2014 Preview: Brewers vs. Cubs | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

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

About a decade ago, I distinctly remember the pain of attending a Cubs game at Miller Park. Our beloved Brew Crew were rebuilding, and a bunch of peace-sign-kissing, Sammy Sosa / Cubs fans were crawling out of the woodwork. During the National Anthem, rowdy fans would trade insults, but the Cubs fans always had the upper hand:

Brewers Fan: Bartman! Bartman!
Cubs Fan: Playoffs! Playoffs!

Since then, the sides evened out a bit, especially over the last three years. The bandwagon northsiders have stayed home more recently, from Wrigley and Miller Park, as the Brewers have roundly whipped the Cubs since 2011. In fact, the Brewers won nearly 70% of their games against the Cubs over the last three years.

2014 Cubs Preview

This is no toss-away stat; given the recently compacted NL Central, the Brewers will need to continue to beat the Cubs if they want to build a foundation to a winning season. Winning seasons start as much with the basement dwellers as they do with winning against strong competition, and the Brewers will need to prove, once again, that this step in the I-94 rivalry trends to the north. Even if the bragging rights have shifted, there is a sense that those rights are vacant without a winning season by our Milwaukee Nine. Certainly, the Cubs would love to spoil that, too.

April 25-27: Cubs @ Brewers
May 16-18: Brewers @ Cubs
May 30-June 1: Cubs @ Brewers
August 11-14: Brewers @ Cubs
September 1-3: Brewers @ Cubs
September 26-28: Cubs @ Brewers

Distance to 90 Wins
Brewers: 640 RS / 687 RA (+14 wins, +90 RS / -50 RA)
Cubs: 602 RS / 689 RA (+19 wins, +145 RS / – 45 RA)

I mistakenly called the Cubs’ pitching improvement 80+ runs in Tuesday’s preview, due to a park miscalculation. I mistakenly calculated their 2013 Three-Year Factor against the 2013 NL RA/G (D’Oh!). The Cubs’ pitching really did improve by a lot (70 raw runs), but the 2013 NL + Wrigley eats 23 of those runs. So, their improvement was around 47 runs, not 82. Whoops!

Recent Series (Brewers lead 36-16)
2013: Brewers d. Cubs 13-6 (Brewers 85 RS / 66 RA)
2012: Brewers d. Cubs 13-4 (Brewers 96 RS / 75 RA)
2011: Brewers d. Cubs 10-6 (Brewers 67 RS / 60 RA)

Best Rotation / Worst Rotation (2012-2013)
Since the Cubs have a few roster spots up for grabs, it seems, I am considering their core rotation here. It will be interesting to see whether the Cubs’ youngsters win rotation spots out of the gate, or if James McDonald and Jason Hammel form the bottom rotation.

2012 Lohse (211 IP, 24 runs prevented)
2013 Wood (200 IP, 21 runs prevented)
2012 Gallardo (204 IP, 16 runs prevented)
2013 Lohse (198.7 IP, 16 runs prevented
2012 Samardzija(174.7 IP, 4 runs prevented)

2012 Wood (156 IP, -6 runs prevented)
2013 Gallardo (180.7 IP, -7 runs prevented)
2013 Samardzija (213.7 IP, -8 runs prevented)
2013 Peralta (183.3 IP, -21 runs prevented)
2013 Jackson (175.3 IP, -27 runs prevented)

Somehow, I forgot that Kyle Lohse played in the NL in 2012, and that his season gives him the best performance of any Brewers starter between 2012 and 2013. Lohse is the class of the Cubs and Brewers rotation, but Travis Wood can make a strong bid, too.

Batting Advantages
The 2013 Brewers offense seemed especially bad because of their excellent 2012 performances. Although the Cubs’ offense was worse in 2013, they actually improved from their 77 runs below average performance in 2012. A 100-run swing like the Brewers accomplished between 2012 and 2013 is much more notable than a poor offense improving by five runs. Needless to say, there are still a lot of question marks that could go the other way, especially at SS. I’m not ready to count out Starlin Castro.

I know this says, “Batting Advantages,” so I shouldn’t consider Darwin Barney‘s glove here. But, he is a glove man. I don’t think it’s fair to judge his bat when the Cubs arguably do not employ him for his hitting and since his defense is so much better than either of the Brewers’ options. More on this below.

