An Early Brewers Trade Retrospective on Joey Ortiz and DL Hall

Just over a month into the 2024 season, how are newcomers Joey Ortiz and DL Hall settling in with their new ball club?

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - APRIL 26: Joey Ortiz #3 of the Milwaukee Brewers reacts to a walk off single during the eleventh inning against the New York Yankees at American Family Field on April 26, 2024 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

The deal that sent Corbin Burnes from the Milwaukee Brewers to the Baltimore Orioles is going to be heavily analyzed for years to come, and for good reason. To little surprise, the trade has already had a dramatic impact on the Brewers’ 2024 season outlook just over a month into the season.

Infielder Joey Ortiz was one of two pieces involved in the return, and he is immediately proving his worth. Combine his promising long-term outlook at shortstop with his ability to make a major league impact right away at multiple positions, and it’s clear why he was such a desired trade target for Milwaukee.

Left-hander DL Hall was the second piece of the package for Milwaukee, but his Brewers’ tenure has gotten off to a suboptimal start. Not only did the Brewers subtract Corbin Burnes from their rotation, but Hall’s early-season struggles puts the Brewers’ starting rotation in a rather precarious situation.

It’s a development year for both players as they get situated in Milwaukee. However, as the club appears primed to defend their division crown, each player will have an opportunity to be a major contributor in 2024. And through the first 27 games of the season, it’s been Ortiz who has hit the ground running with his new ball club.

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Joey Ortiz

Joey Ortiz’s tenure as a Brewer has started on a high note. His defensive versatility has already provided a lot of value for Milwaukee, and he has made some impressive improvements in his offensive approach that has led to some encouraging production at the plate.

Showcasing His Offensive Floor

In 74 plate appearances, Ortiz is slashing .279/.392/.426 for an OPS+ and wRC+ of 135 and 134 respectively. Despite his suppressed power numbers thus far, his outstanding approach and elite bat-to-ball skills have provided a strong foundation to build upon.

Ortiz is rocking a zone contact rate of 91.7% on the year, which is well above the league average number of 82%. His overall whiff rate sits at an incredible 15.1%, which is in the top-nine percent of baseball. In turn, Ortiz has just 11 punch outs on the year, yielding an impressive strikeout rate of just 15.5%. That rate is good for the second best among Brewers hitters with at least 70 plate appearances.

With the exception of his cup of coffee in the majors last season with the Orioles, Ortiz has limited his strikeout numbers at every stop of his professional career. It’s encouraging to see him continue to flash his strong contact skills while building upon other areas of his game at the same time.

Specifically, Ortiz’s plate discipline has seen the most noticeable improvement in the early goings of the season. He’s chasing just 20.6% of the time, which is in the 86th percentile, according to Baseball Savant. Combine his elite bat-to-ball hitting with one of the game’s top approaches, and it’s no surprise to see him walking more than he is striking out (12 walks to 11 punch outs). His 16.2% walk rate is in the top-five percent of baseball, and it’s by far the best walk rate amongst Brewers hitters.

Ortiz has done a nice job of showcasing his offensive floor in the early goings of the season, and his consistency has made him a nice back of the order bat for the Brewers through the first month of the season.

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While he has flashed his high offensive floor, he has yet to scratch the surface of what he is capable of in the power department. Ortiz has pop in his bat, but it just hasn’t translated to the big league level quite yet.

Back in 2022, Ortiz slugged .455 to go with an Isolated Power (ISO) of .186 with Double-A Bowie. His numbers improved when he was promoted to Triple-A later in the season, as he slugged .567 with a .221 ISO in 115 plate appearances.

Last year in 389 plate appearances with Triple-A Norfolk, Ortiz slugged over .500 with 20 doubles, four triples, and nine homers, generating an ISO of .186. He displayed improved exit velocities throughout his time in the minor leagues, and he has the ability to rack up extra-base hits.

However, that power potential has not yet come to fruition in the big leagues for Ortiz. In 48 batted ball events this season, Ortiz has just two barrels, yielding a barrel rate of just 4.2%. Additionally, he has a below league average hard hit rate (35.4%) and average exit velocity (87.6 mph).

Couple his lack of strong contact with his 54.2% ground ball rate, and Ortiz has yet to really show his offensive upside thus far.

That said, perhaps his career game versus the New York Yankees over the weekend was the first step in unleashing his power output. He launched his first major league homer on Friday night, and he capped off the breakout performance with a walk-off single, all while notching a career-high four RBIs in the ballgame.

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Strong Defensive Ability

On top of holding down the back of the lineup, Ortiz has flashed his defensive promise on several occasions at the hot corner. He’s light on his feet, he’s quick with the leather, and his fast hands have led to some impressive transfers out of the glove.

Ortiz’s biggest defensive concern thus far has been his throwing accuracy. He has committed three errors this year, and all of which came on the throw over to first base. However, it’s important to remember that Ortiz is a natural shortstop who is playing third base for the time being.

Prior to this season, Ortiz started just two games at third base for the Orioles last season, and he started just 15 games at third base throughout his minor league career as well. This season alone, Ortiz has already started as many games at third base for the Brewers (17) as he did in his entire major and minor league tenure with the Orioles.

Point being, Ortiz is still in the midst of learning a relatively new position with a brand new ball club. While he may be the shortstop of the future in Milwaukee beyond the 2024 season, he’s already showcasing his natural defensive talent with a handful of dazzling plays during his positional transition.

