clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Brew Crew Ball Mailbag #12: Has the universal DH hurt the Brewers?

Answering this week’s questions for the weekly mailbag

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Chicago Cubs v Milwaukee Brewers Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

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

This edition will be a bit longer than most because you had some great questions. I wanted to get to as many of them as possible. Let's dive in!

leche10 asks:

After a month, what’s your grade on the Trade Deadline? Rogers and Bush have both regressed since arriving in Milwaukee. Rosenthal was a complete waste. Offense is still sputtering and hyper-dependent on the long ball.
I know it helps that Hader has completely imploded and Rogers (4.50 ERA) is considerably better right now, but did we do enough to make our team better? What seems to be Stearns’ issue with making a bigger impact at the deadline?

I've had a more optimistic take on the trade deadline than most, particularly from a pure transaction standpoint.

It became much more difficult to argue that the Hader trade improved the current big-league roster (or even maintained the status quo) once Dinelson Lamet turned out to be a salary-swap piece and was promptly cut. However, after Hader's collapse in San Diego and Rogers' steady performance since the four-run outburst in St. Louis, one could argue that the Brewers' bullpen has been better off since the swap than the Padres' relief unit.

Robert Gasser looked from the start like an intriguing project for Milwaukee's pitching development system, and the early returns are highly encouraging. After four excellent starts in Double-A, the Brewers aggressively promoted Gasser to Triple-A earlier this week. He now looks like an option to make a notable impact on next year's big-league staff. Meanwhile, Esteury Ruiz was promoted yesterday when rosters expanded.

I liked the Bush trade quite a bit and still do. It may have cost a prospect with promising stuff in left-hander Antoine Kelly, but Bush has arguably the best raw stuff of any reliever who was on the trading block and is controlled through the 2024 season. Unfortunately, he has demonstrated inconsistency with his new team. Bush has looked untouchable in most of his outings, but poor control has plagued him on a handful of occasions.

The Brewers knew they were assuming some risk with the Rosenthal deal, but I didn't mind it as an upside move. The metrics on his fastball in bullpen sessions were comparable to those from his dominant 2020 season. Had he returned to health as expected, Rosenthal could have added a valuable high-leverage arm to the bullpen for September and the postseason. Tristan Peters seemed like a steep price for two months at best of Rosenthal, but he was unlikely to make much of an impact in a system deep with outfielders and has struggled since the Giants promoted him to Double-A.

On paper, the Brewers set themselves up to lose Hader while still being just as well off, if not better, due to their subsequent bullpen moves. Unfortunately, Bush's inconsistency and Rosenthal's new injury derailed that plan.

David Stearns drew plenty of criticism for saying there was "no glaring need" in the lineup, but I don't have any issues with how they handled the deadline from an offensive standpoint. The Brewers could do better at just about every position on the diamond, and Stearns did not rule out any acquisitions. However, they also could do much worse. At the time of the deadline, Omar Narvaez and Tyrone Taylor were the only semi-regular position players with below-average slash lines, and even they were closer to average than genuinely awful.

The Brewers effectively had an average-ish offense, and this year's trade market was mainly a seller's market that consisted of average-ish bats. There were a few standouts like Juan Soto and Josh Bell, but fewer premium options meant more teams contending for the same players, driving the prices up for those premium players. This also meant that the price tags for those average-ish hitters exceeded the Brewers' comfort level.

In past seasons, the Brewers added rental bats like Mike Moustakas and Eduardo Escobar to supplement their lineup, but they did so at the cost of "AAAA" players like Brett Phillips, Jorge Lopez and Cooper Hummel. These players were unlikely to make an impact in Milwaukee. In this year's market, the Brewers may have had to part with a more highly-regarded prospect to add the same kind of hitter.

The front office evidently decided it wasn't worth it, and I agree with them. David Stearns and Matt Arnold have a strong track record of flipping prospects who don't pan out and retaining the ones who do, so I trust their judgment. I think they pivoted to bullpen help because of the limited offensive market. They did a fine job from a transaction standpoint, but the risks they took haven't panned out as well as they had reason to believe.

The area in which the Brewers truly deserve criticism is the leadership department. Eric Lauer's comments on the Hader trade pointed toward poor communication with the players about the team's direction, which represents a failure by management. Communication was going to be key after an unorthodox trade of a popular player, and it appears the Brewers dropped the ball there.

If you're looking for an overall letter grade, I'll give them a C+. It was not a great deadline, but I do not believe it was nearly as poor as many believe.

nullacct asks:

Mitchell had a couple of heroic moments, yay!
And after yesterday he is now hitting .222 with a .856 OPS and a 44% K rate
So, he’s basically Hiura except he’s valuable defensively?
What does the future hold for this man

I was happy for Mitchell when he got the call, and I was at the stadium when he hit a game-tying blast on Monday for his first career home run. It was an awesome moment. However, he wasn't my first choice for a promotion.

