5/9-5/11 Series Preview: Milwaukee Brewers

RAB Live Chat
2014 Draft: J.J. Schwarz

For the first time this season, the Yankees are in a National League park for an interleague series. That means no designated hitter and lots of so-called strategy. The Yankees open a three-game set against the Brewers tonight, their first trip to Milwaukee since 2005. The last time they visited Miller Park, Alex Rodriguez hit his 400th career homerun (video). How about that?

What Have They Done Lately?
The Brew Crew come into this series with a 22-13 record and a +13 run differential. That’s the second best record in the game. They have hit the skids of late though, losing their last two games, four of their last five, and six of their last eight.

Manager Ron Roenicke’s club has a team 90 wRC+ and averages 3.97 runs per game, so it’s a below-average attack. That surprised me. For some reason I thought they were better. OF Ryan Braun (156 wRC+) is currently on the disabled list with an oblique problem and he is not eligible to return until next week. OF Carlos Gomez (147 wRC+) is healthy, but the appeal of his three-game suspension (stemming from a brawl with the Pirates) will be heard today, so he figures to miss at least one game this weekend. His rematch with Brian McCann will have to wait.

(Joe Sargent/Getty)
(Joe Sargent/Getty)

With Braun and potentially Gomez out, the Milwaukee lineup is headlined by C Jonathan Lucroy (117 wRC+), who is one of the most underrated players in the game. He’s a stud both at and behind the plate. 3B Aramis Ramirez (81 wRC+) is off to a really slow start, but you’ll hear him referred to as an “RBI Guy” anyway. Former Yankees 1B Lyle Overbay (79 wRC+) and 1B/3B Mark Reynolds (115 wRC+) are kinda sorta platooning at first, though Reynolds is seeing more and more time given his strong start (and Overbay’s poor start).

2B Rickie Weeks (78 wRC+) has been relegated to the bench in favor of 2B Scooter Gennett (97 wRC+). OF Khris Davis (75 wRC+) has a hilarious 35/1 K/BB, and SS Jean Segura (69 wRC+) simply hasn’t hit since about last June. He got off to such a great start last season but just stopped hitting all together. OF Logan Schafer (63 wRC+) has been playing regularly with Braun out. C Martin Maldonado (208 wRC+), OF Caleb Gindl (1 wRC+), and IF Jeff Bianchi (8 wRC+) fill out the bench and have been varying degrees of useful in limited time. It’s worth noting the Brewers have hit 36 homers this season, the fifth most in baseball. Miller Park is a big-time hitter’s park.

Pitching Matchups

Friday: RHP Masahiro Tanaka (No vs. MIL) vs. RHP Yovani Gallardo (vs. NYY) (GIFs)
Gallardo, 28, has rebounded from the worst season of his career wonderfully: 2.47 ERA (3.63 FIP) in seven starts and 43.2 innings, with excellent walk (2.27 BB/9 and 6.1 BB%), homer (0.62 HR/9 and 7.0 HR/FB%), and ground ball (51.8%) rates. He isn’t striking out many guys though (5.36 K/9 and 14.4 K%), and righties (.307 wOBA) are hitting him harder than lefties (.273 wOBA). Gallardo has reinvented himself as a two-seam fastball pitcher, using it more than ever before at the expense of his four-seamer. Both pitches sit in the low-90s. He also throws a mid-80s slider and an upper-70s curveball. Gallardo doesn’t have much of a changeup at all.

(Jeffrey Phelps/Getty)
(Jeffrey Phelps/Getty)

Saturday: LHP CC Sabathia (vs. MIL) vs. RHP Kyle Lohse (vs. NYY) (Pitcher GIFs)
Many Cardinals reclamation project pitchers fail to sustain their success elsewhere, but Lohse is the exception. The 35-year-old has a 2.72 ERA (3.25 FIP) in seven starts and 46.1 innings this year thanks to strong strikeout (8.16 K/9 and 22.0 K%), walk (2.33 BB/9 and 6.3 BB%), and homerun (0.78 HR/9 and 8.3 HR/FB%) rates. The grounder rate (39.8%) isn’t anything special. Lefties have clobbered Lohse this year (.372 wOBA) and righties haven’t touched him (.210 wOBA). An upper-80s sinker and low-80s slider are his two main pitches, though he’ll also throw an upper-70s changeup and a mid-70s curve. Lohse is really good, very Hiroki Kuroda-ian. Mixes it up, throws anything at anytime. His days of trying to throw fastballs by everyone are long gone.

By the way, expect Sabathia to get a massive ovation tomorrow night. He’s beloved in Milwaukee for what he did in 2008. Dude started four games in 12 days down the stretch and threw a 122-pitch complete game against the 97-win Cubs on the final day of the season to clinch the Brewers’ first postseason berth in 25 years. Ridiculous.

