LOHSE PEAKING AT RIGHT TIME
At 17 games below .500 and 18 games back in the NL Central, no one inside or outside Milwaukee is delusional enough to believe this team possesses a legitimate chance at the postseason. In fact, Baseball Prospectus calculates the probability of the Brewers making the playoffs at exactly 0.0%. Understandably, most of the fanbase’s attention has turned to the trade deadline.
It seems inevitable the team will trade Francisco Rodriguez and Michael Gonzalez before the July 31 non-waiver deadline, and it’s becoming even more likely that John Axford is moved due to his improved performance. However, many are patiently waiting to hear if the Brewers will make anyone else on the roster available.
One of those potentially tradeable pieces is right-hander Kyle Lohse, and he’s beginning to throw the baseball exceedingly well at the exact right time. In the past 30 calendar days, Lohse has been one of the best starting pitchers in Major League Baseball.
Teams looking to upgrade their starting rotation for a postseason run in August and September have been scouting Lohse when he has been pitching his best. The right-hander has shown more than just this recent hot streak, though. He’s actually performed very well all year — aside from a start or two. He owns a 3.43 ERA and has shown sustained success in two key places. Despite being 34 years old, his velocity hasn’t decreased, and his swinging-strike rate has carried over from last year. In 2012, his swinging-strike rate jumped from 5.9% to 7.1%, and he understandably experienced greater success. That heightened whiff rate has continued this year, as he has compiled a 7.7% swinging-strike rate with the Brewers.
There’s some concern surrounding his home run rate. His ground-ball rate has decreased for the fifth-consecutive season, and his home run rate has ballooned to 1.32 HR/9. However, put him in a pitcher-friendly ballpark — such as PNC Park, AT&T Park, or Petco Park — and he could be an extremely valuable asset throughout the rest of the season. Furthermore, a scenario such as that would make the last two years on his contract much more palatable.
SEGURA SHOWING ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
Jean Segura is only hitting .261/.285/.384 since the beginning of June, which is only good for a .669 OPS over that stretch of games. And although he can make some spectacular plays at shortstop, he’s proven to be relatively average overall with the glove due to slightly below-average range. That has made him a very average player over the last five weeks — quite the stark difference from his All-Star caliber performance over the first two months of the season.
One of the most notable changes has been an increased ground-ball rate the last couple months. His ground-ball rate has eclipsed 60% in June and July, which explains why his ISO has dropped so dramatically in recent weeks. In fact, he owns a .000 ISO in the month of July. He has zero extra-base hits this month and only five hits overall.
While he’s been grounding out more often, he’s also been pulling the baseball with much more frequency. When he pulls the baseball, Segura almost always puts the baseball on the ground. When working to right field, however, he becomes much more of a line-drive hitter, and that’s where a lot of his extra-base hits have come. Check out his GB% by side of the diamond:
This isn’t suggesting Segura should abandon the left side of the diamond. Instead, it could be an opportunity for opposing teams to shift him on the infield — though, admittedly, Segura has shown enough feel with the bat that he could simply begin poking the ball through the increased gap between first and second.
For those more visually-inclined, here is Segura’s hit chart since the beginning of June — including his outs:
Other than a couple of easy pop-ups to the left side, the above hit chart illustrates what we were discussing earlier. Segura has really struggled to get the ball in the air to left field, which limits his power potential. The only three home runs he’s hit since the beginning of June have been to the left side, and they’re essentially the only fly balls he’s hit to left field.
Every major-league hitter will experience prolonged slumps at the plate, especially young hitters. To replicate the success he experienced in his first couple months, though, he’ll need to re-discover left field. It’s great to have an opposite-field approach — especially when opposing pitchers have consistently worked him away — but to have the same power production as he did in April and May, he cannot put the baseball on the ground so often. He has the speed to accumulate infield hits. He’s a better hitter than a simply singles hitter, though, so hopefully he’ll make the adjustment now that opposing pitchers have made an adjustment to him.
REMINDER: BE WARY OF LONG-TERM PITCHING CONTRACTS
In the last five years, the Milwaukee Brewers have employed a pair of legitimate aces in CC Sabathia and Zack Greinke. Both were acquired via trade, both helped guide the Brewers to postseason appearances, and both ultimately left for monster contracts in free agency.
It’s well-documented that the Brewers don’t possess the fiscal resources necessary to lure elite free agents to Milwaukee. However, many of us get caught in the trap of wishing the organization had money to throw at ace pitchers on the open market. Many Brewers fans wanted the Brewers to offer $100M+ to Sabathia and Greinke to ensure the pitching staff had a stalwart sitting atop the rotation to take the mound every fifth day.
Long-term pitching contracts rarely work out as planned, though. The Yankees would be in the fifth year of their original seven-year, $161M deal with Sabathia — had it not been for the buyout clause — and the Dodgers are currently in the first year of their six-year, $147M contract with Greinke. In the past 30 calendar days, both pitchers rank in the Top 20 for worst ERAs in the league during that stretch. Sabathia owns a 4.89 ERA and Greinke has a 4.78 ERA.
Starting pitchers naturally experience a loss of stuff as they age. Although the two pitchers are three years apart in age, they’ve experienced a parallel loss in fastball velocity this season.
|Players||’12 vFB||’13 vFB||Diff.|
|CC Sabathia||92.3||90.6||1.7 mph|
|Zack Greinke||92.4||90.8||1.6 mph|
Those numbers represent significant loss in fastball velocity for both pitchers. The loss could simply represent a natural aging process, or it could be an indicator of underlying injury. Whatever the ultimate reason, the result has been a drop in strikeout rate for the pair of them and an overall lessening of effectiveness on the mound. Their ERAs are now over 4.00 on the season and neither have been anything close to an ace.
The Milwaukee Brewers cannot afford to purchase elite pitching on the free agent market. In some ways, it’s fortunate they don’t have the resources to fall into that trap because their last two in-house options for long-term deals have shown why it’s dangerous. Small-market teams like the Brewers cannot allocate $20M+ per year to pitchers with the extreme likelihood that they’ll underperform or be injured for a portion of the contract.
Even CC Sabathia, who was viewed as one of the safest long-term (free agent) pitching options in recent memory, is showing significant signs of aging. And the Yankees still have him signed for another three (potentially four) seasons.