Well, the 2016 season is underway for the Brewers and it began just as about as everyone expected, with the team taking one-of-three from the San Francisco Giants. Though the Brewers struggled in the majority of the 27 innings of baseball that were played, bright spots still popped up and transpired in excitement among fans. That being said, let’s take a glance at some of the tidbits we gained from the opening series of the season:
Aaron Hill is holding his ground at his new position. Prior to trading Jean Segura to the Diamondbacks, the Brewers were severely limited in their quest of finding a man to fill the role of third base. However, once they took on a chunk of Hill’s salary, it appeared as if he could be the man to patrol the hot corner. Prior to this season, Hill primarily commanded duties at second base, being somewhat unfamiliar to third. Hill started all three games of the Giants series at the No. 5 spot and has made it appear as if he’s been a veteran at the position with his craftiness in digging out sharply hit ground balls.
Here’s a nice diving play to his left in the Opening Day game:
Hill then made the play of the series in which he caught a Brandon Belt blooper drifting toward the left-field foul line, spun around and fired a bullet to Lucroy for the double play. It ended a first-and-third with one out situation in which the Giants were attempting to add to their 1-0 lead:
According to MLB’s Statcast, Hill covered 80.9 feet in his scamper, which was incredibly accurate with a route efficiency percentage of 95.2 percent. Pretty outstanding for the man who has spent the majority of his major league career at second base.
The Brewers, especially Scooter Gennett, got to Madison Bumgarner. It seems as if it has become a tradition. The Brewers play a highly-feared MLB pitcher that has a rich history dominating foes and rough him up with a number of issues (Especially Tim Lincecum in his prime). Though the Brewers did not pound him off the mound, they did get in his mind well enough for five hits, three runs, five walks and two home runs in only five innings of work. Take a look at how Milwaukee took advantage of Madbum’s errors of placing pitches in the upper third of the strike zone:
Notice how a large number of those are floating up towards the middle-to-high-half of the plate. Turning to the batting average heat map of the Brewers against Bumgarner, they did a satisfactory capitalizing on the ace’s mistakes:
See that cluster of red near the upper left part of the plate? That’s exactly where Scooter Gennett, a man who has been platooned due to a lack of making contact against left-handers, launched a rocket into the loge level off Bumgarner. As a whole, Scooter has continued the path he began blazing at the beginning of Spring Training, storming out of the opening series with an average of exactly .400. It gets exciting when you glance at his numbers against left-handed pitching in the series — in four plate appearances, he is batting .500 with two walks. He is also orchestrating solid at-bats at the dish where he strings together an ability of making the pitcher work to get him out. This series was vital for Gennett’s confidence and mantra moving forward. Taking one of the best left-handers in the game for a bomb will tend to do that for you. As long as Scooter is making pitchers work and continuing to garner quality at bats against lefties, he should keep receiving chances to show his worth.
Chris Carter is going to receive his fair share of chances w/ RISP and needs to take advantage of them. Twice in the final game of the series, Chris Carter was presented with an opportunities to drive men in. He succeeded one out of two times. With a high strikeout rate, the risk of Carter failing to produce RBI will surely become a frustrating process. That first occurrence of seemingly many throughout the season occurred in the bottom of the fifth inning with one out. Carter took a George Kontos cutter low-and-away and hit a ground ball resulting in an inning ending double play. However, Carter would later get a moment to redeem himself in the bottom of the seventh. He delivered a slider into the outfield, resulting in a sacrifice fly and giving the Brewers a lead they would not relinquish. Carter also demonstrated his strength with a home run in the third inning off Samardzija. This is the sort of power the Brewers hope to see displayed from Carter — the kind that allowed him to hit 90 bombs with Houston in three seasons. They’re just hoping that strikeouts do not wash away much of their significance. Moving forward, situations in which a ball in play would suffice will be imperative in defining success for Carter on this Milwaukee team.
Jimmy Nelson was brilliant in his 2016 debut. Coming off a rookie year that saw him take steps in development that may have gone under the radar of many eyes, Nelson had a strong outing to begin his sophomore campaign. In seven-and-a-third innings of work, Nelson exited with a stat line of five hits, two earned runs, a walk and three strikeouts. Overall, not too shabby considering the array of weapons the Giants batting order can attack pitchers with. Of his pitches, he threw 21.6 percent off-speed, a percentage that Brewers fans should be rooting to see rise exponentially throughout the season. Of that 21.6 percent, 2.3 percent derived from usage of his changeup, a pitch that would round off his work-in-progress arsenal and off-speed development. His biggest mistake came when he floated a changeup right at the letters of Brandon Crawford, who devoured it over the right-field fence. Remember, Nelson has a poor tendency of struggling against left-handers and it showed in that at-bat. However, I believe it’s more important to somewhat slide that under the rug and acknowledge his willingness to throw the changeup more often. As a young pitcher like Nelson, it’s not easy to suddenly add a new pitch to your repertoire. Fans should see a dandy this Sunday when reigning AL Cy Young award winner Dallas Keuchel and Nelson face off against each other.
Tyler Thornburg impressed in his inning of work. Perhaps the most underrated takeaway from yesterday’s win or even the entire series was Thornburg’s lone inning out on the hill in Wednesday’s victory. Now, how can one inning, an inning that saw Thornburg deliver only a handful of pitches, be so vital? The radar constantly showed Thornburg’s fastball hitting 95+ MPH, a velocity that Thornburg showed trouble retaining last season. Take a look at his heat maps showing velocity of his fastball below.
Here’s his heat map from 2014:
Compared with his heat map from 2015:
A variation of color definitely exists between those two visuals. Yes, I know it was just his first outing of the year and that I may be getting too fixated over a 96 MPH fastball delivery to Brandon Crawford. However, the characteristic of blazing speed out of the bullpen goes such a far way in today’s game. If Thornburg is able to reinstate just a couple ticks of speed to his fastball, he may start whiffing out batters at a higher pace and become an enticing component in the bullpen.