Brewers Advantages: CF, RF, 3B, C
Cubs Advantages: 1B
Too Close to Call: Castro (ceiling) vs. Segura (ceiling), Barney (defense) vs. Gennett / Weeks (offense), Lake vs. Davis
New Faces: Justin Ruggiano, Junior Lake, Scooter Gennett, Khris Davis, Mark Reynolds, Juan Francisco.

2012 Brewers LF 725 115.5 0.159 2013 Brewers CF 677 86.5 0.1278
2012 Brewers 3B 702 108.6 0.155 2013 Cubs RF 670 81.8 0.122
2012 Cubs LF 682 89.6 0.131 2013 Brewers LF 674 79.5 0.1179
2012 Brewers 1B 678 87.0 0.128 2013 Brewers 3B 663 77.1 0.116
2012 Brewers C 655 81.0 0.124 2013 Brewers C 670 77.1 0.115
2012 Cubs 1B 680 PA 80.8 0.1188 2013 Brewers 1B 638 70.7 0.1108
2012 Brewers RF 740 86.5 0.117 2013 Cubs 1B 703 77.3 0.1099
2012 Cubs SS 698 78.5 0.112 2013 Cubs LF 686 75.2 0.1097
2012 Brewers 2B 713 78.1 0.1095 2013 Cubs 3B 662 70.0 0.1057
2012 League Average 700 76 0.1085 2013 League Average 700 72.0 0.103
2012 Brewers CF 700 75 0.107 2013 Cubs C 652 64.3 0.0986
2012 Brewers SS 626 62.6 0.100 2013 Brewers SS 707 67.8 0.0959
2012 Cubs 2B 642 60.5 0.094 2013 Cubs CF 696 59.7 0.0857
2012 Cubs RF 693 65.3 0.094 2013 Brewers 2B 668 56.9 0.085
2012 Cubs C 630 55.6 0.088 2013 Brewers RF 736 58.6 0.079
2012 Cubs 3B 647 52.4 0.081 2013 Cubs 2B 641 49.5 0.077
2012 Cubs CF 672 47.7 0.071 2013 Cubs SS 715 50.4 0.0705

(Note that even with below average offenses, the park factors for Miller Park and Wrigley really boost some of these batters’ totals. Park-adjusted, 2012 Cubs SS, 2012 Brewers 2B, and 2013 Cubs 3B are probably slightly below average).

I know it’s cherry-picking to call RF an advantage for the Brewers when Nate Schierholtz proved to be perfectly capable — to the point of outperforming Ryan Braun+replacements in 2013. The numbers say Schierholtz was better, and his tendencies suggest that he should be able to rake again in 2014. It’s not that I don’t like Schierholtz, I simply think Braun’s track record is better. I don’t believe that’s controversial, but I also don’t like picking advantages willy-nilly without an explanation. (Don’t worry, I’ll probably pick Jay Bruce as an advantage for RF in the Reds vs. Brewers preview).

Is it rebuilding central between these clubs? These rosters feature a surprising number of new faces working their first full seasons with their respective clubs in 2014. By my count, nearly a third of the positions between these clubs will be occupied by new “full time” faces (or, their first full season in a platoon role with their club).

Second Base
Darwin Barney is one of the great tests of WAR. The gloveman, at his best, can put together strong WAR, based almost solely on the value of his glove. It is interesting to note that despite Barney’s ability to demonstrate very specific value on the field, he is still judged for his hitting — a recent Sports On Earth piece called Barney’s hitting “deplorable,” which isn’t quite right.

Aside from any favored advanced metrics that destroy Barney’s bat, he has matched his actual R and RBI to his expected Runs Created (using “Basic” or “Baseball-Reference” RC), and — overall — produced approximately 25 fewer runs than the average NL 2B from 2011-2013. Certainly, that’s not praiseworthy, but those other advanced metrics uphold Barney as the very best NL 2B in the NL. Judging either DRS or UZR, in fact, Barney is second only to Dustin Pedroia among ALL 2B with the glove from 2011-2013. Against those batting stats, Barney may have saved the Cubs as many as 40 runs over the last three seasons. Now, in terms of total impact, this number looks extreme, so it’s worth pointing out that Barney’s plays –compared to his plate appearances — comprise approximately 33% of his chances to impact the game.

Normally, I’m guessing the typical DoU reader would not be surprised to find a stathead defending Rickie Weeks. In fact, I am one such stathead, and I have defended Weeks on many occasions (and I am sure I will again). But, in this case, I want to push the issue of whether Barney’s bat should be disregarded due to the favor of his glove. And of course, while reviewing Barney’s defensive value over the last three years, I couldn’t help but notice that Weeks’s injury-riddled downturn includes the worst defense of his career. Today, the stathead defends Barney.

