Milwaukee Brewers: Was Sending Keston Hiura Down the Right Move?

PHILADELPHIA, PA - MAY 14: Keston Hiura #18 of the Milwaukee Brewers, making his major league debut, hits a single in his first major league at bat in the second inning during a game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on May 14, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - MAY 14: Keston Hiura #18 of the Milwaukee Brewers, making his major league debut, hits a single in his first major league at bat in the second inning during a game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on May 14, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images) /
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With regression likely on the cards, and roster congestion becoming a real issue, the Milwaukee Brewers put off some difficult decisions by sending Keston Hiura down for Travis Shaw.

There are a couple of reasons why the Milwaukee Brewers decided to send down Hiura to make way for Shaw on the active roster.

The first, and overarching reason, why the Brewers sent Hiura down was that it put off some of major roster issues the team is going to have to address moving forward.

If the Brewers were going to maintain having an extra arm on the team, as they prefer to do, a position player was always going to have to make way for Travis Shaw to be reactivated.

Among the guys on the active roster, there were very few choices to send down out of the crop of position players on the team. Starters such as Christian Yelich, Yasmani Grandal, Mike Moustakas, Ryan Braun, Orlando Arcia, and Lorenzo Cain, were never going to be sent down given how well they’re playing in the starting line-up at the moment.

Few of the rotation players have remaining options either. Jacob Nottingham was occupying a roster spot until Manny Pina was activated off of the IL over the weekend. Every team needs to have a back-up catcher on their active roster at all times.

Hernan Perez is the team’s sole utility player, and has no remaining options available.

Ben Gamel, who has one minor league option left, is the team’s only player capable of playing all three outfield positions, well. He had the sixth highest WAR (0.7) on the team entering play on Tuesday night. He too, had earned his spot on the team.

The one position where Milwaukee has struggled so far this season, first base, was left with few options either. Eric Thames is providing the team with serviceable, albeit inconsistent production. However, his production has made him indispensable right now given how poorly Jesus Aguilar is playing. Aguilar has no remaining minor league options, meaning any move sending him down would likely result in the Brewers losing him to a non-contending team on waivers.

With Shaw coming back to third base, then, Hiura was the logical position player to move. Mike Moustakas has played too well not to start regularly for the club. In order to play every day, with Shaw back, he would need to return to second base.  This, in turn, would take almost all of Hiura’s playing time away, potentially stunting his development.

Were there other factors in play?

It’s also likely that the Milwaukee Brewers sent Hiura down because his underlying batting stats suggested serious regression was on its way at the plate.

Though it was a small sample size, Hiura posted a very solid slash line of .281/.333/.531 in his 69 at bats. What was concerning, however, was that his strikeout percentage was quite high (33.3%), his walk percentage quite low (4.3%), and his Batting Average on Balls In Play was .361, well above the .323 mark he set in over 300 at bats in Double-A last season.

Hiura also committed a couple of errors in the field during his time up (four in 16 starts and 17 appearances overall), and was a net negative on that end  overall (-1 Defensive Runs saved, and a below league average defensive rating of -2.6). This too, could have been a potential concern.

One final thing lending in favor of the move is what Shaw could provide if he’s right at the plate. If Shaw were to produce like he had in the previous two seasons (3.5 WAR in 2017 and 3.6 in 2018), it’s unlikely that Hiura would be able to match his production too. Thus, Shaw’s immediate upside was likely beyond that which Hiura could provide over an entire season, even if he continued to hit as well as he had.

Given all of this, then, the Brewers front office felt that sending Hiura down was the right move.

There is, however, considerable downside to the move.

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