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  • Can the Brewers Change the Narrative Against Left-Handed Pitching in 2023?


    Kyle Ginsbach

    It’s no secret the Brewers struggled against left-handed pitching in 2022. Barring considerable roster upheaval, most adjustments must come from within if Milwaukee is looking to improve against lefties going forward.

    Image courtesy of © Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

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    A significant contributor to the Brewers' offensive mediocrity last season was, in part, their inability to find success against left-handed pitching. The team OPS of .673 against lefties ranked 25th in the big leagues and was nearly 70 points behind their OPS against right-handers. To add insult to injury, the Brewers' late-season collapse was perhaps sparked by division rival St. Louis adding two left-handed pitchers via trade at the deadline.

    It isn’t uncommon for ball clubs to find themselves struggling against left-handers. Naturally, heavy left-handed lineups struggle against lefty pitchers, while right-handed lineups will commonly find more success. As it stands now, the Brewers will feature an everyday lineup packed full of left-handed hitters, but they may have some platoon-based answers for those pesky left-handed pitchers.

    The Outfield
    The Brewers currently feature five outfielders on their 40-man roster, four of which figure to get the bulk of the playing time. Christian Yelich, Jesse Winker, and Garrett Mitchell hit left-handed, while Tyrone Taylor is the lone righty among the four. Sal Frelick also figures to be in the mix for an OF spot during spring training, another left-handed hitter.

    Screen Shot 2022-12-20 at 1.14.08 PM.png

    Yelich is likely to play every day, doesn’t feature an extreme difference in his platoon splits, and has also shown the ability to hit comfortably against left-handers, so there could be answers. Whether Yelich deserves the chance to play against lefties and righties can be debatable, but the Brewers will play Yelich whenever available.

    Jesse Winker is coming off the worst offensive season in his career. In Seattle, Winker slashed .219/.344/.688, with a OPS+ of 103, well below his career mark of 123. As if the poor offensive season wasn’t uncharacteristic enough, Winker hit better against left-handers last season. His WRC+ against lefties was 37 points higher than it was against righties, and his K% sat comfortably below 20 percent. If Winker can keep that kind of success against lefties, he might be another part of the puzzle the Brewers are looking to solve, though year-over-year splits are often volatile so it's likely Winker regresses against left-handers in 2023.

    Garrett Mitchell only had five major league plate appearances against lefties last year, and already slated as the fourth outfielder, Mitchell should, and likely will find most of his playing time against right-handers. As for Tyrone Taylor, his situation is likely the opposite of Mitchell’s. Though his 2022 splits favor him against right-handers, he showed better plate discipline against lefties, and the already left-handed heavy outfield will make it difficult for him to see the field against righties often. 

    Catching
    Milwaukee currently carries three catchers on their 40-man and will carry at least two on the major league roster. Recently acquired William Contreras figures to play against lefties and righties, while Victor Caratini and Henry will serve as backups throughout the season.

    Screen Shot 2022-12-20 at 1.55.48 PM.png

    If the Brewers were looking for someone to mash left-handed pitching, they solved it in their early December trade with Oakland and Atlanta. William Contreras slugged nearly .600 against LHP in his first big league season, with an OPS+ of 187. As for both Henry and Caratini, there is some concern. Henry is an inexperienced hitter, while Caratini hit only .168/.276/.290 against lefties last year, despite being a switch hitter. Like many switch hitters, Caratini's strong side is against right-handed pitching, and he's unlikely to start often against lefties unless Contreras is injured.

    The Infield
    Barring a significant trade or free agent signing, Willy Adames is the only infielder who will see consistent playtime no matter what pitcher is on the mound. Still, the Brewers have a wealth of different infielders to choose from, but the key will be choosing when and where those players play.

    Screen Shot 2022-12-20 at 1.10.55 PM.png

    The biggest piece to the infield puzzle is Keston Hiura. Against right-handers, Hiura slashed .254/.344/.522, but just .188/.275/.344 against left-handers. Even though Hiura hits right-handed, it’s time for the Brewers to accept the reverse splits. If Hiura’s going to play, it can’t be against left-handers, no matter what traditional logic may tell you.

    As for the rest of the infield, the Brewers' options present themselves:

    Abraham Toro (Career 64 wRC+ vs. LHP)

    Luis Urías (Career 120 wRC+ vs. LHP)

    Mike Brosseau (Career 127 wRC+ vs. LHP)

    Rowdy Tellez (Career 94 wRC+ vs. LHP)

    Owen Miller (Career 65 wRC+ vs. LHP)

    Brice Turang (108 wRC+ in AAA in 2022)

    If the Brewers play matchup correctly in the infield, they shouldn’t have many problems handling lefties with their current group of players. If they make the wrong decisions, such as starting Hiura against left-handed starters, lefties could again be the Brewers' kryptonite in 2023.

    Potential Lineup
    Keeping these numbers in mind, here's what a healthy Brewers lineup may look like when facing an LHP in 2023:

    1. Christian Yelich LF

    2. Willy Adames SS

    3. Jesse Winker DH

    4. William Contreras C

    5. Rowdy Tellez 1B

    6. Luis Urías 2B

    7. Mike Brosseau 3B

    8. Garret Mitchell/Sal Frelick CF

    9. Tyrone Taylor RF

    What do you think, Brewer fans? Do you think Milwaukee can improve against left-handers next season? What would your lineup look like against an LHP? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

    Screen Shot 2022-12-20 at 1.10.55 PM.png

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    In AAA, Turang and Frelick both held their own against left-handed pitching, according to the splits on Baseball-Reference. Mitchell was probably the least effective - if you think a .766 OPS is awful.

