If you couldn’t tell already, I’m excited for the baseball season to start. Since we have a handful of weeks while spring training unfolds to the regular season, I thought I’d try something new for previews this year. A lot of Brewers fans have a lot of questions about this club, so I thought I’d directly preview the Brewers against their 2013 divisional competition. The benefit of doing this is that we can gain a more concrete idea of the Brewers’ strengths and weaknesses; after all, Doug Melvin isn’t just tossing this roster into an abstract simulator. By looking directly at each club, as well as the Brewers, we can gain an idea of how the NL Central might unfold, and we can prepare a narrative for the season. As a result, this is going to be more about context than abstract value (I hope).
In the Cubs and Brewers cases, the 2013 season provides a distinct challenge. The Cubs are trying to keep their rebuilding process moving forward, and they have a stronger pitching rotation, as well as a younger offense, to keep things moving forward on their big league squad. Meanwhile, the Brewers are following a quick reload at the close of the 2012 season, and suddenly find themselves with a bunch of organizational faces looking to bring the club to the next level in 2013. The Brewers/Cubs pairing is important because while the Brewers are looking for at least six more wins, the Cubs’ roster certainly looks six wins better. At the same time that the Brewers are looking to gain wins for competing in the division, the floor of the division is rising.
April 8-10: Brewers @ Cubs
April 19-21: Cubs @ Brewers
June 25-27: Cubs @ Brewers
July 29-31: Brewers @ Cubs
September 6-8: Brewers @ Cubs
September 16-19: Cubs @ Brewers
Cubs: vs. Rangers, @/vs. White Sox, @/vs. Angels, vs. Astros, @Athletics,
Brewers: @/vs. Rangers, @/vs. Twins, vs. Athletics, @Astros, @Mariners, vs. Angels
Distance to 90 Wins
2012 Cubs: 613 RS / 759 RA (+25 wins; +125 RS / -125 RA)
2012 Brewers: 776 RS / 733 RA (+5 wins; +25 RS / -25 RA)
Recent Series (Brewers lead 29-19 from 2010-2012)
2012: Brewers d. Cubs 13-4 (Brewers 96 RS / 75 RA)
2011: Brewers d. Cubs 10-6 (Brewers 67 RS / 60 RA)
2010: Cubs d. Brewers 9-6 (Brewers 62 RS / 86 RA)
2011-2012: Best Rotation / Worst Rotation
Next to the Cubs, the Brewers’ rotation will have the most different look in the 2013 NL Central. While one can note that the Brewers’ faces of their 2013 rotation all appeared on their 2012 club, this group of five starters never worked together at one single point in the season. Chris Narveson is likely to start the season in the rotation after missing nearly all of 2012 with a shoulder injury; youngster Wily Peralta is the strongest Brewers prospect likely to make the rotation, after his strong showing in September. The gang of Fastballer Mike Fiers, Marco Estrada, and Franchise Pitcher Yovani Gallardo complete the Brewers’ best starting five. Similarly, the Cubs have their best pitcher returning from an injury, as well as two new buy-low/high upside starters in Scott Baker and Scott Feldman.
Between the two clubs, here are their best 2011-2012 pitching performances from their current rotations…
1. 2012 Gallardo (204 IP, 16 runs prevented)
2. 2011 Baker (134.7 IP, 16 runs prevented)
3. 2012 Fiers (127.7 IP, 8 runs prevented)
4. 2011 Gallardo (207.3 IP, 6 runs prevented)
5. 2011 Jackson (199.7 IP, 6 runs prevented)
(Honorable mention to 2012 Estrada and 2011 Samardzija)
…and their worst:
1. 2011 Estrada (92.7 IP, -1 runs prevented)
2. 2012 Wood (156 IP, -6 runs prvented)
3. 2011 Narveson (161.7 IP, -6 runs prevented)
4. 2011 Wood (106 IP, -7 runs prevented)
5. 2012 Feldman (123.7 IP, -11 runs prevented)
(Honorable mention to 2012 Jackson for being almost exactly average: 0 runs prevented in 189.7 IP)
(Here I took the harmonic mean between R and RBI for each fielding position, which cuts out runs that are counted twice between R and RBI, and presents an approximate, at-a-glance value for each batting position. This also helps to capture the value of each fielding position in the context of each team’s batting order)
Brewers: LF, 3B, C, RF
Cubs: SS, 1B (especially for the ceiling of Anthony Rizzo)
Tough Call: Barney’s 2B defense vs. Rickie Weeks‘s 2B offense; David DeJesus vs. Carlos Gomez in CF.
