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Entries in Milwaukee Brewers (36)


Carlos Gomez Uses Opposite Field, Develops into Elite Hitter

Arguably the biggest storyline in an otherwise forgettable 2013 campaign for the Milwaukee Brewers was the development of center fielder Carlos Gomez, whose career-best 8.4 bWAR last season was the second highest mark of any position player in baseball -- beating out the likes of NL MVP Andrew McCutchen (8.2 bWAR) and AL MVP Miguel Cabrera (7.2 bWAR). Missing just five of 162 regular season games, the former Mets top prospect posted career-highs in batting average (.284), OPS (.843), weighted on-base average (.344) and walk rate (6.3%), along with setting personal bests in defensive WAR (4.6) and stolen bases (40).

Of course, one of Gomez's career-best marks set last season that pundits remain skeptical of was his .344 batting average on balls in play (BABIP, for short), which increased dramatically from his 2012 mark of .296. The reason behind his success last season, many said, mainly stemmed from the increase in BABIP -- a stat that measures a player's batting average, excluding strikeouts and home runs. Some went as far as to say Gomez was one of the "luckiest" hitters in baseball last season. While I acquiesce that there is at least some luck involved with maintaining a high BABIP, I tend to think that hitters maketheir own luck by augmenting specific facets of their approach at the plate.

Such is the case with Gomez last season.

Gomez's BA on hits located to center and right field, 2012

Gomez's BA on hits located to center and right field, 2013

A pull hitter if there ever was one, Gomez relied heavily on his ability to yank pitches to left field with authority in posting a .413 batting average in such situations two seasons ago. Consequently, he struggled to maintain such a high mark on hits to center and right field, garnering a .275 average on such hits and ranking in the bottom 25% of the league in that respect. And as we can see from the first image, there was no specific area of the zone where Gomez's center and opposite field-hits originated from. Instead, it lacked any noticeable consistency.

That all changed last season, where Gomez clearly made it a point to go either the opposite way or to center field with pitches located on the outer half of the plate. As such, he posted a much-improved .359 batting average on opposite and center-field hits -- placing himself just outside the top fourth of all qualified batters. Another reason for Gomez's success hitting to center and right field? He place better quality contact behind those hits, posting a .197 well-hit average last season compared to his .152 mark in 2012.

But how does BABIP tie into all this? Last season, hits located to either center field or the batter's pull side generated a BABIP of .304, compared to the .312 league average BABIP on hits located to either center field or the batter's opposite field. What this means is that hitters are more likely to maintain a higher BABIP on hits located to their opposite field than to the pull side, which minimize's the "luck" factor placed upon Gomez last season, since his increases were so significant. But since Gomez placed significantly better contact on such pitches last season, I tend to think he made his own luck.


Improvements Against Non-Fastballs Key to Francisco's Career

The Milwaukee Brewers have several decisions to make this winter, and chief among those decisions includes who they plan to start at first base come opening day next season. This decision is crucial for general manager Doug Melvin, who witnessed seven different players combine for a .206/.259/.370 slash line at the position in 2013, two years after Prince Fielder started every game at first base for Milwaukee and posted a .299/.415/.566 line.

One player the organization believes could become its long-term solution is 26-year-old Juan Francisco, who after being dealt to Milwaukee from Atlanta in June batted .221.300/.433 with 13 home runs in 89 games. Those aren't numbers that will (or should) excite anyone, but the Brewers believe the former top 10 Cincinnati Reds prospect's power could develop into a legitimate weapon if the rest of his game improves.

The problem is, Francisco's power was only evident against fastball variations with the team in 2013.

Francisco's Slugging Percentage vs. "Hard" Stuff with Milwaukee, 2013

Against fastballs (i.e. four-seams, sinkers, cutters, splitters) last season, Francisco posted a .266 average and .594 slugging percentage, the latter being well above the league-average mark of .466. His HR/FB rate finished at a whopping 25.0%, which would have been only second to the Pirates' Pedro Alvarez (24.7%) among National League batters had he been eligible at the end of the season. His well-hit average stood at .271 against these offerings, as well, a mark that actually beat Fielder (.270) andGiancarlo Stanton (.265), among others.