Sunday: RHP David Phelps (vs. MIL) vs. RHP Matt Garza (vs. NYY) (Pitcher GIFs)
Garza, 30, is a familiar face after all his time with the Rays. He has a 4.93 ERA (3.74 FIP) in his first seven starts and 42 innings with the Brewers, and the peripherals are okay: 7.50 K/9 (18.9 K%), 3.00 BB/9 (7.6 BB%), 0.86 HR/9 (8.5 HR/FB%), and 42.6% grounders. Lefties (.366 wOBA) have roughed him up pretty good so far this year. Righties (.281 wOBA) … not so much. Garza is almost exclusively a low-to-mid-90s fastball/mid-80s slider pitcher at this point. He throws a handful of mid-80s changeups and mid-70s curveballs per start, but not nearly as many as he used to. It’s worth noting Garza has been dealing with a thumb issue (jammed it during an at-bat, hooray DH!) and has his last two starts were up and down.

(Rick Yeatts/Getty)
(Rick Yeatts/Getty)

Bullpen Status
The Brewers were off yesterday, so their heavily used bullpen was able to get some rest. RHP Francisco Rodriguez (1.05 FIP) has been dynamite this year, as have setup men RHP Tyler Thornburg (2.12 FIP) and LHP Will Smith (2.19 FIP). Smith might be the most dominant lefty specialist in the game right now. He’s held same-side hitters a .146 wOBA with a 46.2% strikeout rate. Crazy. K-Rod, Thornburg, and Smith are three of only 12 pitchers to appear in 18 games so far this season.

The rest of the bullpen includes RHP Brandon Kintzler (6.58 FIP), RHP Rob Wooten (4.96 FIP), and LHP Zach Duke (1.84 FIP). The Brewers are also carrying Rule 5 Draft pick LHP Wei-Chung Wang (8.81 FIP), who jumped from rookie ball (!) to MLB. Roenicke never uses him. Wang has appeared in only five games (seven innings) this year and they have all been super low leverage emergency mop-up situations. They basically roll with a six-man bullpen and a 24-man roster. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for the status of the Yankees relievers, then check out Disciples of Uecker  and Brew Crew Ball for everything you need to know about the Brewers.

RAB Live Chat
2014 Draft: J.J. Schwarz
  • The Guns of Navarone

    Yanks sweep and we finally see the lineup start clicking. This team always gets on track against NL teams.

    Last season’s debacle vs the Mets notwithstanding.

  • mitch

    We’ll win 2 of 3 and lose the Sabathia game. CC vs. Lohse is the second biggest mismatch of all time following CC vs. Price. BGDP will dominate. Yadda yadda….I can’t even stand to write a parody for more than two sentences. Churning out daily, repetitive four paragraph posts is astonishing.

    • vicki

      you nailed it for a second there. i was confused.

  • Dicka24

    I’m not sure why they’re carrying the Wei-Chung Wang kid. 22 years old, and only has 47 innings in rookie ball under his belt. He throw 100 or something? He’s been lit up in his 7 innings to the tune of 10 ER. Yikes. To carry an arm like that at the major league level, on a team that hopes to contend, is really putting your squad at a disadvantage. I admit, I speak with full ignorance of the kids ceiling, and stuff, but from a general POV, he better be a bonafied prospect, with massive upside, in order for you to short change your big league club like this.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      I mean……do they like him THAT much better than every pitcher across every level of their minor league system?

      • nsalem

        Wang signed when he was 19 in October 2011. I thought he wouldn’t be available for Rule 5 until December 2015. What am I missing?

        • Ed

          After he signed his first contract, the physical revealed that he needed Tommy John surgery. His contract was then voided and renegotiated to a lower rate.

          If your first contract is voided, you become eligible for the Rule 5 draft after your first season.

          I’m completely blanking on who it effects, but the Yankees will have to deal with a similar situation after this season.

  • Jorge Steinbrenner

    You’re going to carry a Rule 5 guy out of Rookie Ball and not use him. I sort of get it, but really?

    • mitch

      Yeah it’s pretty strange….not exactly the best way to develop a young arm

  • TWTR

    Keep the NYY pitchers off of the bases.

  • Dicka24

    Seeing the results, it adds to the wonder of why the Yankees protected Jose Campos this past year. Obviously no two situations are identically the same, but you can get a vague idea of how difficult the jump from the low minors to the pros would seem to be.

    • TWTR

      I blame Newman.

    • Ed

      After seeing that a playoff contender took a guy out of rookie ball and is actually trying to keep him on the major league roster, I actually see why that added Campos to the roster. I don’t agree with it, but it looks a lot less dumb now that it did when they first added him.

  • Dan

    I’m excited. I’m flying out tomorrow morning to go catch the game. I’ve been to 4 games this year and I’m 4-0. Saw Tanaka twice, Kuroda once and I was at the first Pineda pine tar game. Hopefully CC doesn’t let me down.

