Milwaukee Brewers: Can Aaron Ashby Break Out in the Second Half?
Brewers left-handed swingman Aaron Ashby had one of the more interesting first halves of the 2022 season. It some senses it was a somewhat inconsistent one, filled with some highlights and lowlights.
But there were moments where Ashby showed flashes of being the next star in this rotation, and as a Brewers fan how can you not be excited? Let’s look at the southpaws first half of 2022 and what we might be able to expect from him after the all-star break.
Milwaukee Brewers LHP Aaron Ashby’s 2022 first half highlights:
If you looked exclusively at Aaron Ashby’s baseball savant profile, you would think he has been absolutely dominant in the first half of the season. His allowed hard hit rate is 30.5%, which is 5.3% better than last season and is in the top 8% of the league.
Ashby is also in the 77th percentile in average exit velocity (87.4 mph) and in the 85th percentile in barrel rate (4.8%). Overall on the season, Ashby is generating lower quality contact from opposing hitters, and Ashby’s pitch repertoire contributes to that success.
Between his nasty slider and heater of a fastball, he excels at generating whiffs and striking out batters. His whiff rate of 30% puts him in the 79th percentile, his strikeout rate of 26.7% puts him in the 73rd percentile, and his K/9 of 10.72 is good for 12th in MLB (minimum 60 IP). With a fastball that averages 96MPH, he is crafting a deadly fastball-slider combination.
Ashby’s best performance of the season came back on Memorial Day against the Cubs, when he went 6 innings allowing 5 hits, 1 run, and fanning 12 batters. He generated 21 swings and misses in the outing and finished the month of May with a 2.70 ERA.
He also has been great at American Family Field. Ashby has an ERA of 2.95 and a WHIP of 1.04 at home. It’s flashes like these that really highlight the player Ashby can be. Unfortunately, Ashby had a rough month of June before a short stint on the IL.
Milwaukee Brewers LHP Aaron Ashby’s 2022 first half lowlights:
Aaron Ashby allowed 14 runs, 23 hits, and 4 walks in 15 IP in the month of June before hitting the 15-day IL with forearm inflammation. The 24-year-old struggled with consistency and command this season, but that is not abnormal for a young pitcher, especially since Ashby is still getting used to his role as a starter.
Ashby has a walk rate of 10.6% which puts him in the bottom 19% of the league, and his BB/9 of 4.24 is the 11th highest in MLB. Prior to his last outing against the Twins, Ashby had surrendered a home run in six straight games. If Ashby can lower his walk rate and grow his confidence in his pitch arsenal, it would make a big difference for him moving forward.
So, could Aaron Ashby truly break out in the second half of the season for the Brewers?
Ashby has shown a lot of promise in his young career. There have been ups and downs, but in my opinion the future looks bright. There are a couple of reasons why I expect a strong second half from the young southpaw.
Through 17 games this season, Ashby has an ERA of 4.37 but an expected ERA of 3.20. He also has a FIP of 3.99 and an expected FIP of 3.28. In Ashby’s case, these predictive stats can provide additional context to how he has been truly performing.
A difference of 1.27 points between his ERA and xERA is significant enough to raise an eyebrow. Potentially, Ashby has gotten a bit unlucky, and his true ERA is artificially high. A difference of 0.71 points between his FIP and xFIP is equally as interesting.
xFIP is calculated the same way as FIP except it uses a league average Home Run to Fly Ball (HR/FB) rate instead of the players actual home run total. The reason why I find this interesting is because Ashby has a significantly higher HR/FB rate than the league average.
Of pitchers with a minimum 60 innings pitched, Ashby has the 3rd highest HR/FB rate in the league at 19.6% while the league average sits at 8.6%. This could suggest that Ashby’s ERA is over inflated thus far, as an abnormal amount of his fly balls have left the yard relative to his fly balls given up. Pitchers with overly high or low HR/FB rates can regress to the league average, especially if the number of innings pitched isn’t overly large (68 IP).
The same rule can be applied for BABIP. Ashby is sporting a BABIP of .331 on the season (10th highest among pitchers with a minimum 60 IP), compared to the league average of .288. Over time, I would except his BABIP would regress closer to league average as well as his number from a year ago (.273).
Theoretically if both his HR/FB and BABIP numbers do see a regression to the mean, it would mean Ashby is seeing fewer fly balls leave the park for home runs and fewer balls in play are falling for hits. This in turn would have a positive impact on his ERA and FIP and would suggest better results in the second half of the season.
Another metric I like to use to evaluate the true performance of a pitcher is SIERA, or Skill-Interactive ERA. This metric attempts to quantify pitching performance by eliminating factors that the pitcher cannot control while still considering balls in play and adjusting for the type of ball in play (similar idea to FIP, except FIP ignores all balls in play).
Ashby has a 3.49 SIERA on the year (lower than All-stars Sandy Alcantara of the Marlins, Nestor Cortes of the Yankees, and Tony Gonsolin of the Dodgers). This also suggests that Ashby is performing at a higher level than his 4.37 ERA suggests.
Ashby has looked like a star at times this season, despite going through the usual inconsistencies that young pitchers seem to go through. He has a filthy pitch arsenal, and I think he has been performing better than his stats may suggest. He flirts with excellence, and it is exciting to watch as a Brewers fan.
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Ashby needs to avoid getting in his own way, develop a trust in his stuff, and find a way to harness his command. Whether it starts in the second half of this season is yet to be seen, I believe Aaron Ashby has a bright and exciting future ahead of him.