His plate discipline against these offerings last season raises some concern, however. He struck out at a 27.2% clip (compared to the 14% league rate) against 'hard' stuff, put only 33.1% of them in play (fourth-worst among batters who played at least 100 games) and swung-and-missed 24.8% of the time, which beat out the 16.5% league mark with ease.

Francisco's Slugging Percentage vs. "Soft" Stuff with Milwaukee, 2013

Yet his plate discipline issues against fastballs seem inconsequential compared to his tendencies against all other offerings. Against 'soft' stuff (i.e. curves, sliders, changeups, knuckleballs) last season with Milwaukee, Francisco yielded a strikeout rate of 48.6% (more than 20% higher than against 'hard' stuff), placed a mere 21.5% of them in play (highest among lefties who played in at least 80 games) and whiffed at a 45.3% clip (second-highest of all lefty bats to Alvarez's 47.0%).

In consequence, Francisco finished with a .155 average and .196 slugging percentage against non-fastballs last season,  the latter being nearly .200 points below the .386 league-average mark. His HR/FB rate descended to 0.0% in 105 plate apperances against non-fastballs, and his well-hit average fell to .133, which was well below the .152 league mark.

Once a heralded talent in the Reds' farm system, Francisco window for success is closing with birthday No. 27 approaching this June. The Brewers like his power and have an opening at first base, yet he wasn't particularly impressive during his stay with the team last season, and his obvious struggles against non-fastballs had a big say. To be a serious candidate for the team's long-term plans at first base, he'll have to develop into more than fastball hitter.


Axford Getting Tagged in Two-Strike Counts

Few relievers were as dominant as John Axford during his first two years as the Milwaukee Brewers' closer. Axford placed tenth among qualified 'pen arms in both park-and-league adjusted ERA (183 ERA+) and Wins Above Replacement (3.8) in 2010 and 2011, reaching the apex of his profession after enduring a career arc at times promising (he was a touted Notre Dame recruit) and depressing (he signed as a free agent with the Yankees 2006 after a stint with the Melville Millionaires, a Canadian summer league team that, ironically enough, doesn't pay players).

While he won't be suiting up in Saskatchewan again any time soon, Axford's last two seasons in the majors have been brutal. He has the fourth-worst adjusted ERA (88 ERA+) and ranks dead last in WAR (-1.6) among relievers since the start of the 2012 season, which helps explain how the St. Louis Cardinals were able to pick him up today for a player to be named.

The big difference between the version of Axford closing out games and finishing in the top 10 in Cy Young Award voting and the version mopping up blowouts is home run prevention. Axford surrendered a mere 0.3 home runs per nine innings in 2010-11, but 1.5 HR/9 in 2012-13. He's having a particularly hard time keeping the ball in the park in two-strike counts, when he seemingly should have hitters in his clutches.

Axford allowed just one home run in two-strike counts during the 2010-11 seasons, and he limited batters to a .169 slugging percentage -- more 100 points lower than the MLB average for relievers over that time frame (.260).

Hitters' slugging percentage vs. Axford in two-strike counts, 2010-11


The last two years, though? Axford is getting touched up far more often when hitters have their backs against the wall.

Hitters' slugging percentage vs. Axford in two-strike counts, 2012-13

Axford has coughed up the most two-strike home runs among relievers over the 2012-13 seasons (nine), and he's allowing a .318 slugging percentage.

Pitch selection may be part of the problem. He's throwing more two-strike fastballs in recent years (64% during the 2012-13 seasons) than he did as a shutdown closer (55% in 2010-11), an approach he might want to reconsider. Seven of the nine homers that Axford has given up in two-strike counts in 2012-13 have come off of the heat. Breaking out the breaking stuff more often could help Axford finish off hitters in St. Louis.

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