(I am not considering Gennett here, simply because I do not know the best way to bridge the gap between his minor league tendencies, his big league performance, and the ceiling for his glovework. Each of these elements are necessary for an honest projection of Gennett’s 2014 potential).

One of the first factors that impacts Barney’s batting value is his place in the Cubs’ order. Barney has primarily batted as a 2nd, 7th, and 8th hitter, which takes him out of the consideration for important run-producing positions. Really, we can honestly say the same about Weeks, too; although the lead-off spot is a source of constant fan obsession, NL managers cannot make up their mind over the importance of the position. Some years, they pencil their 4th best bat into the lead-off slot, while other years they pencil in their 7th best bat. Lead-off is simply a position for “someone else;” you bat your best batters in the middle of the order, usually, and then figure out everything else.

This issue of batting position is important because it instantly drops Weeks’s production by 10% to 20% of his actual potential. Depending on your calculation, Weeks was expected to create anywhere from 181 to 199 runs over the last three years; thanks to his batting position, his actual balance between R and RBI resulted in 163 runs. Barney has the advantage, here, in terms of meeting his batting potential, but Weeks is the better bat (and, shockingly to Brewers fans, an average 2B bat over the last three years):

2011-2013 PA Expected RC ActualRRBI (NL 2B) DRS / UZR UZR / 150 Plays
Barney 1714 152-153 152 (176) 40 / 33.0 13.1 837
Weeks 1591 181-199 163 (163) -50 / -24.5 -11.5 692

Instantly, Barney’s defense stands out against Weeks’s defense. While UZR favors Weeks more than DRS, the fact is, his defense was bad in the last three years. This is undoubtedly the most disappointing aspect of Weeks’s injuries, because there were points earlier in his career where his glovework seemed to come together (or, at least not be awful). Not surprisingly, Barney’s glove is a much larger percentage of his total value than Weeks’s defense. In this admittedly crude chart, Barney’s glove comprises 8% more of his total value than Weeks’s:

2011-2013 Total Opportunities (PA + Plays) Offensive % Defensive %
Barney 2551 67.1 32.9
Weeks 2283 69.7 30.3

Yet, even with his “lead-off” disadvantage, Weeks definitely fares better than Barney compared to the average NL 2B bat:

2011-2013 (PA) R Expected (NL 2B) RBI Expected (NL 2B)
Barney (1714) 188 195 128 160
Weeks (1591) 202 181 136 149

If one weights both defensive plays and offensive plate appearances, here’s how Weeks and Barney compare over 1000 chances to impact the game:

2011-2013 (1000 PA + Plays) Weighted Offense PA Weighted Defense Plays
Barney 59.5 RRBI (-10 vs. NL 2B) 671 15.7 DRS 329
Weeks 71.4 RRBI (- vs. NL 2B) 697 -21.9 DRS 303

Ultimately, this is a basic, crude illustration of Barney’s ability to make up for his batting with his glove. It will be interetsing to see if more players like Barney appear during the “advanced metrics era” in MLB front offices. Certainly, one can’t field a team of eight Barneys, just like one could not field a team of eight Weekses. However, if you can hide a guy like Barney somewhere in your batting order, his glove will give you immense dividends. The same goes for a batter with Weeks’s run scoring potential; one of the toughest areas to judge in his Brewers legacy will be the issue of where to place his bat in the order. While his extreme discipline and patience approach makes him better suited for lead off than clean-up, there is a sense that treating Weeks primarily as a lead-off batter has dug into his overall statistical production (and, like many others, Weeks’s inability to produce RBI, but exceptional ability to score R, will be a major blindspot of fan appreciation and analysis).

2014 Preview
Given Mark Attanasio‘s recent comments about the Brewers betting on winning for 2014, Brewers fans can rightly look to keys for contending in 2014. One of the Brewers’ potential competitive opportunities occurs late in the season, as they face the Cubs once in August and twice in September. While the Cubs will need these series to potentially work with late-season call-ups, maybe even handing some of their top high-minor prospects their first shot at big league play, the Brewers will need these series as sanctuary from a brutal stretch against the Cardinals and reds (among others). While the Cubs organization is playing 2014 with the hopes that each of their top prospects advances (or, don’t have setbacks), their big league club has a chance to take the next step toward respectability in their rebuilding process. These interests — for Chicago to prove that they’re one step closer to competing, and for Milwaukee to prove that their win-now bid was not in vain, will collide as the season closes.

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