Suter
Pedro Severino
Victor Caratini
Jandale Gustave
Jace Peterson
Omar Narvaez
Andrew McCutchen

Renfroe is the only one who is a lock to be on next year’s team. Having multiple years of control is probably why David Stearns felt comfortable sending 2021 third-rounder Alex Binelas to Boston. I think the Brewers like Severino enough that he’ll get a chance in spring training to win a spot as Caratini’s platoon partner, but I anticipate Mario Feliciano edging him out for that role.

I see the rest of these players finding new homes for financial reasons and roster flexibility. The Brewers will take the $2 million buyout rather than pick up Wong’s $10 million club option for next season. Gustave is arbitration eligible and out of options next year, making it likely that he’ll either be booted from the 40-man roster over the winter or non-tendered sooner. Peterson and Narvaez figure to find more money on the open market.

Milwaukee could afford to bring McCutchen back if it wished, but he’s barely a league-average hitter. Furthermore, Christian Yelich could become the club’s primary designated hitter now that multiple outfield prospects are on the verge of graduating from the minor leagues.

Suter looks to be a likely non-tender candidate, although it may come as a surprise to some. He’s a clubhouse favorite, and I think his consistency as a middle reliever goes underappreciated by most fans. However, he is making $2.7 million and is due for another arbitration raise next year. I doubt the Brewers see spending over $3 million on a primarily low-leverage arm as a prudent use of resources.

ItsCalledABubbler asks:

Odds of Brewers signing Edwin Diaz in the offseason and finally having the best bullpen of all time?

Low. I’m very much against spending big money on relievers because they’re the most volatile players in baseball. The way the Brewers constructed their bullpen this season—stockpiling arms with great stuff but spotty track records—indicates that they recognize this volatility and have a similar mindset.

kozlow22 asks:

Not related to last night, are you concerned about Burnes 2022? His k rate is down, BB up, his HR rate is way up and his FIP is above 3 for the season. His xFIP makes it look fluky somewhat fluky but his hard hit rate is the highest in 3 seasons and his fly ball rate is up while his GB rate is down. I am not saying he is bad or is losing it but I am curious if teams are somewhat figuring him out. He is still a stud and 2021 is a lot to live up to so its likely just normal fluctuations.

Burnes set an incredibly high bar for himself after his Cy Young campaign. His 1.63 FIP was the second-lowest in a qualified season since the Deadball Era, trailing only Pedro Martinez’s 1.39 FIP in 1999. Burnes wasn’t going to match the heights of a historic 2021 season.

While Burnes’ strikeout and walk rates have gotten slightly worse, the jump in home runs allowed is more extreme. That has more to do with an unsustainable home run rate across 2020 and 2021. Burnes averaged 0.36 home runs allowed per nine in 226 23 innings during that stretch. For reference, Logan Webb’s 0.64 HR/9 is the lowest career mark among qualified active starters, nearly double Burnes’ previous mark. Keeping balls in the yard at such a rate for more than a year or two is borderline impossible.

The slight decrease in performance can largely be attributed to worse cutter command. The zone and chase rates for Burnes’ cutter have decreased by five and four percentage points, respectively. This could indicate that he’s yanking more cutters for non-competitive misses than he was last season.

What we’re seeing from Burnes this year is closer to what I expected last season. His stuff is electric, but the combination of velocity and movement on his pitches make it a tough arsenal to command. That’s what made his pinpoint control last season so stunning, and it’s why his regression in that area doesn’t surprise me.

Burnes is also known for his perfectionist mentality as a pitcher, and I think he sometimes falls into the trap of trying too hard to “aim” his pitches rather than attacking and letting his raw stuff do the work. The nature of his arsenal doesn’t enable him to be quite as aggressive in the zone as someone like Brandon Woodruff, but it seems like he tries to nibble too much at times.

Regardless, Burnes is still one of the game’s best starters. Even with a slight step back, he still grades out exceptionally well in most metrics you would use to evaluate a pitcher.

leche010 asks:

On a scale of 1-10, how awesome is it that after the trade deadline, we’re going to end up fighting with the Padres for that last playoff spot?

10. I think it’s an amazing storyline, particularly because the Brewers and Padres have taken opposite approaches in trying to win a championship. The Brewers are trying to benefit from postseason randomness by making it into the mix as often as possible with teams that aren’t World Series favorites, while the Padres have pushed in all of their chips in an effort to win a ring this year.

Xiao Biduen asks:

Is the run prevention strategy working ?

It’s not working as well as it did last season because the run prevention hasn’t been nearly as reliable. Last year, the Brewers ranked third as a team in RA9-WAR (Wins Above Replacement based on runs allowed per nine innings) at 26.5. This year, they rank 13th at 12.1. They’ve actually been bailed out by the offense at times, which ranks 12th in wRC+ after coming in at 23rd last season.

The good news is that the Brewers still boast plenty of pitchers with excellent stuff despite their underperformance. Rolling out Burnes, Woodruff and Peralta for the first three games of a playoff series gives them a chance to beat anyone in October. However, this year’s group has performed notably worse in the regular season than last year’s, and it’s a major reason why the Brewers would miss out on a playoff spot if the season ended today.

dmueller06 asks:

Is it time for a shake up in the front office? We are still a competitive organization, but need to change some of our philosphy. I do believe Stearn is going to leave so that will be there opportunity, but also must get Antinassio buy in , cuz he still is the man in control.

No. The current front office has set the goal of winning a World Series through sustained competitiveness. I’m not a fan of the “four straight playoff appearances” argument because the 2020 team finished under .500 and snuck in under a temporarily expanded playoff format. However, the Brewers ended their rebuild in 2017 and have since made the playoffs in three consecutive “normal” seasons while significantly reshaping their roster most winters. David Stearns and Matt Arnold have proven they can successfully build an open-ended window and field a competitive team every year.

Furthermore, it would be foolish for Mark Attanasio to buy into a strategy centered around sustainable success only to replace the current core group of executives in response to one underwhelming season. You don’t sign off on a long-term project only to cut that project off midway through the building process.

If Attanasio had a World-Series-or-bust mindset for 2023, a shakeup might make some sense. That’s not the approach the organization is taking, though. Even when Stearns departs within the next couple of years, general manager Matt Arnold figures to become the new head of baseball operations. He’s been more involved in building these teams as Stearns’ right-hand man than he gets credit for, so the front office will still operate under the same approach and a similar organizational framework.

Thanks for your questions, everyone! We’ll do it again next week.