Brewers LF: 725 PA, 115.5 runs produced
Brewers 3B: 702 PA, 108.6 runs produced
Cubs LF: 682 PA, 89.6 runs produced
Brewers 1B: 678 PA, 87.0 runs produced
Brewers C: 655 PA, 81.0 runs produced
Cubs 1B: 680 PA, 80.8 runs produced
Brewers RF: 740 PA, 86.5 runs produced
Cubs SS: 698 PA, 78.5 runs produced
Brewers 2B: 713 PA, 78.1 runs produced
Brewers CF: 700 PA, 75.0 runs produced
Brewers SS: 626 PA, 62.4 runs produced
Cubs 2B: 642 PA, 60.5 runs produced
Cubs RF: 693 PA, 65.3 runs produced
Cubs C: 630 PA, 55.6 runs produced
Cubs 3B: 647 PA, 52.4 runs produced
Cubs CF: 672 PA, 47.7 runs produced
In fairness, one should note that the Cubs’ production between RF, C, 3B, and CF should shift in 2013, simply due to a number of changes on their depth chart. Specifically, Welington Castillo and Dioner Navarro should run the game behind the dish for the 2013 Cubs, a notable upgrade over the performance the Cubs received from Geovany Soto last year. Furthermore, the outfield roles are shifting with Nate Schierholtz, Scott Hairston, and Brett Jackson on the depth chart between right and center. If DeJesus spends notable time in centerfield as Schierholtz and/or Hairston stick in right, the Cubs should almost certainly yield more runs from those positions.
If one notes that the Cubs need approximately 60-70 runs to get back to their league/park average, more than half of that improvement should come from their catchers, right fielders, and centerfielders in 2013.
Meanwhile, in Milwaukee, I think the positive effect of Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez at LF and 3B (and, 3 and 4 spots in the order) cannot be stated enough. Even though the tandem of Braun/Ramirez doesn’t draw the same type of A-list glamor that Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder might, for all intents and purposes, the Brewers’ mid-order sluggers provide nearly as much production:
2012 Cabrera: 697 PA, 122.2 runs produced
2012 Fielder: 690 PA, 93.7 runs produced
2012 Braun: 677 PA, 110.0 runs produced
2012 Ramirez: 630 PA, 98.1 runs produced
I know, I know, I know — Braun and Ramirez played in the middle of a stronger batting order, which allowed them to produce runs in more balanced ways (specifically, both Braun and Ramirez were able to score runs more adroitly than Cabrera and Fielder). So, obviously the value of Cabrera and Fielder is much more impressive in the middle of a weaker batting order, but we cannot detract from the production of Braun/Ramirez simply because they played in a better batting order. The goal of baseball is to score runs to win games; if Braun and Ramirez can produce more because of the people around them, then that’s a good sign that the Brewers might be able to win some ballgames.
Of course, one of the reasons the Brewers’ batting order was particularly strong in 2012 was thanks to the flexibility of Corey Hart; Hart played rather well in RF during his brief stretch there, and he also produced at 1B, too. While we might brush off his early season absence — “it’s only a month or so” — Hart’s presence in the middle of the order was one reason that the Brewers scored more runs than anyone in the NL last year.
The Cubs, more than any other team in the NL Central, have a chance to shape the Brewers’ opening and closing months. The Brewers play 30 games against divisional foes to open and close the season; 13 of those contests are against the Cubs (next up is the Cardinals, with 9, Pirates with 5, and Reds with 3). This is an important aspect of the NL Central’s season simply because the rebuilding Cubs have a serious opportunity to play spoiler against the Brewers. While one might expect those opening and closing series to be opportunities for the Brewers to set the tone for their season, and also have a chance to compete late into the year, one cannot forget the importance of the Cubs facing the Brewers without Hart more than any other NL Central club. One might note that the Brewers’ distribution of divisional games to close the season removes some of the pressure to make the playoffs or win the division by directly beating their competition for a division championship, but that dismisses the potential fire of a young club gaining traction in their rebuilding process.
For now, I’ll take it as a good omen that the Brewers’ April schedule is not packed with divisional opponents. This means that at the very least, if the Brewers struggle during their first month, they have a chance to make up ground against their division. But, that closing schedule bugs me; the idea of facing the Cubs 13 times in April and September, together, seems to place our friendly neighbors to the south right in the middle of the Brewers’ competitive narrative. Unfortunately, all we can do now is think about how those games will unfold.
Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference LLC, 2000-2013.
MLB Advanced Media, 2001-2013.
IMAGE (Getty): http://chicago.cbslocal.com/2012/08/29/cubs-drop-8th-straight-vs-brewers-in-3-1-loss/