Friday, March 11, 2016

By Robert Cunningham, Staff Writer - 

Today the Cubs announced, as reported by Carrie Muskat, that left-handed reliever Rex Brothers has been given his unconditional release to pursue other opportunities and there is a case to be made that the Angels should make him a Minor League offer.

Clearly Rex has been struggling with his command in recent years. Over his last three professional seasons he’s run the following WHIP’s:

This, of course, is NOT what you want to see out of any reliever much less one that was touted as the Rockies future closer at one point in time. Brothers simply gives up to many free passes and hits!

However there are other aspects of his game that need to be considered such as his strikeout rate over the same period of time:

Rex is able to throw mid-90’s heat from the left side of the mound and, when combined with a truly vicious slider, he’s able to get batters out on both sides of the plate.

To illustrate this better let’s look at his two pitch usage and results, per, against both sides of the plate:

So the first thing that jumps out is how truly impressive his slider is against both left-handed and right-handed hitters.

His slider is hit only about 15%-17% of the time on average and batters clearly make a lot of poor contact against it resulting in a lot of groundballs (56.5% GB% overall).

In fact these results are so fantastic it reminded the author of another reliever well known for having one excellent pitch, Mariano Rivera and his cut fastball, so here is a comparison of their primary pitches over their Major League careers:

Pretty unreal eh?

Obviously Rivera was way more consistent and elite during his years in the Majors and most importantly Mariano had a fastball that was pretty darn good as well. Brothers is missing that 2nd or even 3rd offering that could potentially open the door to a career as a closer.

Or is he?

In a very limited sample size of 150 career pitches Rex has thrown a changeup with good results overall. Here is a side by side comparison of all four pitches (including a two-seamer thrown only 156 times) he’s thrown in his professional career:

It seems clear that Brothers should steer away from any pitch that ends in “seam”.

In all seriousness though it would seem reasonable for Rex to work on bringing back the changeup, reduce the fourseam usage, and throw his slider a little more.

Some of you might be screaming at your monitors saying “but throwing the slider that much will break his arm off!”

Yes, you might be right, but we are also talking about an opportunity to pitch in the Majors and make a serious, life-changing sum of money too. The author would also point out that repetitive motion probably does lead to eventual injury but changing body motion and mechanics between pitch types might also contribute to wear and tear as well so it’s a bit of a double-edged sword.

One final note about Rex’s pitch mix: In 2013, the only year where he threw all four of those pitches, he had a pretty good season with a 48.8% GB% and a .208 BAA. Injecting a reliable 2nd or 3rd pitch could potentially do wonders for him and would make his slider even more lethal.

Another reason why Brothers might be a good fit in Anaheim presents itself when you look at his spray charts against left-handed and right-handed hitters. Let’s examine the one vs. LHH’s first:

The first thing that jumps out from the spray chart is the amount of groundballs hit to the second base side of the diamond.

If Rex were to play in Anaheim you’d likely want to bring Escobar in on the grass, keep Simmons and whoever our 2nd baseman turns out to be deeper on the outfield grass.

Now let’s look at the spray chart vs. right-handed hitters:

Here you can see an abundance of ground balls to the 3rd base side of the diamond and likely you’d keep Escobar, Simmons, and our mystery 2nd baseman deep on the outfield grass if Brothers did pitch versus right-handed hitters here.

In both cases we have excellent defensive outfielders (even our LF platoon should be good) so any line drives or fly balls (Rex’s fourseamer) won’t find as many holes with Trout, Calhoun, and Gentry/Nava patrolling the neighborhood.

Additionally, Angels Stadium suppresses extra base hits across the board against both left-handed and right-handed hitters but particularly against lefties. Even if Rex never recognizes his full potential it still seems reasonable he could fill an eventual LOOGY role on the team based on his splits, our current defensive arrangement, and the stadium he plays half his games in (not to mention the Mariners and A’s ballparks that are similar).

The bottom line for the Angels is that this is an opportunity for them to potentially sign a powerful left-handed reliever to a Minor League contract and provide instruction and coaching to help Brothers bring back his changeup, work on his command (especially the free passes), and find a better balance to his pitch mix (sequencing and use).

Rex is a good example of a Billy Eppler reclamation project and it would behoove the Angels front office to sign him to a significant Minor League contract and take a gamble on the 28 year old reliever.
Love to hear what you think!

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