Mitchell has the best raw athleticism of any prospect in Milwaukee's system, possessing an intriguing combination of power and speed. However, his current offensive profile does not enable him to take advantage of those raw abilities. Mitchell cut his strikeout rate down a bit in 20 games in Triple-A, but he punched out at an alarming 27.7% rate in 335 Double-A plate appearances across 2021 and 2022.

Mitchell hits the ball hard but pounds it into the ground far too often. His ground ball rate has been above 60% at every level except Triple-A, where it was still 57.4%. Mitchell doesn't put enough balls in play to maximize his speed on the bases. When he does put it in play, he doesn't elevate enough to take advantage of his raw power. That's not a combination that bodes well for big-league success.

The silver lining is that Mitchell is still relatively inexperienced in professional baseball, and his development is not finished. However, I don't expect him to find much big-league success from the outset.

Lerch&Brouhard asks:

Yuni or Sogard? If you had to sign one!

Sogard could at least play solid defense at second base, so I would (begrudgingly) choose him.


Curious if you see anything promising in Lucas Erceg. The one-time college slugger who switched to relief pitching last year, overcame a big alcohol addiction, really seemed like a guy to root for. Earlier this year he looked like he just wasn’t gonna cut it. But in his last 10 appearances at Nashville, he has given up 1ER in 14IP, with 7H, 5BB 20K.
He seems to really be under the radar. But with numbers like this, maybe he could really help the Brewers next year. What do you think?

Erceg has made remarkable progress on the mound and has hit his stride in Triple-A Nashville. He has allowed just one run in his last 14 innings, striking out 15 against five walks. He's been sitting in the upper-90s with some sink on his fastball all season, topping out at 100 mph.

I think the stuff is good enough to play at the big-league level, but I don't expect him to get that opportunity with the Brewers. This year is Erceg's sixth full minor-league season since being drafted in 2016, making him eligible for minor-league free agency this winter. Erceg has technically played five full seasons in the minor leagues, but the canceled minor-league season in 2020 still counted toward this clock.

Maybe Erceg sticks around on a new contract, but it seems more likely that he joins a rebuilding organization that gives him an immediate opportunity on their big-league roster in 2023.

lohausfan asks:

If you were The Chicken (CC), how would you set your rotation for a three-game playoff series? Bearing in mind that you potentially have another series ahead after it ends. Same question for five (which in a vacuum would probably be similar to three) and seven games.

In the postseason, winning the game in front of you becomes even more critical, so you can't think too far ahead. Burnes, Woodruff and Peralta are the obvious choices for the first three games of a series. Aaron Ashby would be my fourth starter. Eric Lauer would be my fifth starter if needed, but I much prefer to have him in relief. His peripherals have been very shaky since June, and I think he could dominate with his fastball playing up even more in shorter bursts.

kozlow22 asks:

While Sal Frelick has hit really well at AAA, what level of concern should there be over is complete lack of power? Or maybe better put, what level of power does he need to show before he can play in the MLB. While he is young and started the season in A ball and some power will likely come with development, he still has has 0 homeruns in AAA in over 100 PAs. My concern level is low but I also dont think it would be extremely hard to be an impact bat in the MLB with no power. Obviously there are other ways to be productive but hitting homeruns helps a lot. The same could be said for Ruiz but he did hit 4 in san diegos AAA so I figured the question was better suited for Frelick.

Frelick has very little home run power, but he has gone deep seven times in about 450 plate appearances this season. The power hasn't shown up yet in Triple-A, but I think he can settle in around 10 home runs each year by the time his development is complete. Regardless, I don't think the Brewers are counting on him to be a major run-producer. His approach is best suited for the leadoff spot and would provide a change of pace in a lineup of largely similar hitters.

Gorilla Bean asks:

How do you think the DH has affected the Brewers? Has it hurt them?

Several people asked this question in a few different ways. Prior to the addition of the designated hitter in the National League, the pitcher usually hit in the ninth spot in the order. Later in games, pinch hitters or players who entered via a double switch often filled that spot.

The question is if Craig Counsell's use of these substitutions gave the Brewers a greater offensive advantage over the rest of the league than the designated hitter has given them this year. While an imperfect analysis, the easiest way to get a general idea is to compare Milwaukee's past league-adjusted production out of the ninth spot to their current output from the DH spot.

In 2021, the Brewers' received a collective .439 OPS from the final spot in the order, which translates to a 56 OPS+ for that particular split. OPS+ splits include both leagues, so all National League teams ranked below average. Milwaukee was still near the bottom, though, with their OPS from the nine spot ranking second-to-last in the Senior Circuit.

If we go back to 2018 and 2019, the Brewers had a clear advantage over many of their National League contemporaries, ranking fourth with a .543 OPS from the final spot in the order. Those seasons also featured rosters that forced Craig Counsell to be the most creative and hands-on with his managing style. That's probably not a coincidence.

This season, the Brewers rank eighth in DH OPS at .710, putting them squarely in the middle of the pack. It appears they have lost somewhat of an edge since the new collective bargaining agreement permanently instituted the universal DH. However, they did themselves no favors by settling for a league-average bat in Andrew McCutchen (97 wRC+) to fill that role most of the time.

Thanks for your questions! I'll be back for another round next week.