COMMENTARY | It's hard not to agree that the two faces of the Milwaukee Brewers franchise are Ryan Braun and Yovani Gallardo. They are the two of the longest-tenured Brewers on the roster -- only Rickie Weeks has played in Milwaukee longer. Gallardo is viewed as the team ace and Braun is a former MVP, leading the Brewer bats on a nightly basis.
But through the first few weeks of the 2013 season, you sure wouldn't know it.
Braun missed an entire series against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Milwaukee's opening homestand with neck spasms. It's no coincidence that the Brewers were swept, leading to a 1-5 start to the season. On April 16 against the San Francisco Giants, he struck out four times in one game for the first time in his six-year MLB career.
Gallardo has made three starts through April 17, only to go 0-1 with a 6.61 ERA -- and a .22 BAC. None of those statistics help the way Gallardo is viewed by the public, especially that last one.
So what's the deal? Believe it or not, despite Braun being second on the team in strikeouts behind the aforementioned Weeks, he has respectable splits of .286/.375/.543 through Milwaukee's first 12 games. Still, his plate discipline has been as poor as ever, and that shouldn't have anything to do with his neck.
He also leads the team in home runs (two) and runs batted in (eight). Maybe Braun's recent lack of discipline is just a result of early-season cobwebs. Then again, Braun played in the World Baseball Classic, so he's been playing competitive games since early March.
So far this season, Braun has been hitting far more ground balls than fly balls, and despite hitting a line drive on 18.1 percent of the balls he puts in play throughout his career, he hasn't hit a single one this season according to Fangraphs. His walk rate is up (12.5 percent), but his strikeout rate is an alarming 37.5 percent -- by far the highest of his career.
For some reason, Braun just isn't seeing the ball well. Based on his illustrious past, you would expect that to change at some point, especially once Aramis Ramirez returns to the clean-up spot. It's possible Braun is feeling more pressure to produce with how badly Weeks has struggled hitting behind him, causing him to swing at more pitches outside of the zone.
Without Ramirez protecting him in the lineup, Braun is clearly uncomfortable, and having good pitch selection goes hand-in-hand with being comfortable and patient at the dish.
We probably shouldn't worry all that much about Braun, but Gallardo's case is slightly more upsetting. We've come to accept the fact that Gallardo racks up high pitch counts in the early innings, but he's at least had the ability to work out of jams and avoid too many bad outings because of his stuff.
But so far this season, Gallardo hasn't had the same effectiveness with his arsenal of pitches. Gallardo's strikeout numbers are way down -- he is only averaging 4.96 K/9 this season and has a career average 9.12. So is his velocity. His fastball's average speed is just 90.5 MPH. Gallardo's career average? 92.1. And yet he hasn't thrown it more often in a season since 2007 while abandoning his slider in the process (via Fangraphs).
John Axford's velocity has also been down this season, and the result is a skyrocketing ERA and home run rate. Gallardo isn't allowing more home runs and isn't walking people, but the more pitches a hitter sees in an at-bat, the better chance he has of squaring up and getting a hit. That's what's been happening with Gallardo, and a declining velocity and trust in his slider isn't helping the matter.
As if his on-the-field issues weren't enough, Gallardo made headlines in the worst way possible on April 16. At 2:10 in the morning, Gallardo was arrested on a DUI charge, his BAC nearly three times the legal limit. Perhaps Gallardo is going through some off-the-field issues, which could help explain a lack of focus on the mound and his overall struggles through his first three starts.
Of course, Gallardo has also faced the Colorado Rockies and St. Louis Cardinals, two teams he has notoriously wavered against throughout his career. Perhaps Gallardo just needs a start against a team like the Miami Marlins or San Diego Padres to get back on track.
The Brewers are 4-8, and their two biggest stars are faltering. It makes sense, but Milwaukee did just manage to win back-to-back games for the first time all season. You can also bank on Gallardo and Braun turning it around soon -- it may just take a certain someone's return to the lineup, or have required a life-changing event to help someone get back on track.
Dave Radcliffe is a resident of a little known Milwaukee suburb who contains an unhealthy amount of knowledge about Wisconsin sports. He has contributed to JSOnline and as a featured columnist among other sites and publications.
You can follow Dave on Twitter @DaveRadcliffe_ .
- Sports & Recreation
- Ryan Braun
- Yovani Gallardo
- Milwaukee Brewers