Our Milwaukee Nine are having a rough season, and there was not a better demonstration of that fact than the San Francisco Giants’ sixth inning performance against Kyle Lohse and three relievers: Jeremy Jeffress, Will Smith, and Neal Cotts. The inning exhibited a crushing shift in probability, as the veteran Lohse began the inning with his club inheriting a 90% Win Probability after Angel Pagan struck out to open the frame. A set of three singles and a walk promptly changed that, bringing the score to 4-to-3 Brewers before Jeffress promptly blew the lead. When Jeffress entered the game, the Brewers’ odds for winning still stood around 60%; after Jeffress allowed three consecutive singles, and Smith a walk and a double, the Brewers left the frame with a 7% chance in winning. The inning was brutal not simply because the Brewers lost a solid lead, but also because their bullpen obliterated any odds that the Brewers might stage a comeback win.
What makes the inning so difficult to analyze is that Lohse simply was not throwing strikes. This worked to his favor when he faced Pagan, who swung at three borderline pitches to record the first out of the inning. While one could praise this approach for Lohse, arguing that he got Pagan to expand the strike zone and thus gained an advantage over the Giants catalyst, that plan of attack did not work for the following batters (who either walked or expanded their zone to hit low, middle, and high pitches).
It did not matter whether Lohse tried to work his slider or change against San Francisco batters; whether those off speed pitches were borderline or far outside, the Giants bats saw what they were looking for and punished the veteran right-hander. First, Hunter Pence spat on a ball outside, and then knocked a borderline, low slider for a single.
After Pence’s single, Lohse finally threw a pitch into the strike zone, but Brandon Belt fouled away that low-strike slider. Even a “homer” called strike on the second pitch could not help Lohse, who promptly threw four pitches outside the zone (two sliders, a sinker, and change).
Brandon Crawford followed his teammate’s walk by expanding the strike zone with his swings, missing on a change-up and sinker before ultimately knocking a high, outside change into left field.
Lohse’s final batter faced, Matt Duffy, did not wait long to plate two runs, as the first low, borderline slider was good enough for the young third baseman to produce a single.
Ultimately, Lohse threw 18 pitches in the sixth inning, and (by my count) only one of those pitches was a true strike. Despite his wildness, Lohse induced seven swings from Giants bats. Unfortunately, those swings did not help Lohse maximize his outside offerings, as only one of those swings recorded an out. Even worse, Lohse stuck with his recent approach of using his change-up and slider during the inning, and he also mixed eye levels. None of those strategies or approaches worked for Lohse.
One can criticize the Brewers in one area:
- Pence’s single occurred on an “away” pitch.
- Balls three and four against Belt were “away.”
- Crawford and Duffy singled on “away” pitches.
- Jeffress failed to execute three “low” pitches, each resulting in a hit.
For the span of seven batters, the Brewers did not change “hitting areas,” even though they were changing eye levels (Lohse worked batters high and low, for instance, but was staying “away” too much). One could conceivably argue that if the Giants knew Lohse was not coming inside, expanding the zone away would be an easy task. In this case, nearly one full half of the plate (or more) was eliminated, leaving Giants bats only to worry about whether they would receive a high or low sinker or off speed pitch. While that still leaves some room for variables, it also arguably gives the batters more of a chance to “see ball, hit ball” and simply try to make contact on a certain hitting area. Jeffress encountered the same fate, as it appeared that he was trying to work the Giants low (with pitches landing right out over the plate, instead).
Before criticizing or analyzing Craig Counsell‘s use of the bullpen to spell Lohse, or to ask whether Counsell waited too long to pull Lohse, it is most important to analyze the Brewers’ pitching approach. If the pitchers are not maximizing hitting areas and eye levels, attacking any and all sides of the plate, batters will have an easier time making contact by zoning in and squaring up on one area. Even if one is inclined to argue that the Giants got “lucky” against Lohse, the fact is, if Lohse was not diversifying his offerings to San Francisco bats, it is no wonder that a group of contact-oriented hitters simply feasted on one area of the plate.