After a rousing finish against the Mets, and a particularly good September, we have an entire offseason to build narratives about the Brewers’ direction. First and foremost, it’s instructive to look at the Brewers’ position in the National League; specifically, it is instructive to review how the Brewers performed against their league and Miller Park.
Park factors can be tricky. The typical numbers one might see on ESPN, or touted on broadcasts from time-to-time, are more justifiably called park splits. Over one-year, there are stats sites that judge the team’s home runs, hits, and all sorts of other stats, at Miller Park compared to their performance in every other park; the same thing is done for their opponents, which splits their performance at Miller Park against their performance in all other others. These splits can be instructive in order to explain a specific phenomenon for a season, but they can fluctuate wildly due to personnel, performance, etc. A park factor, on the other hand, basically neutralizes a park against the traits of their home team and the league, judging a specific type of performance in that park (such as runs and winning percentage) against the league, rather than split against home/road performance. I linked the best source I know on park factors.
Anyway, it is instructive to see how the Brewers performed against their league and in their environment because we will need to understand the type of team the Brewers were in 2013, compared to previous seasons (and the league). If we want to spin narratives about the Brewers’ pitching staff, for instance, there will be as many factors to look into as games played. But, it is significant to note that they were basically average from the mound in 2013. Similarly with batting, if we want to wax moral about Ryan Braun, or complain about the replacement players, it is helpful to know that the offense was much worse than the pitching in 2013 — probably by more than 40 runs!
Thinking about the league environment is also important, because it’s helpful to know the types of games the Brewers might face in the future. For instance, in the 2013 National League, the scoring dropped to 4.00 RS and 4.04 RA per game, compared to 4.22 RS / 4.26 RA in 2012 NL. In general, runs scored per game have dropped significantly during the testing era, perhaps due to a range of factors such as a constellation of anti-bandbox ballparks, non-juiced baseballs, and a new emphasis on different areas of the game (such as baserunning and fielding). As much as one would like to definitively say, “ballplayers score fewer runs during the testing era than during the steroids era,” to do so ignores plenty of other factors.
So, the Brewers’ offense dried up as offense became more valuable (or scarce). Even considering the brutal 0.22 RS/G shift from 2012 to 2013, the Brewers’ offense fell more than 40 runs below average. The bats’ performance completed a ~107 run swing, which is nearly as extreme as the shift between the 2010 and 2011 Brewers pitching staffs (to put the 2013 Brewers runs scored total in perspective). Meanwhile, it is worth noting that while the 2012 Brewers pitchers were not awful — they were maybe 15 runs below average — the 2013 arms improved by nearly 16 runs. Normally, one might expect improved pitching to yield more wins, but the concentration of that improvement in the bullpen, as well as the poor offense, knocked the Brewers’ wins total down by 10% from 2012.
Compared to the 2013 NL, the Brewers’ total mark of 40 runs scored and allowed below average basically places the club in the middle of the NL (or, the top of the bottom half). This is important because a team’s balance between RS and RA typically correlates to their ability to win games (save for extreme cases). In 2013 NL, the top five RS/RA performances belong to the five NL playoff clubs (here both RS and RA above average are listed as a “+,” in order to suggest the typically positive connection between above-average performance and winning)
|Runs Against Park||Total Runs||RS||RA||3-year Park|
|Cardinals||180||+141||+39||99 / 97|
|Braves||123||+13||+110||104 / 103|
|Reds||109||+30||+79||103 / 102|
|Pirates||105||+24||+83||94 / 94|
|Dodgers||72||+32||+40||95 / 95|
|Nationals||56||-6||+62||102 / 101|
|Diamondbacks||-4||+23||-27||102 / 102|
|Rockies||-40||-53||+13||117 / 118|
|Brewers||-40||-41||+1||105 / 105|
|Mets||-53||+9||-62||94 / 95|
|Giants||-63||+45||-108||90 / 89|
|Cubs||-74||-73||-1||104 / 105|
|Padres||-77||+27||-104||91 / 91|
|Marlins||-120||-149||+29||102 / 103|
|Phillies||-126||-45||-81||101 / 102|
Ultimately, the Brewers’ position in the 2013 NL reflects their difficult tension between competing and rebuilding narratives. Most Brewers fans, analysts, and writers will focus on questions about how the club can compete in 2014, as well as their ability to improve the farm system. The Brewers have a tension placing young players that proved they could play at the close of 2013 against the generally bad taste from the club’s overall position in the league. In one sense, the Brewers front office has their work cut out for them; that work includes a series of questions about the place of their youngsters on the roster in 2014, and the balance of financial resources between the draft and competing.
Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC., 2000-2013.