2013 Preview: Brewers vs. Pirates | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

If you followed the Brewers during their rebuilding years, there’s a real sense in which PNC Park is regarded as a house of horrors. Not only did the rebuilding Brewers typically have trouble beating the Pirates, but they were rather hapless against the Pirates in Pittsburgh. After a few tough years, though, the Brewers have beaten the Pirates with shocking regularity. In 93 meetings from 2007-to-present, the Brewers own a 69-24 advantage. Still, there’s this feeling of doom, perhaps persisting from memories that Pittsburgh is trouble.

There is a real sense, for the Pirates, that gaining a season victory against the Brewers corresponds with increasing their odds to make the postseason. On the other side, the Brewers have the tough distinction of trying to remain competitive in a division with much stronger “basement” teams. One gets the feeling that the Brewers cannot always continue to beat the Pirates at a 75% clip; one wonders how that might impact the Brewers’ and Pirates’ respective playoff odds in a compacted division.

2013 Preview: Pittsburgh Pirates

Games
April 29-May 1: Pirates @ Brewers
May 13-16: Brewers @ Pirates
May 24-26: Pirates @ Brewers
June 28-30: Brewers @ Pirates
August 27-29: Brewers @ Pirates
September 2-4: Pirates @ Brewers

Interleague
vs./@ Mariners, vs. Astros, @/vs. Tigers, @Angels, vs. Athletics, @Rangers
Brewers: @/vs. Rangers, @/vs. Twins, vs. Athletics, @Astros, @Mariners, vs. Angels

Recent Series (Brewers lead, 36-12)
2012: Brewers d. Pirates 11-4 (Brewers 85 RS / 59 RA)
2011: Brewers d. Pirates 12-3 (Brewers 84 RS / 46 RA)
2010: Brewers d. Pirates 13-5 (Brewers 125 RS / 80 RA)

Aside from these seasons, the Brewers also went 33-12 against the Pirates between 2007-2009, including a 14-1 season series during 2008. The Pirates’ last series victory was 9-7 during the 2006 campaign.

2011-2012 Best Rotation / Worst Rotation
The Pirates and Brewers both share some question marks in the middle of their rotations, relying in one way or another on youngsters pitching their first full season, or guys moving past their prime with another chance to prove their ability. For all their inexperienced arms, the Brewers’ mid-rotation starters have a stronger record thus far than the Pirates’ mid-rotation. Meanwhile, Franchise Pitcher Yovani Gallardo is the strongest arm between either club.

2012 Gallardo (204 IP, 16 runs prevented)
2011 Karstens (162.3 IP, 8 runs prevented)
2012 Fiers (127.7 IP, 8 runs prevented)
2011 Rodriguez (191 IP, 7 runs prevented)
2011 Gallardo (207.3 IP, 6 runs prevented)

2012 Rodriguez (205.7 IP, -2 runs prevented)
2011 McDonald (171 IP, -5 runs prevented)
2011 Narveson (161.7 IP, -6 runs prevented)
2012 McDonald (171 IP, -8 runs prevented)
2011 Burnett (190.3 IP, -16 runs prevented)

It is worth noting that A.J. Burnett‘s poor 2011 outing occurred in the Bronx, where he was ready for a change of scenery. His average campaign in Pittsburgh helped anchor their 2012 rotation, and if Jeff Karstens can regain past form with a clean bill of health, and Wandy Rodriguez continues to be the NL Central’s quietest ace, the Pirates’ rotation could look a lot different than this picture.

Batting Advantages
(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 Advantages: LF, RF, 1B, 3B, C
Pirates Advantages: 2B, CF
Unknown / Too Close to Call: Clint Barmes‘s total offensive/defensive value versus Jean Segura.
Expanded roles? / New Faces: Russell Martin, Gaby Sanchez, Starling Marte, , and Travis Snider.

Brewers LF: 725 PA, 115.5 runs produced
Brewers 3B: 702 PA, 108.6 runs produced
Pirates CF: 708 PA, 106.3 runs produced
Brewers 1B: 678 PA, 87.0 runs produced

Brewers C: 655 PA, 81.0 runs produced
Pirates 3B: 649 PA, 79.8 runs produced
Brewers RF: 740 PA, 86.5 runs produced
Pirates 2B: 698 PA, 81.0 runs produced

Pirates 1B: 668 PA, 77.3 runs produced
Brewers 2B: 713 PA, 78.1 runs produced
Pirates RF: 691 PA, 78.2 runs produced
(League average for 700 PA: 76.0 runs produced)
Brewers CF: 700 PA, 75.0 runs produced

Pirates C: 613 PA, 62.0 runs produced
Brewers SS: 626 PA, 62.6 runs produced
Pirates LF: 731 PA, 57.6 runs produced
Pirates SS: 617 PA, 48.4 runs produced

Offensively, the Pirates have their work cut out for them in 2013. Their main core contributors are a year older and wiser, and they have some potential benefits from new, young contributors, and a new veteran backstop. Furthermore, clean bills of health across their outfield could help reduce the number of batting orders Clint Hurdle needs to implement.

