TDG’S TRIPLE PLAY: MILWAUKEE BREWERS!
The Triple Play is back for a third season! This regular feature is broken down by staff writers Bob Osgood and Paul Monte and a rotating panel of third writers. If you’re new to the Triple Play, this series breaks down an arm, a bat, and a prospect within each organization for your reading pleasure! Follow Bob (@BobOsgood15), Paul (@3cardmonte13), and Patrick Magnus (@TheGreenMagnus) on twitter and read their analysis here at the site!
Pitcher: Corey Knebel, Age: 28, Position: RP
Analysis by: Paul Monte
I Kneed Fantasy Baseball
The three-month-long void without baseball seems to be ending in July. I haven’t spent much time thinking about fantasy baseball this year when compared to years past, but I am ready to go back. One of the things that I spent too much time thinking about this spring was the return of Corey Knebel. We all have that guy that we think is being undervalued by the masses and Knebel is (was) my guy. To be fair, anytime you have the number one ranked reliever on the same roster as you, it’s going to be tough to not be overlooked. Add in the fact that you missed all of 2019 while recovering from Tommy John surgery and you become a forgotten man.
Knack for K’s
An All-Star for the first time in 2017, the then 25-year-old posted 39 saves, a 1.78 ERA and 126 strikeouts in 76 innings, good for a 14.92 K/9. 2018 started poorly, a torn hamstring led to a month-long absence and something was off when he finally returned. He was so bad that not only did he lose his closer’s role to Jeremy Jeffress, he lost his spot on the big-league roster. He returned on September 2nd as the Brewers were battling with the Chicago Cubs for the NL Central. He appeared in 16 games, picked up two wins, two saves, and 6 holds in 16 innings. He struck out 33 batters while only walking three in 16.1 innings. The playoffs were more of the same as he allowed one earned run in 10 innings while striking out 14 and picking up a win and save. The Brewers fell short in a memorable game 7 against the Dodgers in the NLCS.
Knot what we wanted
Knebel started 2019 spring training well until March 20th when the first reports of a tired arm turned into Tommy John surgery a couple of weeks later. During his recovery, Josh Hader continued his ascent to the top of the reliever list in both the fantasy and real-life baseball. This is where things get interesting. Why would a guy who is coming off of TJ Surgery and sitting behind Hader have any value? The answer is that Craig Counsell has shown and said that he loves being able to use Hader whenever he is needed, not just in the ninth inning as a traditional closer. Granted, Knebel will not get the same opportunities as other top closers who will be option 1 every day. Hader will still pick up his share of saves but Knebel ratio stats have been so good over the last two seasons that a year with 15-20 saves is still valuable. If you are in a Holds league, that’s a huge bonus.
The volatility of relievers means that it is very likely Knebel found his way to the waiver wire in your league in 2019 and he was likely very cheap in your free agent draft. Now that we are looking at a 50-game season if we get one at all, I think the Brewers use him as a setup man in 2020. Each game will be very valuable in such a short season and the patience needed to let him “knock the rust off” will not be there. I will be buying again in 2021 and will watch closely to how the two RP’s are deployed in 2020.
Hitter: Omar Narvaez, Age: 28, Position: C
Analysis by: Bob Osgood
With the MLB returning in four weeks, there are dozens of reasons to be negative, cynical, and skeptical about what’s ahead of us. This includes, but is not limited to, the obvious health concerns, the possibility of players and coaches opting out, the “it’s a sprint, not a marathon” season, the asterisk World Series title, the asterisk fantasy titles, the DH in the National League, the runner starting on second base in extra innings, the lack of fans in the seats to heckle the Astros on a nightly basis, the next looming work stoppage in 18 months, and, especially, the month that the nation missed out on the wonderful game of baseball being the sole focus of American sports (and gambling) because adults couldn’t agree upon what they agreed upon three months ago.
Focusing on the positive, baseball is going to be played for most of the summer and all we can do is embrace the unknown of an unprecedented season ahead of us. Fantasy commissioners are already doing their best to adjust their rules to best fit their individual leagues. The changes may not benefit everybody but we’ve had to make bigger sacrifices this year. The fantasy players will have to make quick decisions each week to churn through players, pick up free agents, and, in dynasty leagues, whether to compete or rebuild months earlier than they normally would. When the ten-week ride is over, we’ll congratulate the winners while reminding them that we’ll always put an asterisk next to their total championship count when trash-talking in the future.
Gear Up for the Heat:
At the half-way point of the Triple Play series, we’re talking about the Brewers this week and they have a new catcher. A catcher who hit .278 last year with 22 home runs last year and now moves to Miller Park in Milwaukee, which provides a slight upgrade in HR by Park Factor, compared to T-Mobile Park in Seattle.
Ranking in the 22nd percentile in 2019 in Framing, 12th percentile in Pop Time to 2nd Base, and 13th percentile in sprint speed, Narvaez offers nothing in a real-life sense with defense or speed. Per Fangraphs, Narvaez had the lowest WAR defensively of any of the 30 catchers who had 300+ plate appearances. Conversely, he had the fifth-highest WAR of those same catchers offensively. Fortunately, none of my leagues have Framing nor Pop Time as a category this year, and I try not to rely on my catchers for stolen bases. His backup, the 33-year-old Manny Pina does offer defensive value (Framing 88th percentile / Pop Time 86th percentile), but the 33-year-old will likely play one-third of the time and as a late defensive replacement. The biggest threat in the farm system is Mario Feliciano who does not seem to be a threat to playing time in the next couple of years.