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    7 minutes ago, clancyphile said:

    In AAA, Turang and Frelick both held their own against left-handed pitching, according to the splits on Baseball-Reference. Mitchell was probably the least effective - if you think a .766 OPS is awful.

    Hopefully they'll both be competent against lefties, like Tellez.

    But I tend to take MiLB splits with a huge grain of salt, especially for lefties. So few left-handers perform decently against LHP, I tend to assume a prospect will be bad against southpaws until they show me they aren't for a few seasons.

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    I've felt that improvement vs LHP was one of the two ways (an 8th inning RP being the other) to finish out the off season.  Contreras should help greatly, but would like to have someone to share time with Rowdy and/or Winker if needed.

    On the free agent side, maybe that means a guy like Trey Mancini or Wil Meyers.  Or as mentioned in other threads recently, maybe it's a trade for Eduardo Escobar. 

    While Owen Miller wasn't a bad get, I'm not so sure he is the answer to this problem especially after looking at the splits in this article.

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    damuelle
  • Brewer Fanatic Contributor
  • Posted

    Thank you for the article. I'm guessing our current plans for rounding out the lineup against LHP are:

    • Plan A: Hope Hiura is fixed (though you wisely cautioned against expecting this)
    • Plan B: Hope Winker, Toro, Miller or Perkins surprisingly hits lefties well in spring training and it carries over to the regular season
    • Plan C: Play a whole lot of small ball with the likes of Turang and Mitchell
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    1 hour ago, bensheeps said:

    I've felt that improvement vs LHP was one of the two ways (an 8th inning RP being the other) to finish out the off season.  Contreras should help greatly, but would like to have someone to share time with Rowdy and/or Winker if needed.

    On the free agent side, maybe that means a guy like Trey Mancini or Wil Meyers.  Or as mentioned in other threads recently, maybe it's a trade for Eduardo Escobar. 

    While Owen Miller wasn't a bad get, I'm not so sure he is the answer to this problem especially after looking at the splits in this article.

    I’d love a trade for Escobar but it’s hard to see Cohen decreasing payroll or trading off a useful asset. He has made it quite clear he wants to win at ANY cost. 

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    One of the difficulties in analyzing L/R splits is that they tend to be highly variable from season to season for some players.

    Looking at RH OPS minus LH OPS (Negative means reverse splits for LH hitter)

    Rowdy: 2022: 0.157, Career: 0.068

    Winker: 2022: -0.143 Career: 0.224

    Yelich:  2022: 0.063 Career: 0.093

    Wong: 2022: 0.404 Career: 0.101 (Wong added for reference)

    Our LH rookies have had reverse (Turang) or very slight splits (Mitchell, Frelick), but we really don't know if that will persist in the majors; it often doesn't as players face better pitchers.

    Last year, Contreras killed LHP, while Urias, and Brosseau did slightly better against LHP, while Adames had a  reverse split (and that agrees with his career numbers). Taylor had a slight reverse split.

    I hate to say it, but our best hope is for our LH hitters to randomly not have a bad year vs. LH pitchers. That's right, the best we can hope for is random chance. Or maybe for some of our RH hitters to finally realize they're supposed to mash LH pitchers.

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    On 12/21/2022 at 10:35 AM, Brock Beauchamp said:

    Hopefully they'll both be competent against lefties, like Tellez.

    But I tend to take MiLB splits with a huge grain of salt, especially for lefties. So few left-handers perform decently against LHP, I tend to assume a prospect will be bad against southpaws until they show me they aren't for a few seasons.

    I get that, but I think the fact that they've been able to handle lefties in the minors at least shows they can stay in on them. They're not bailing out like so many lefties do. 

    At that point, it's just a matter of contact IMO. If Frelick, Mitchell, Turang, if they can put the ball in play vs lefties, they're going to be alright. They may only carry a .680 OPS, but I could see it being a .330/.350 type line for Mitchell or Turang. That's...IF they are capable of doing that. 

    Mitchell is the one I'm the most worried about. But I also wouldn't be surprised if he had a big year.


    We have a mountain of question marks. 
    Will Winker get back to being a .300/.400/.550 line
    Will Adames be able to get the walk rate back over 10% in addition to the power and defense?
    Both Adames and Urias hit into poor luck.
    Will the shift rules help the Brewers more than most teams? With Turang playing 2B, a plus defensive SS, will he be able to cover enough ground in case he struggles to hit? Or will he just keep on hitting pretty well as he's going to be a 23 year old rookie.
    Will Frelick be able to strike out once every 200 ABs?
    Can Wiemer make the adjustments?
    Contreras do what he did last year in a loaded ATL lineup in Milwaukee when he's expected to get another ~150 PAs and DH on some days?

     

    Who else are we going to add? Can Toro or Perkins or Miller break out and be productive ML hitters? There are a ton of questions, but we've got enough options and talent and I think the rule changes will help us. 

    I think our defense is going to be drastically improved save the most important position(C). We'll see if we can work our magic with him as we've done with past catchers. 
    And I think there's a good chance Ashby steps up and becomes a potential 3rd ace. He's that talented and he should have high expectations this year.

     

    I also think we've got ~20-30M in payroll room and who knows how that manifests. 

     

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