First off, stop reading this stupid blog, and go read something that actually matters: the oil spill just might be stopped!
Over at ESPN today, I was part of SweetSpot’s second half keys. I mentioned the starting pitching as the key for the Brewers if they have any chance at a miraculous playoff run, but there’s obviously more to watch than that as the summer winds down. Here are two other points to watch.
Can Alcides Escobar start hitting?
The reason that J.J. Hardy was expendable after last season was because of Alcides’s Escobar’s defensive wizardry, but that doesn’t mean that he can get by without hitting a little bit. His .280 wOBA and 72 wRC+ make him barely above replacement level at this point, certainly disappointing for one of the league’s top prospects for the last few years. Despite his recent big errors, I’m still a fan of his defensive abilities – these are the kinds of growing pains that we see from young players, but the bat just has to improve.
The low K-rate (13.1% against a league rate above 20%) is very encouraging, and a large majority of his struggles can be explained by a poor .276 BABIP, which, given his speed, will probably rise in the second half. For that reason, ZiPS projects a .309 wOBA for the rest of the season, which, given his defensive prowess, probably makes him a league average player or slightly better. However, he just hasn’t shown either the power or the discipline that would make him much better than that. He’s still young and there’s still time for a breakout, and, really, at this point, I would be satisfied with any sort of improvement.
Can the young relievers keep it up?
Brewers bullpen FIP by month:
June 2.56 (best in MLB!)
July 4.65 (whoops!)
First of all, I wouldn’t make much of anything out of the July numbers so far, as it only includes all of 11 games and it’s heavily influenced by oddly high HR rates for multiple pitchers.
Right now, this bullpen is filled with young, talented pitchers. John Axford has burst onto the scene, doing almost everything right. By any metric, he has been fantastic. Zach Braddock has had poor luck, particularly with balls in play, and needs to get his GB% above 30%, but it’s hard to argue with a 11:3 K:BB rate. Kameron Loe has struggled this month is probably not a good option against lefties, but his hard biting two seamer is an excellent pitch and he looks like he could be a decent option out of the bullpen. Carlos Villanueva has made a huge step forward with the strikeouts and, aside from a recent rough patch, has pitched excellently this season.
These four form the core of a bullpen that is under team control and all under age 28. Throw in Todd Coffey to the mix and this bullpen should be among the best in baseball for the rest of the season. However, relievers are extremely fungible, and so we have to remember that very bad things can happen in small samples, and similarly, pitchers can fool us in those same samples. However, all of these pitchers have shown excellent stuff, which is what really matters out of the pen. I like what I’ve seen, both in the last month and a half and moving forward.