SIDE NOTE: You might wonder why I consistently place Aramis Ramirez and Ryan Braun atop these rankings. Basically, there is not anyone in the division that I have picked over Braun or Ramirez at their respective positions. The reason for this is simple: given their career records, their 2012 production, and their spot in the Brewers batting order, Braun and Ramirez have a strong chance to produce 100 run seasons once again.

One might wonder, “What if both Braun and Ramirez aren’t as good in 2013?” This is a good question because one obviously cannot expect .987 or .901 OPS from just about any ballplayer; even very, very good ballplayers might have a down year in which they don’t slug quite as much, or their OBP drops, or something. Projecting an OPS over .900 is a bit presumptuous.

However, in the context of a strong batting order — and a league environment or park environment that encourages more runs scored — placing a team’s strongest bats in the middle of the order can yield 100 run seasons even without an OPS above .900. For example, here is a survey of the 100 R and 100 RBI seasons in the MLB from 2003-2012:

2003: 15 players w/ 100 R and 100 RBI, lowest OPS .830, .851, .870
2004: 18 players w/100 R and 100 RBI, lowest OPS .855, .894, .912
2005: 14 players w/ 100 R and 100 RBI, lowest OPS .821, .863, .879
2006: 18 players w/ 100 R and 100 RBI, lowest OPS .867, .868, .869
2007: 12 players w/ 100 R and 100 RBI, lowest OPS: .814, .849, .855
2008: 13 players w/ 100 R and 100 RBI, lowest OPS .843, .871, .876
2009: 10 players w/ 100 R and 100 RBI, lowest OPS .829, .888, .889
2010: 9 players w/ 100 R and 100 RBI, lowest OPS .846, .866, .877
2011: 9 players w/ 100 R and 100 RBI, lowest OPS .882, .916, .928
2012: 4 players w/ 100 R and 100 RBI, lowest OPS .811, .930, .987

Notice that in the strongest league environments, there are obviously more players that produce 100 R / 100 RBI seasons, especially because the very best players are able to grab a greater share of available runs. However, in these strong run environments, even players without elite seasons can reach 100 R and 100 RBI in the right batting conditions — say, a great park, a great team, etc. Overall, the average of the lowest OPS in each of these 10 seasons turns out to be .871, which is still a really strong season; however, there are 18 “low” OPS for 100 R / 100 RBI players at or below .871 over the last decade, including 11 during the strongest production seasons on that list. The median is not far from .871, but it does fall below .870 to approximately .868 or .869. Not a huge difference, but a different nonetheless.

What this simply means is that (a) if the NL run environment continues to increase (as it did in 2012), (b) Miller Park continues its trend of playing slightly stronger than average, and, most importantly, (c) the supporting cast around Braun and Ramirez continues to be strong, Braun and Ramirez both have some opportunity to be the most productive bats in the division even if they don’t produce .901 and .987 OPS. This is especially important given the Brewers’ power/speed potential, as well as their potential to score a lot of runs once Corey Hart returns to the 5th batting spot. If Carlos Gomez and Jonathan Lucroy continue their improvements, that gives the Brewers a strong opportunity to produce at least six average or better bats, which in turn increases run producing opportunities for Braun and Ramirez.

2013 Preview
Given the fact that the Brewers are nursing some injured players back to health, and have some resulting uncertainties early in the year, the early balance of the Pirates/Brewers meetings could favor the Pittsburgh nine. While this is important to the Pirates’ contention hopes, one also gets the feeling that these Brewers/Pirates series will be rather anti-climatic in terms of actual impact on playoff races. With few games late in the season, and a final meeting on September 4, if the Brewers and the Pirates are fighting for a playoff spot, they’ll be completely on their own (or, maybe require help from other clubs). Since both teams have contending question marks, it’s difficult to see schedules that hardly impact one another, or place the potential for a playoff spot on some direct meeting.

RESOURCES:
Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference LLC, 2000-2013.
MLB Advanced Media, 2001-2013.
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