Friday Round Up: Draft, Tanking, Biogenesis, Comeback Win | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

Last night, the Brewers’ hopes looked dismal during an error-plagued start by Matt Garza, but the bats answered each of the errant frames with runs against Tanner Roark to tie the ballgame. Newly recalled second-baseman Scooter Gennett supplied the game-winning RBI in the bottom of the eighth, punishing a high slider by Nationals reliever Aaron Barrett. Francisco Rodriguez completed his routine in the ninth, and suddenly the Brewers claimed their seventh one-run victory of the season (our Milwaukee Nine are now .500 in one-run contests).

How great has the Brewers’ bullpen pitched lately? Since the beginning of June, the Brewers have allowed five or more runs in only three games. In each case, the starter allowed each and every one of those runs; at St. Louis and at Minnesota, the bullpen worked a total of six scoreless innings after opposing bats shelled Brewers starters on the road. The same equation worked last night for the Brewers, who are now 2-1 in June games with five-or-more runs allowed. Relievers own both of those wins (Jeremy Jeffress and Will Smith, respectively), which is quite a deserved fate given nine total scoreless innings in these games.

Draft Signings
Brew Crew Ball inaugurated their 2015 signing tracker, and thus far the chart shows that the Brewers have locked-up, or are closing to signing, approximately 25% of their 2015 draft thus far. Depending on how one calculates the likelihood of signing elite early round talent and those big late round draft choices, the Brewers should hopefully be able to sign 85% of their draft (that would be quite good).

Draft Strategies
There have been some comment questions on the Brewers’ strategy to draft several Top Round players on day three of the draft, well below those players’ respective values. The basic idea is to see which of these players might be persuaded to leave their college commitments once the money is really on the table, which would give the Brewers the advantage of “stealing” high round talent late in the draft. Of course, the strategy could also be expensive: even if the Brewers spent $2,000,000 on each of these players (approximate aggregate value for a top 80 pick), and those players all agreed, they would double their draft pool, which would cost another $8 million tax and require the Brewers to forfeit their first round picks in the next two drafts.

These figures should show just how unlikely this strategy is to work; however, I began wondering last night if it would be worthwhile for a team to purposefully enter a draft with this strategy. Let’s say a team really likes any number of top round players, many of those players are committed and drop to later rounds, where the team picks up those players for $4 million (a more likely bonus to sign extreme, top talent very late in the draft). In this case, to sign four players, the strategy would cost the team:

  • $32 million in fines and bonuses ($16 million in bonuses, $16 million in fines).
  • $8-$14 million in future draft slot money (In the Brewers’ case, the team would also lose at least $6 million in a likely Top 5 slot (2016) and anywhere between $2 million and $8 million in 2017 (depending on how the 2016 team finishes).)
  • Anywhere from 0-to-74 WAR (basically, the range from “two busts” to “two Ryan Brauns”).

That’s a really expensive strategy. However, if it allowed the Brewers to (a) grab at least four top round talents that were “known commodities” in the draft, in addition to (b) anywhere from one-to-four other top round talents that would be drafted in that season, the payoff could be massive (even grabbing six “merely average” players that were controlled by the team for a decade, that strategy could produce approximately 60 WAR for the “additional draft penalty” cost of $46 million). Obviously, those benefits would be offset by losing two first round picks in consecutive drafts, so it’s an exceptionally risky, all-out campaign that would almost certainly stack a team with cost-controlled, average-to-elite talent if it worked. I’d love to see a team try this, but even this basic scenario should show why teams are reluctant to do so.

Tank Standings
On Tuesday, May 19, the Brewers looked like they might recover their terrible start, opening the month with a 7-5 clip that improved their overall record to 15-25. At that point and time, only the Oakland Athletics were worse, and the Brewers were on a torrid 61 win pace (although a .500 clip from that point onward would have meant a 76-86 finish, which would look downright competent after the terrible month of April). Brewers fans clamoring for the club to capitalize on the terrible start got their wish when the club promptly lost nine of their last eleven games of the month, spiraling back to a 54-win pace. They were absolutely the worst club in the MLB at that point.

Since then, the Brewers look quite good again, which might leave Milwaukee fans fretting, once again, that their club might not end up with the top draft pick in 2016. However, even the recent hot streak to begin the month of June has the Brewers on a 61-win pace, and a .500 clip from here out would mean a 73-74 win finish. So, there is little reason to fret, if you’re a fan of the “tank” and want to see the Brewers capitalize on their poor start. The club has been inefficient throughout the season, as I’ve documented, so it’s best just to enjoy the good baseball when you see it. Remember that this club still has 101 games to play, and they could have two full months of replacement baseball, depending on who the club trades before the July deadline.