The third base position was a major question mark heading into the year, and Ortiz looks to be the club’s desired option for the 2024 season. While it will be a maturation year for Ortiz, he can still contribute offensively and defensively while developing at the major league level, and that’s exactly why the Brewers wanted him included in the package for Corbin Burnes.

DL Hall

Contrary to Ortiz’s success, DL Hall has not started his season quite as strong. Prior to hitting the injured list on April 21st with a left knee sprain, Hall really struggled as a starter in his first handful of turns through the rotation for Milwaukee.

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It’s a small sample size, but Hall’s performance thus far leaves a lot to be desired. Across 16.1 innings, the southpaw has a 7.71 ERA to go with a 2.21 WHIP, and his advanced stats are equally as concerning (6.91 xERA, 6.95 FIP, 5.44 xFIP). Opposing hitters are batting .375 against him, and he’s surrendering an OPS over 1.000 in the early goings of the season.

All in all, it has been rough sledding through his first four starts in a Brewers uniform. He has a well-below average strikeout rate of just 15.5%, he’s walking nearly 12% of batters, and he’s surrendering a hard hit rate of 40.7%. His struggles can be attributed to a significant drop in velocity combined with a decrease in both pitch control and pitch command.

Pitch Arsenal Changes

Hall’s arsenal looks a bit different to start to the 2024 season, both in terms of usage and performance. Most noticeably, it’s the diminished production of his four-seam fastball that is the biggest red flag thus far.

The four-seam is Hall’s best pitch, but it hasn’t looked like it through his first four starts. Its shape has deteriorated, and it went from averaging 95.6 mph in 2023 to 92.3 mph this season. Now, it’s not unusual for a pitcher to lose velocity when making the transition to the starting rotation. However, a drop of this degree is concerning, and it makes Hall a much less effective pitcher.

Last year, Hall’s four-seam had a 5 Run Value, per Baseball Savant. This season, the pitch already has a Run Value of -4. Moreover, opposing hitters have a .452 batting average and are slugging .619 against his four-seam. Even further, the pitch saw nearly a 20% decline in whiff rate from a season ago.

When combining the drop in shape and velocity with the decreased command of the pitch, it’s no surprise to see hitters putting up such gaudy numbers against it.

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Below are two side-by-side heat maps of Hall’s four-seam fastball, with his 2023 season on the left and his 2024 season on the right. Notice the significant change in pitch location between the two seasons:

Hall’s transition from reliever to starter was expected to have growing pains. However, his struggle with pitch location and noticeable drop in velocity do spark some concerns for his 2024 outlook as a starter.

What’s more, Hall completely revamped his pitch mix. Back in 2023, he used his fastball 53.6% of the time, and he threw his slider 25.3% of the time. This season, he dropped the usage of his slider to just 11.9%, which has made it his least-used pitch through his four starts.

In turn, he is throwing his changeup more often, and his curveball went from being used five percent of the time to being thrown nearly 19% of the time this season. However, the increased usage of his curveball has not translated to better results. The pitch is yielding an opposing slugging percentage of .500 and is generating whiffs at just an 18.2% clip.

It’s clear Hall is workshopping his pitch mix with his transition to the rotation, and developing a deeper arsenal would certainly go a long way for his ceiling as a starter. When hall returns from the injured list, it’s going to be extremely interesting to see if the Brewers continue to utilize him as a starter this season, or if they work to shift him back to the bullpen for the time being.

Given the bleak state of the current starting rotation, the Brewers may have no choice but to keep him stretched out as a starter with the hopes that his stuff sees an uptick when his knee returns to full strength.

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Hall was expected to be a work in progress when he was acquired from the Orioles, and it’s important to remember that he has just five major league starts under his belt. Milwaukee has been one of the best organizations in recent years at getting the most out of their pitching staff, and Hall will be the latest project for their pitching lab.

Final Thoughts

When the Brewers dealt Corbin Burnes, they did it with the future in mind. In exchange for his elite stability and consistency at the top of the starting rotation, they received two pieces with immediate upside who can be also be long-term contributors in Milwaukee.

For the Brewers, one piece of the deal is yielding more immediate results than the other through the first month of the season.

When DL Hall eventually returns to the mound, he needs to improve his ability to work deeper into ballgames and prove that he can be stretched out as a starter at the big league level. Considering all the injuries sustained to the rest of their starters, the Brewers need Hall more than ever to find himself in the rotation.

That said, if he doesn’t show improvements in his performance and he doesn’t post better results, a shift back to the bullpen may be necessary for the time being. It’s early, but this will be a major assessment year for Hall as the Brewers establish how they want to utilize him moving forward.

For Joey Ortiz, he’s already showing flashes of being a key contributor for Milwaukee, both at the plate and in the field. His extremely disciplined approach is helping him be a major contributor at the back of the order, as he is putting together efficient plate appearances by limiting the strikeouts and walking at an elite rate. He’s establishing a promising offensive floor with plenty of room for growth in his offensive upside.

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As Ortiz strives to build upon his early-season success, Hall will look to bounce back when he eventually returns to the rubber. While it will be a crucial developmental year for each of these promising young players, they have key roles ahead of them on this roster as the Brewers work to defend their division title.