After spending most of the season reading about the Brewers’ losses the following morning, I had the joy of experiencing six consecutive losses on eastern time, without interrupting my sleep schedule. Needless to say, I was humbled by the idea that the Brewers might save some of their worst baseball of the season for my wide-awake ears.
Frankly, as a Disciple of Uecker, I’ve never been so concerned — it sounded like our Milwaukee nine broke the spirit of our beloved broadcaster on Tuesday night. Yesterday, Joe Block prepared for the forthcoming doom by announcing that if John Mayberry reached base, the winning run would come to the plate. Of course, he meant “potential winning run,” but he said what everyone else was thinking: how on earth are the Brewers going to bloW it again!?
Even common turns of phrase sound like curses during losing streaks.
Of course, I’m being over-dramatic. This stretch of play certainly doesn’t define the 2012 Milwaukee Brewers club, and there is a lot of baseball remaining in the season. However, it’s difficult to see this stretch of baseball and think that the team could snap out of it, as they did in 2011. Those Brewers lost 7 consecutive road games between Houston, Atlanta, and St. Louis, during their trip to a 13-19 start.
Trade Deadline Reports
J.P. Breen put together a concise and useful summary of potential suitors for Brewers right-hander Zack Greinke. As Breen speculated about the Orioles, MLBTradeRumors reported that the Brewers’ requests for shortstop Manny Macahado were rejected. So, while the return for Greinke might be higher than previous markets for RHP suggest, it looks like there will be real limits to what the starter returns. (Early Thursday update here).
While reading MLBTradeRumors earlier yesterday evening, it occurred to me that the Brewers might be expected to deal anyone (or everyone) that yields a decent return. Players included on a “potential trade” list range from Aramis Ramirez to Corey Hart and George Kottaras. This makes me wonder, to what extent do the Brewers expect to compete next year? Or, to what extent are players like Ramirez and Hart a part of those plans? My inclination would be that a competitive 2013 Brewers club would feature serviceable corner anchors like Hart and Ramirez. It will be interesting to see if the Brewers have other plans.
If the Brewers’ bullpen handed away leads like they were going out of style over the last week, exiled closer John Axford certainly did not receive the memo. Since his demotion, Axford worked 5 games and 5.3 IP, surrendering 2 hits and 1 walk, while fanning 5. Even better, if manager Ron Roenicke used Axford earlier in ballgames, he did not necessarily keep Axford away from high leverage situations. Axford inherited 6 runners, for instance, stranding each and every one.
Yesterday’s game in Philadelphia featured several strong innings by Axford, Tyler Thornburg, and Livan Hernandez, allowing the Brewers’ offense to climb back into the ballhame. Axford’s work in the 8th and 9th inning was strong, particularly as he struck out the side in the Phillies’ half of the 9th. Axford went after Ryan Howard with a fastball to do the trick, while he froze Chase Utley on a hard breaking ball and got Hunter Pence on a curve in the dirt.
Overall, Axford relied less on his fastball over the last week, selecting the mid-90s offering in 55 of 85 of his pitches. He split the difference between his hard slider and curve, ultimately throwing 17 of 30 breaking balls in the strike zone. This is an overall improvement for Axford, who threw approximately 53% of his breaking balls in the strike zone for the season, but it’s especially an improvement for his curveball.
Although news reports suggest that Axford is slowly working his way back to closer, with a layover in the 8th inning, his recent success might override Francisco Rodriguez‘s struggles. Ultimately, Axford might have forced his way back into the closer’s role.
Over the course of the season, I’ve been following Rickie Weeks‘s plate approach, as the second baseman works back into form from his rough start. One of the trademarks of Weeks’s approach is the fact that he does not rely on contact — simply, batting the ball in play — to generate his production.
In order to evaluate the likelihood of a non-contact player entering a prolonged slump (like that of Dan Uggla throughout parts of last year, or, perhaps famously, Adam Dunn), I would like to ask: how many non-contact bats play in 2012 National League? (Before we can analyze their slumps, we must know who they are).
