With One-Third of the Schedule Completed, Here’s What We’ve Learned About the Brewers
Piña deserves more playing time, Sogard deserves less, and a few pitchers are making strong impressions.
After a series win against the Chicago Cubs, the Brewers have now completed one-third of their schedule. That would typically mean the Crew has 54 games in the books. However, this is a shortened season unlike any other, so the Brewers have only played 20 games.
When a usual season reaches the one-third mark, concrete storylines have been established, flukier performances have started to experience a correction, and managers are making most of their decisions based on the results they’ve seen in the current season rather than the one prior. 20 games is still a relatively small sample size, but a 60-game slate means less time for correction and that leashes must be shortened. With that, here is what we’ve learned about the Brewers this season, both good and bad.
Manny Pina deserves increased playing time
This is something that you would typically chalk up to small sample size, as the Pineapple has just 31 plate appearances. However, the veteran backstop has raked to the tune of a 174 wRC+ while the typical starter, Omar Narvaez, remains mired in a massive slump. Pina’s hot streak won’t last forever, and Narvaez remains the better player in the long run, but this season is a sprint, not a marathon. For the time being, it should be Pina getting the majority of the starts behind the plate.
Eric Sogard’s playing time should be reduced
Sogard showed exceptional patience at the plate over the first week of the season, but his inability to make hard contact has led to poor results at the plate. Nerd Power’s slash line currently sits at .196/.328/.232. His low BABIP will trend upward, but if he had maintained his .316 BABIP from last season, the veteran infielder would still be hitting just .209 and be a well below-average hitter. Per Statcast, he has the second-lowest hard-hit rate among qualified hitters, is in the 4th percentile in average exit velocity, and has yet to register a barreled ball.
Here is how each middle infield option on the active roster has performed this season:
Luis Urias: 198 wRC+
Orlando Arcia: 118 wRC+
Jedd Gyorko: 116 wRC+
Keston Hiura: 90 wRC+
Sogard: 68 wRC+
Brock Holt: 13 wRC+
With four infield options on the roster out-performing him by a wide margin, it’s time to move Sogard into the bench/utility/defensive replacement role that he is best suited for.
Devin Williams and David Phelps look like dudes
Devin Williams and David Phelps have quickly emerged as Craig Counsell’s top setup options ahead of Josh Hader, who is now functioning as a traditional closer.
Williams has used his fantastic changeup to baffle hitters. The off-speed offering has some of the best movement in the game. It is second among all changeups with 7.7 more inches of vertical drop than average and 4.8 more inches of horizontal break. The 25-year-old pairs it with a blazing fastball that averages 96 miles-per-hour. The results have been eye-popping — Williams leads the team with a 46% strikeout rate while posting a 1.04 ERA, 2.44 FIP, and 2.15 SIERA.
Phelps has been equally as impressive. In 8 2/3 innings, the veteran has allowed just one run, posted a 0.83 FIP, and has punched out hitters in 41.9% of their opportunities against him. He has leaned heavily on his cutter but has also benefitted from increased velocity on his fastball and a revamped curveball.
All it takes is one bad outing to dramatically skew those numbers, but Williams and Phelps look like a strong 1–2 punch ahead of the back-to-back NL Reliever of the Year recipient.
Freddy Peralta has shined in relief
After making an underwhelming start in his first appearance of the season, Fastball Freddy has been dynamite out of the bullpen. Peralta has faced 33 hitters over nine scoreless innings in relief, allowing five to reach base while striking out 19. I went into greater detail about the difference pitching as a reliever makes for Peralta over at Brew Crew Ball.
Corbin Burnes is a different pitcher
Again, I penned the fleshed-out version of this analysis at Brew Crew Ball. The short version is that Burnes has significantly altered his arsenal and pitch selection, the highlight being the addition of a power sinker that is now his primary pitch.
The adjustments have made a difference, as Burnes has posted a 3.38 ERA and 3.39 FIP in 16 innings and is being rewarded with a return to the rotation. He does still have a few issues to sort out — the righty has been effectively wild (6.19 BB/9) and has not used his slider as often as I’d like to see. The bottom line, however, is that he is making great progress.
The Ben Gamel breakout season hasn’t happened
The Gamel Hype Train was roaring ahead at full speed when he performed well in Summer Camp and slugged .750 in his first 21 plate appearances of the season. When Gamel got consistent playing time after Lorenzo Cain decided to opt out, the train immediately flew off the rails, crashed, exploded, and burned. 16 of Gamel’s last 33 trips to the plate have resulted in a strikeout, and he now owns an anemic 39.3% K rate and 39 wRC+. The hype about Gamel unlocking more power hasn’t materialized, either. His barrel rate remains over double what it was last year, but that is the only smoke left from this fire — Gamel’s other batted ball stats are not pleasant.