Since the middle of last season, Eric Lauer has been a gem in the Brewers starting rotation. On his path to success, he has made a few key changes including: improved upper body strength, a tweak in his pitching mechanics, and a change in his pitch arsenal.
Results and success came pretty rapidly for Lauer dating back to last June. A shortened arm path added a few extra miles per hour to his fastball and the discovery that his slider is a great pitch has gone a long way.
The biggest issue for Lauer in 2022 has been the amount of home runs hit against him. In 2021 he gave up 16 long balls all season. Through 13 starts in 2022, that number has been matched and includes surrendering eight home runs over his last three starts.
Of the home runs given up, seven have come off Lauer’s fastball, four on the curveball, three on the cutter, and two on the slider. In 2021 he gave up just one long ball with his curveball and the vast majority of home runs came against his fastball (seven) and cutter (five).
With Lauer having given up 14 home runs with his fastball over the past two seasons, is there an issue there for the Brewers southpaw?
Lauer’s most used pitch is his four-seam fastball, so it’s not too surprising to see that the most home runs have come against it.
Of his last eight home runs surrendered, three have been against the fastball. Juan Soto hit a home run on a borderline strike up in the zone, Albert Almora Jr got his hands around on an inside fastball, and Tommy Pham got a hold of a middle-middle fastball. Of these three home runs, location was an issue on only one of them.
Velocity wise, a graph from brooksbaseball shows that Lauer’s four-seem velocity is down about one MPH in June. Any slight change in velocity can impact a major league pitcher and may be the difference between getting barreled vs making the batter swing and miss. It is hard to say with certainty but that velocity change could be due to the fatigue of the season or being slightly off in his mechanics.
Overall, Lauer’s fastball is not the issue. He is generating a 30% whiff rate with that pitch this year. That’s good enough for the 12th best whiff rate in the league. His fastball should continue to be a great weapon for him going forward.
What about the remainder of Lauer’s pitches? Are any of them contributing to the higher home problem?
As mentioned earlier, four home runs have come courtesy of the curveball and three via the cutter in 2022. Both of these pitches have been problematic this year. His curveball has a .622 slugging percentage against with a xSLG of .756. The cutter has a .682 slugging percentage against.
The success opposing batters are having against the curveball and cutter are drastically different when compared to 2021’s statistics. With neither of these pitches possessing elite movement or spin, location can be an assumed problem, especially given the extremely high expected slugging percentage against.
Both the curveball and the cutter are Lauer’s third and fourth options in his pitch repertoire and he is getting burned on these pitches inside the zone. It might be worth the consideration for Lauer to go with the mindset of wanting to miss the zone with these pitches knowing that his fastball and slider are his bread and butter and that metrics have backed up the success he has when throwing them.
Hopefully whatever change Lauer ends up making, if any, can be put into effect soon and he can get his season back on track. His ERA has risen from 2.38 to 3.89 over his last three starts.
The Brewers are counting on him to perform, especially with all the injuries in the starting rotation.