According to Baseball-Reference, 74 National League batters currently qualify for the batting title. Limiting ourselves first to qualifying bats, we can find approximately 36 NL batters who put the ball in play in fewer than 68% of their plate appearances. The average NL batter strikes out just over 20% of his plate appearances, walks 8% of the time, and homers 2.5% of his plate appearances.
Of those 36 players who bat the ball into play less than 68% of the time, 10 of those players bat the ball into play between 65% to 67% of the time. This suggests that although they are not necessarily contact hitters, they do not take their K/BB/HR reliance to an extreme level.
This leaves us with 26 players who bat the ball into play in 64% (or fewer) of their plate appearances. Of course, there are a full spectrum of bats in this group. For instance, superstars Ryan Braun and Joey Votto (wink) bat the ball in play much less frequently than the league average, but that’s partially because they hit so many home runs and get pitched around (and draw walks, of course). However, neither batter strikes out at an extreme rate, which suggests that they are closer to “contact” hitters that happen to hit boatloads of home runs (and therefore walk more, too). That’s a lot different than someone like Drew Stubbs, who strikes out a ton while achieving a moderately above average home run rate, or the Brewers’ very own Rickie Weeks, who builds his approach off of extremely high walk rates and a basically average home run rate (with, of course, strike outs to boot).
Even though the National League average K/BB ratio is higher than 2:1, a simple way to divide this group of players is into batters that fall within a 2:1 K/BB ratio, and those outside a 2:1 ratio.
Within 2:1 K:BB
This group might set us on the way to finding more disciplined non-contact hitters. Votto, of course, might be subtracted from the group, but really, exceptional hitters don’t typically fit in with many groups (so we don’t have to worry too much about finding a home for Votto).
To this group we might add: non-contact players that strike out less frequently than the league average:
Poor Brauny — we are punishing him for his 6.9% HR rate (!!!). Like Votto, he won’t fit in many classes of hitters, except for the best.
Now, on our hunt for more-disciplined non-contact hitters, we might add players that walk more frequently than the league average. Oddly enough, 23 of the 26 batters that put the ball in play less than 64% of the time walk at a rate better than 8%. But, what about a 12% rate (or, 50% better than the league average)?
Just in case you think I’m pandering to Weeks, here are the players not included in the lists above who walk better than 10% of the time:
Interestingly enough, we might see some similarities in home run ratios within each of these sub-groups.
Within 2:1 K:BB
Dan Uggla (3.0 HR%)
Joey Votto (3.8 HR%)
Miguel Montero (2.7 HR%)
Chase Headley (2.6 HR%)
Gregor Blanco (1.6 HR%)
Justin Upton (2.1% HR%)
Oddly enough, except for Votto, these batters don’t stray too far from the average NL home run rate. Some of that might be related to park factor, but even Upton fits this group and he plays in a pretty good offensive park.
Rickie Weeks (2.3% HR)
Dexter Fowler (3.5% HR)
Fowler and Weeks don’t appear to be very similar, but compared with the group of players that sit between 10% and 12% BB, they represent lower home run rates:
Lucas Duda (3.4% HR)
Giancarlo Stanton (5.9% HR)
Jason Kubel (5.8% HR)
Adam LaRoche (4.5% HR)
Jason Heyward (3.7% HR)
Jay Bruce (4.9% HR)
If this brief survey teaches us anything, it is that each class of hitters features diverse subgroups that exemplify specific batting traits. Even within a group of non-contact hitters, we find variations between batters that focus more on walks, and those that focus much more on home runs (or rather, those with approaches that might be more disciplined and passive yielding walks, and those that might be more disciplined and aggressive, yielding home runs).
What I will be interested to know is whether those batters that post more disciplined K/BB rates or rely less on the home run are more or less likely to slump.
Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC., 2000-2012.
TexasLeaguers. Trip Somers, 2009-2012.