The Brewers are easily one of the streakiest teams in MLB this year. They are the proud owners of three separate five-game winning streaks and the reluctant owner of two separate five-game losing streaks. So what can they do to find a little more consistency?
Bats on the Bench
My idea? Bring a third catcher on-board. The thinking here is it would free up Manny Pina to be more available to pinch hit. While he has been struggling at the plate so far this year, he has managed to post an OPS of .905 as a pinch hitter. While the sample size might be small, only nine plate appearances, it’s still the sixth most appearances as a pinch hitter for the Brewers this year.
The two players with the most pinch hit appearances for the Brewers this year are both unavailable, and unproductive. Daniel Vogelbach leads the team with 22 appearances off the bench and he put up a measly .158/.273/.158 slash line. Second on the team is Billy McKinney, now with the Mets, who put together a slash line of .286/.353/.286. A respectable on-base percentage, but only managed to hit singles from the bench.
The only player other than Pina that’s carrying his weight off the bench is Tyrone Taylor. Taylor has posted a slash line of .400/.571/.1.100 in his 14 plate appearances as a pinch hitter. While those numbers are great, he hasn’t been available off the bench too often. He has either been shelved due to injury, or forced into the starting lineup due to injuries to Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich.
Why don’t they just use Manny more?
Without Taylor available off the bench, that leaves Pina with the most consistent bat. However, managers are reluctant to pinch hit their backup catcher, just in case an unlucky foul tip takes the starter out of the game. Most of Pina’s pinch hit appearances happened late in the game and he usually stayed in to relieve Narvaez.
That’s where the third catcher comes into play. Having one more guy on the bench with the ability to catch frees up Pina to get in more at bats. That should benefit the Brewers in more ways than one.
Benefits of using more Pineapple
Having Pina’s bat more available off the bench means the Brewers have a more competent hitter late in games. While I do enjoy watching pitchers struggle to throw strikes to Jace Peterson and Daniel Robertson (five walks in 14 pinch hit appearances) for some reason, I’d feel a little more confident seeing Pineapple walk up to the plate.
The second benefit is that it will keep Pina sharp, so when he spells Narvaez he’s not coming in without having had an at bat for a week. As we saw with Vogelbach, most players see an uptick in numbers when they get more regular at bats. If Pina is available every day off the bench and actually gets at least one at bat regularly, he’ll most likely improve his .125/.253/.300 slash line to look more like his career slash line of .245/.312/.399.
Who can they call up?
So who could be the third catcher? The best option in the farm system would be Luke Maile, who is currently on the 7-Day Injured List. There are better catching options down there in Mario Feliciano and Payton Henry, but those guys need to keep getting regular at bats in order to progress as a young prospect. Maile, however, is a known entity. He’s on the wrong side of 30 and has a career slash line of .199/.254/..303 in 679 plate appearances. The problem with Maile is since he lacks experience at any other position, he’d basically just be a wasted bench spot as an emergency catcher.
A catcher with experience at first base, on the other hand, could help Keston Hiura shoulder the load at first base and have use in being part of a double switch.
Who’s available via trade?
So who are some catchers that are available and have experience at first base? Two very familiar names come to mind.
The first being Jacob Nottingham. While it might seem cruel to have him pack his bags and move from the Mariners’ organization back to the Brewers yet again, he fits the bill. He knows the pitchers, he’s played just enough first base, his bat isn’t exactly useless, and he definitely knows how to catch a flight to Milwaukee.
The second name that came to mind is Johnathon Lucroy. He should be available via trade since he’s currently playing for Atlanta’s AAA team in Gwinnett County. While there aren’t any familiar names on the pitching staff for him, he is a grizzled veteran at this point and shouldn’t take too long to learn how to work with them. He also has 56 games at first base, and isn’t exactly helpless with the bat. He did appear in five games in the majors this year, before being let go by the Nationals, and managed to collect five hits.
Whether the Brewers go with three catchers or not, they need to improve their bench. I believe the easiest and possibly cheapest way to do that is to add a catcher and use more Pineapple to sweeten up those sour bench numbers.