Race to the Bottom May 31 Projected Wins Current Projected Wins .500 Out RS / RA %
Phillies 59 58 72-90 56-106
Brewers 54 61 74-88 64-98
Red Sox 70 72 78-84 66-96
Marlins 64 66 75-87 74-88
Athletics 61 65 75-87 84-78

The Brewers are basically impaling themselves on the double-edged sword this year: the good news is, since the MLB is so evenly balanced this year, there are only five real contenders for a Top 2016 Draft Pick at this point in the season. Currently, 17 of 30 MLB teams sit within five games of their division lead, which means that well over half the league is in a playoff race before anyone considers the wild card; 23 clubs sit within five games of the playoffs if one considers the Wild Card picture. So, the Brewers are in solid position for a race to the bottom. But this is really terrible news: with several veteran contracts coming off the books this year, and Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Gomez in their penultimate year as the club’s dynamic duo, the Brewers are tanking in exactly the type of MLB they were designed to win in. Basically, one could have suspected before the beginning of the season that the MLB was evenly-balanced and wide open for competition in 2015, the Brewers were designed to compete, and they fell completely flat. This is an awful series of events, when you think about it, because it means that the Brewers somehow gambled wrong in exactly the conditions they were meant to gamble in.

Scooter Gennett
The Brewers’ second baseman pummeled a high slider to produce the game-winning hit, but it is worth taking a look at the second-baseman’s strike zone to see whether there are any changes in his first game back from the minors. Not surprisingly, Gennett received more than half of his pitches outside the strike zone last night. Unfortunately, on the seven pitches he saw outside the zone, Gennett swung at four of them. Even if one concedes that at least one of those pitches was “borderline,” there’s still room for improvement in Gennett’s strike zone approach.

TexasLeaguers. Trip Somers, 2009-2015.

One might note that Gennett properly laid off three super-high fastballs, but swung at three low-and-away breaking balls. For this reason, it is worth questioning whether Gennett is recognizing those pitches as quickly.

Pitching Support
Last night, Twitter was generally supportive of Garza, who undeniably received terrible defensive support from the Brewers. However, it seemed to me that Garza frequently elicits this type of response: the righty always seems to pitch better than his results, or at the very least, receive so little support that one feels sorry for the hurler.

To measure this, I designed a simple chart: I measured the total runs scored in each starting pitcher’s starts, and the total number of bullpen runs allowed. This provides a basic window for each starting pitcher: by calculating these run totals, it is very easy to see how many runs a starter can, or cannot allow, to break even. For fun, I added “Unearned Run %” and “BABIP” to “approximate” defensive support (I assume it is fairly uncontroversial to suggest that if a pitcher allows a high Batting Average on Balls in Play, one would need to investigate his defensive support; that pitcher might also be allowing many line drives or hard hit balls, but it is a start to see if the pitcher is receiving efficient defensive support).

Brewers Support (Runs Prevented) Offensive RS Bullpen RA Unearned R% BABIP .500 RunsAvg (Actual)
Matt Garza (-9) 44 30 8.9% .291 1.68 (5.40)
Mike Fiers (-3) 37 25 15.2% .381 1.74 (4.79)
Jimmy Nelson (0) 49 12 8.3% .273 4.54 (4.37)
Wily Peralta (1) 38 11 4.0% .322 4.50 (4.17)
Kyle Lohse (-16) 52 12 .323 4.82 (6.27)
Taylor Jungmann (2) 4
Tyler Cravy (2)
Tyler Wagner (-3) 7 1

Not surprisingly, Garza has indeed received terrible support from his teammates. In fact, Garza’s support is so bad that the pitcher basically needs to average one run allowed in each of his games started to reach .500 (!!!). However, Fastballer Mike Fiers is not far behind Garza, and the slow-tossing righty arguably receives even worse defensive support than Garza. By contrast, Wily Peralta and Jimmy Nelson are the best pitchers in terms of runs prevented, but they have also received some of the best support, too. Kyle Lohse‘s season looks doubly disappointing when one learns that he could basically allow three runs per start in every start and still break even in 2015; instead, the righty took his 40-run support advantage and promptly allowed 52 runs himself. Ugly!

A couple days ago, Vice Sports published an eye-opening interview with Victor Conte on the state of Performance Enhancing Drugs in the MLB. The piece is a must read, especially for fans that are morally opposed / outraged by PEDs in the game. Conte hints that approximately 50% of MLB players use PEDs, but mostly in the offseason when MLB testing is lax. The hint is that if players “juice” during the offseason while they train, and then stay clean during the season, they will escape positive tests and also appease the league’s testing procedures.

Given that the common assumption is that “the MLB knowingly turned their back to PED use” during the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, but changed their tune after Barry Bonds and the other “Steroids Era” players made a “mockery” of PED use, this new interview is quite welcome. Now, fans can question once again whether the MLB truly is concerned with PED use, and whether they want the game completely clean. One might also question the effect of PEDs on baseball activities in general, but also specifically ask how PEDs impact baseball activities if players mostly use PEDs to train. Since several of the Biogenesis players also escaped positive tests, the question of whether players still successfully mask PED use is also on the table.

So, think of the issue this way: if you flip a coin, your favorite MLB player might be using PEDs to train. Does that change your opinion of your favorite player? MLB might also be entering the golden era of PED use: not only are the substances arguably better and safer than those used in previous decades, but now the league has the appearances of a testing system and an informally sanctioned period of PED use (i.e., the offseason).

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