After hitting 12 home runs in 734 career plate appearances entering last season, Narvaez launched 22 out of the park in 482 plate appearances in 2019 alone. With a 27.5% Hard Hit rate and an 85.4 MPH Exit Velocity both ranking in the bottom 8% of the league on Statcast, Narvaez does not appear to have “another level” to reach beyond that, but I believe he can continue to contribute going forward with what he did last year. The big change that he made in 2019 to contribute to his power was an increase in elevating the ball, specifically on fastballs. From 2018 to 2019, Narvaez dropped from 42.1% to 33.1% on ground balls and increased fly balls from 29.0% to 40.5. This certainly did wonders for Narvaez, and his 16.1% HR/FB rate was only slightly above the league average of 15.3% in 2019. A better look at how drastic the changes were against fastballs:
His launch angle stayed the same on off-speed pitches, but he let it fly on fastballs, increasing to 20 degrees after a 12 degree launch angle on heaters the previous two seasons. It seems that Narvaez sold out for power on the first two strikes and then shortened up with two-strikes, as the increase in Whiff% went up, but PutAway% stayed consistent. The increase in power went along with a dip in K-rate from 2018, the best of both worlds for Narvaez.
Using the Razzball player rater, there were only eight catchers who contributed $2 or more in multiple categories in 2019 (standard five-category BA leagues) That list in 2019 included: Realmuto (All five), Grandal (R, HR, RBI), Vazquez (Avg, HR, RBI), Garver (Avg, HR), Sanchez (HR, RBI), Contreras (Avg, HR), Narvaez (Avg, HR) Ramos (Avg, RBI). Narvaez bumped up from the eighth to seventh-ranked Catcher in OBP leagues. My biggest takeaways from this list are that J.T. Realmuto’s distance from the rest of the field deserves even more buzz than he already gets and that there’s a clear line of where I want to grab a catcher in a two-catcher league.
That being said, the importance of catcher is so dependent on leagues. If you play in a deep two-catcher league, you know what Hell feels like. And you also know that getting a catcher that contributes in more than one category, while not killing your batting average, is limited to a small group every year. Omar Narvaez is perfect for that format, as a .276 career hitter, who has yet to hit below .267 in any of his four seasons and can be drafted just inside the top 200 for 2020. He will not be an unrestricted free agent until 2023 and Milwaukee seems like a solid landing spot for him in terms of ballpark and competition. In one-catcher leagues, if I don’t get Realmuto I almost always punt on the position, but Narvaez is a solid hold in such leagues of 14-teams or less.
Prospect: Tristen Lutz, Age: 21, Position: OF, Level: A+
Analysis by: Patrick Magnus
Straight out of high school, the 34th overall pick from the 2017 draft signed with the Brewers for $2,352,000. Lutz offered the Brewers an outfielder who checks all the tools boxes but is in need of harnessing them. The young righty was drafted without polish, everything from concerns with the hit tool to speculating if he’ll be able to play center or be shifted to right field (strong arm). Every scouting report is littered with praise about Lutz’s “potential,” but also a large amount of skepticism. Luckily, he appears to have the necessary mindset needed to make those adjustments.
Lutz claims that he doesn’t look at the numbers. His claim is that this is a “process,” and that the numbers will come if he’s making the necessary adjustments. In general, I’m not a narrative guy, but f*ck it. Let’s look at the numbers anyway, and see if there’s any evidence to back Lutz’s approach up.
|Year | Level||PA||HR||K%||BB%||ISO||OPS||WRC+|
|2017 | R||111||6||18.9%||10.8%||.226||.992||139|
|2017 | R||76||3||27.6%||5.3%||.279||.905||132|
|2018 | A||503||13||27.6%||9.1%||.176||.742||110|
|2019 | A+||477||13||28.7%||9.6%||.164||.754||120|
Those stats, yeesh. He’s probably better off not looking at the stats, and perhaps we all are. The power that scouts rave about is there, though maybe not as abundant as we’d like in ’18 and ’19. Similar to many players who carry power as a calling card, the dude whiffs. At least in his last two seasons, he’s been able to increase his walk-rate to a solid level. Anyway, let’s continue to ignore Lutz’s advice and dig deeper into the numbers.
|Year | Half||ABs||HR||K%||BB%||OPS|
|2018 | First||216||6||31.4%||7.8%||.677|
|2018 | Second||228||7||31.1%||12.7%||.802|
|2019 | First||227||8||34%||10.5%||.747|
|2019 | Second||193||5||31%||11.4%||.763|
Seems like he’s making some adjustments throughout the season to me. Though how impactful those adjustments are is up for debate. The positives are that he did get better in the second half of the season the last two years. He saw decreases in his strikeout rate and increases in his walks and OPS. Though the “improvement” was fairly negligible for the whiffs. Strikeouts are a glaring concern. He’ll need to make more contact, or manage double-digit walk rates to be successful.
One other thing worth noting on Lutz is that he has been playing older competition since his arrival to the bigs. On average he has been 2.4 years younger than the competition he’s been facing, and even with that age gap he has posted WRC+’s that indicate he’s playing above his league mates. So while the numbers might not make us salivate, he’s no slouch.
Well, I can’t say this was quite the profile I was hoping it to be. While Lutz remains a prominent fixture on almost any Brewers Prospect list you’ll find, he doesn’t appear on many top 100’s, 200’s, 300’s… So, the twenty-one-year-old doesn’t belong on your roster, unless you are in the deepest of leagues. That being said, he absolutely belongs on your Watch List. There’s potential here combined with make-up that scouts praise him for. We know that the power isn’t going anywhere, and if he continues to improve his patience at the plate, well then there’s the possibility of a three-true-outcome dude. At this point, however, Lutz is a player to monitor, nothing more. For now.
|NL WEST||NL CENTRAL||NL EAST|