For the fourth year in a row, the Brewers have managed to transform another pitcher into an elite starter. First it was Brandon Woodruff in 2019, then Corbin Burnes in 2020 and Freddy Peralta in 2021. Now 2022 is the year of Eric Lauer.
After his first three seasons at the major league level, it was fairly safe to assume everyone knew who Eric Lauer was. A mid fours ERA guy who was going to get you about eight K/9 and walk three batters a game. Realistically he was what a lot of people would consider a solid back end starter.
Then a sneaky good 2021 season happened.
With everyone so focused on the dominance of Burnes, Woodruff and the breakout of Peralta, Lauer actually put together the lowest ERA (3.19) and xFIP (4.26) of his career. He also sported a career best 2.85 K/BB ratio.
The Incredible Start To 2022:
Despite the home run hiccups in his latest start against Miami, Lauer has still had an incredible 2022. Through six starts Lauer is 3-1 with a 2.60 ERA and 49 Ks through 34.2 innings. The most impressive thing so far is Lauer’s 12.72 K/9 which is good for fourth best in all of baseball. Thats a massive improvement for someone with a career 8.79 number. He’s also managed to lower his BB/9 rate to a career best 2.08. The 6.13 K/BB he’s put up is also good for seventh in baseball.
While much of Lauer’s success comes from his greatly improved strikeout ability, he’s actually done an excellent job of limiting hitters on base ability as well. He’s held hitters to a career low 19.2% line drive rate and increased his fly ball rate to 50%. In turn, his BABIP against is a respectable .257 with a 90.9% left on base rate. Keep in mind his LOB% is due for a bit of regression (career 73.8%). After putting up a .249 BABIP a year prior, though, that number leaves less to worry about.
What’s Lead To The Breakout:
There’s plenty of “breakout” players who’s counting stats point to an excellent season, but you can’t tell how the breakout actually happened. For Eric Lauer, that’s not the case. What he’s done this year in terms of understanding his pitching repertoire and how to use it is incredible.
Not only does he know how to use it, he’s also added quite a bit of velocity this year. In 2021 Lauer’s average fastball sat right around 92.6 MPH. This season he’s averaging 94. The same can be said for his other pitches. His cutter (90.3/91.4) and change up (86.6/88.4) have ended up seeing pretty respectable velocity bumps, while his slider (87.4/87.8) and curveball (78.9/78.7) have stayed about the same.
Lauer is a true five pitch guy who uses all five pitches effectively. While he had relied quite a bit on the fastball in the past, like most pitchers do, this year Lauer has cut his fastball usage down to only 36%. His decreased usage combined with the added velocity has made it one of the best pitches in baseball. A .141 batting average against, -2 run value, 10.2 inches of horizontal break and 37.5% whiff rate are peripherals most pitchers only dream of.
His slider has been equally as elite. Although it has much less horizontal break than the average slider (2.5 inches, -37%), throwing it almost 90 MPH has still resulted in a 34.3% whiff rate. It’s also been worth the same -2 run value with hitters only managing a .168 batting average against. To benefit him even more, he’s throwing it a career high 22% of the time. That’s a 10% jump in usage rate over his previous career high.
Rest Of The Season:
Like most high strikeout, high fly ball rate pitchers it’s fair to assume he’s going to continue to be susceptible to the long ball this year. He’s already given up seven home runs so far. Due to that, his days of a below 2 ERA were already numbered before this last start. An ERA in the mid 2s to low 3s, though, is fully within reason.
While I’m not always the biggest proponent for exact player to player comparisons, I think it’s fair to look at the rise of Woodruff, Burnes and Peralta and assume Lauer is following suit. Ever since Chris Hook took over the pitching coach role in the 2019 season there’s something special going on with that pitching staff. With such an incredible track record of success, this version of Lauer we are now seeing is likely the version of him we will get on a nightly basis.
It wouldn’t surprise me if Eric Lauer ends the season with a 13-6 record, 2.85 ERA and 190 Ks. The hype is real, just ride out the home run bumps along the way and enjoy your new seat on the Brewers pitching staff bandwagon.