    • RetroRob

      He’ll pitch his best game of the year!

  • cooolbreeez

    It was good to see that A Rod blast video. I know it’s against all odds but I’d love to see him back in a Yankee uniform next year and producing again.

    • TWTR

      But for his age, the time off, and the large salary, so would I. When right, no other player they have had over the last decade or more has scared the opposition as much at the plate. I’m just not sure that player still exists, and if he does, that he can stay on the field.

  • Ed

    I have to admit, I don’t understand at all why anyone would want pitchers in the lineup. You’re putting a guy in the lineup who gets 2-3 at bats every 5 days or so. In the best case scenario, you’ve got a career NL pitcher, who used to hit regularly in high school or college, then only had a few years off from hitting while in the minors. Worst case, you get AL pitcher, who never hit in the minors, and then gets maybe a couple dozen at bats each year.

    Is there entertainment value in watching a guy try to hit who doesn’t stand much of a chance?

    And the whole “strategy” aspect of it… it basically comes down to choosing when to take the at bat away from a guy who’s certainly going to suck, and instead give it to a bench player who’s probably going to suck. It’s an improvement, but usually only a minor one.

    I just don’t get it.

    • http://www.penuel-law.com/ Cuso

      It gives fans of National League teams the opportunity to use terms like “Senior Circuit” and “baseball purist.” That’s the only allure.

    • Now Batting

      It’s not that they want pitchers in the lineup per se. My NL fan friends typically argue 9 guys on the field should be the 9 guys in the lineup. I don’t agree with it but I get it.

  • Mikhel

    I have a bad feeling about today’s game… And I think that Yovanni might pitch an excellent game and Tanaka a crappy game.

    Though I am excited and can not wait to watch Masahiro batting… Imagine if Tanaka hits a grand slam like he did when he was a stellar catcher in amateur ball in Japan!

  • JGYank

    Tanaka fun facts time:

    Tanaka has made 6 starts, all of them have been quality starts.

    Tanaka has given up less BBs (6) than HRs (7). 4 of those BBs came in 1 start.

    Despite giving up 7 HRs, Tanaka has given up only 12 ER (13 unearned runs). 6 of the HRs were solo shots, with the other being a 3 run shot, so 9 runs were from HRs. He has only given up 3 ER otherwise. They don’t HR, they don’t score.

    Tanaka has the same amount of IP (42.2) as Kuroda (Kuroda has made 1 more start). Tanaka has given up 11 fewer hits (35 vs. 46), 1 less BB, has 18 more Ks (51 vs 33), but has given up three more HRs. He has also given up 9 fewer ERs, so he’s saved the team almost 10 runs in a little over a month by just not duplicating Kuroda’s performance.

    Tanaka has a 30.4 K%, 3.6 BB% (1.27 BB/9), 8.5 K/BB, .217 AVG against, 90.1% LOB%, and .96 WHIP. His 10.76 K/9 leads all Yankee pitchers with at least 5 IP except Betances (who has an insane 15.58 K/9!).

    He’s averaging 105.2 pitches and 7.11 (7 and 1/9, not 1/3) IP per start.

    He has a 61 ERA- (2.53 ERA) which means he’s means he’s been 39% better than average ERA wise. His FIP- is 84 (3.32 FIP). His xFIP is 2.15 and his xFIP- is 57!

    Tanaka has had some HR problems: 1.48 HR/9, and a 21.9% HR/FB which should regress significantly.

    So far, his batted ball profile is 49.5% GB, 29.9% FB, 20.6% LD, 1.66 GB/FB. 9.4% of his FBs have been pop-ups. Opposing hitters have a .272 BABIP against him.

    His 162 game avg is 34 GS, 242 IP, 23-0, 198 H, 74 R (68 ER), 40 HR(!), 34 BB, and 289 Ks! Yes, that’s what he’s actually on pace for.

    This guy is amazing.

    • CS Yankee

      I’m thinking he could be the first guy ever to have a sub-2.00 ERA and give up 30 dingers (which usually leads the non-Hughes league).

      His fip on innings after 4 IP has to be beastly as well.

      • JGYank

        No chance he finishes under a 2 ERA as a SP in YS in the AL East. That’s nearly impossible. I think there is a chance he finishes with a sub 3 ERA, but that’s expecting a lot for a guy is a rookie and has to adjust to a new league. Won’t happen if he gives up 30+ HRs. His LOB% is unsustainable so runners that reach base will probably start scoring more often. It has been a small sample size and the hitters haven’t seen him before so it will be hard for him to keep this up.

        But if he puts up anything close to the numbers he’s on pace for and does a better job of controlling his HR total, he’ll win the Cy Young hands down.

  • Bronx Boy

    At the beginning of this series (and as a former Chien-Ming Wang fan) I’d like to go officially on record as saying the no DH rule totally sucks.