2014 Preview: Brewers vs. Pirates | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

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

The Pirates’ first trip to the playoffs in a generation included their first winning series against the Brewers in six seasons. From 2007 through 2012, the Brewers went 69-24 against the Pirates, but Pittsburgh forcefully stopped that streak last year. Not only did Pittsburgh take the season series 12-7, but seven of their victories against our Milwaukee Nine were within one or two runs. Even if the Pirates only outscored the Brewers 83-75, they have an excellent record to show for that run differential.

2014 Pirates Preview

In 2013, the Pirates and Brewers mostly faced off during the first half of the season, and this year will be no different. These two clubs will play seven times between April 11 and 20, and their other first half series are in the middle of May and beginning of June. Luckily, if the teams are fighting one another for the playoffs, they will have one chance to face off in the middle of September. Otherwise, the Pirates/Brewers games in 2014 will largely determine early streaks rather than late runs at the playoffs.

Schedule
April 11-13: Pirates @ Brewers
April 17-20: Brewers @ Pirates
May 13-15: Pirates @ Brewers
June 6-8: Brewers @ Pirates
August 22-24: Pirates @ Brewers
September 19-21: Brewers @ Pirates

Distance to 90 Wins
Pirates: +2 wins (+20 RS / — RA)
Brewers: +14 wins (+90 RS / -50 RA)

For the Brewers to come anywhere near 90 wins in 2014, they will need to reverse their 100 runs scored swing between 2012 and 2013.

Recent Series (Brewers lead 30-19)
2013: Pirates d. Brewers 12-7 (Pirates 83 RS / 75 RA)
2012: Brewers d. Pirates 11-4 (Brewers 85 RS / 59 RA)
2011: Brewers d. Pirates 12-3 (Brewers 84 RS / 46 RA)

Best Rotation / Worst Rotation (2012-2013)
Although the Pirates are largely keeping their pitching staff the same for 2014, that group of pitchers does not have a lot of experience as regular starters from 2012-2013. In fact, five of their nine regular, 100+ IP spots from 2012-2013 are no longer with the organization.

2012 Gallardo (204 IP, 16 runs prevented)
2013 Lohse (198.7 IP, 16 runs prevented)
2013 Liriano (161 IP, 14 runs prevented)
2012 Fiers (127.7 IP, 8 runs prevented)
2013 Cole (117.3 IP, 7 runs prevented)

2013 Locke (166.3 IP, 1 run prevented)
2013 Morton (116 IP, -1 run prevented)
2012 Rodriguez (205.7 IP, -2 runs prevented)
2013 Gallardo (180.7 IP, -7 runs prevented)
2013 Peralta (183.3 IP, -21 runs prevented)

Franchise starter Yovani Gallardo‘s 2012 campaign is still the best in either organization, but his 2013 season is also one of the worst. Needless to say, Gallardo’s ability to recover his previous form is one of the Brewers’ keys for a successful season. It will also be interesting to see how Wily Peralta competes against Gerrit Cole and Jeff Locke for youngster bragging rights.

Edinson Volquez could be added to this list with his 182.7 IP, -7 runs prevented and 142.3 IP, -42 runs prevented performances in 2012 and 2013. But, I already called him a “replacement extraordinaire” on Tuesday, and I don’t want to be mean two days in a row.
Resources: 2011-2013 NL Rotations with Runs Prevented

Batting Advantages
Last year, I gave the Brewers five offensive advantages over the Pirates, but also noted a series of new faces that could impact the Pirates. Indeed, the Pirates were better at catcher and left field, thanks to veteran Russell Martin and newcomer Starling Marte. Given the Pirates’ strides, as well as some of the Brewers’ newcomers and question marks, the offensive battles between the Pirates and Brewers are much closer in 2014.

On the whole, the shift between 2012 and 2013 was rather extreme. In 2012, the Brewers dominated the top four positions between these clubs, and they only had two below average positions (including only one of the bottom four positions between the Pirates and Brewers). In 2013, the Pirates grabbed the most productive position (CF) and took two of the top four production spots (CF and 3B); injuries, labor issues, and replacement players dropped LF and 3B from 1st and 2nd to 4th and 5th for the Brewers . Furthermore, with their decline at 2B and RF, the Brewers also placed three below average positions and placed two positions in the bottom four. The Pirates SS were somehow more dreadful offensively in 2013 than they were in 2012, and the Brewers 1B is one of the most surprisingly productive positions for the club (thanks to their batting order position and Yuniesky Betancourt‘s clutch homers).

Brewers Advantages: RF, C, SS
Pirates Advantages: CF, 2B, LF

Too Close to Call: Aramis Ramirez‘s health vs. Pedro Alvarez‘s repeat performance, Brewers 1B vs. Pirates 1B.
New Faces: Scooter Gennett, Khris Davis, Mark Reynolds, Juan Francisco.

(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)

Position PA R/RBI RRBI/PA Position PA R/RBI RRBI/PA
2012 Brewers LF 725 115.5 0.159
2012 Brewers 3B 702 108.6 0.155
2012 Pirates CF 708 106.3 0.150
2012 Brewers 1B 678 87.0 0.128 2013 Pirates CF 715 92.3 0.1291
2012 Brewers C 655 81.0 0.124 2013 Brewers CF 677 86.5 0.1278
2012 Pirates 3B 649 79.8 0.123 2013 Pirates 3B 668 84.7 0.1268
2012 Brewers RF 740 86.5 0.117 2013 Brewers LF 674 79.5 0.1179
2012 Pirates 2B 698 81 0.116 2013 Brewers 3B 663 77.1 0.116
2012 Pirates 1B 668 77.3 0.1157 2013 Brewers C 670 77.1 0.115
2012 Pirates RF 691 78.2 0.113 2013 Brewers 1B 638 70.7 0.1108
2012 Brewers 2B 713 78.1 0.1095 2013 Pirates 2B 699 72.1 0.1031
2012 League Average 700 76 0.1085 2013 League Average 700 72.0 0.103
2012 Brewers CF 700 75 0.107 2013 Pirates C 670 68.9 0.1028
2012 Pirates C 613 62 0.101 2013 Pirates RF 675 68.7 0.1018
2012 Brewers SS 626 62.6 0.100 2013 Pirates 1B 660 63.8 0.0967
2012 Pirates LF 731 57.6 0.0787 2013 Brewers SS 707 67.8 0.0959
2012 Pirates SS 617 48.4 0.0784 2013 Pirates LF 752 70.2 0.093
2013 Brewers 2B 668 56.9 0.085
2013 Brewers RF 736 58.6 0.079
2013 Pirates SS 623 43.4 0.070

It is worth noting that although batting order spots arguably hurt the Brewers RF, 2B, and SS positions, no one position on this list was hurt by that R and RBI disparity as much as the Pirates LF. Marte was a runs scoring machine for the Pirates, but he obviously was not needed as an RBI producer. His overall impact is really not reflected properly in this chart.

Hurdle: Scratching and Clawing
Over the series of Pirates previews in 2012 and 2013, as well as other recent surveys of the NL Central, I have focused on the Pirates’ ability to consistently outplay their run differential in “losing months.” That is, in several months where the Pirates allowed more runs than they scored, they used their ability to win close games to produce positive records in those months. Compared to the three other NL Central contenders in 2011, 2012, and 2013, the Pirates’ ability to overcome poor run differentials is clearly the best.

Pirates (extra 1.83 wins per month)
May 2012, 89 RS / 110 RA, 15-13, +4
June 2011, 105 RS / 106 RA, 16-11, +3
September 2013, 103 RS / 108 RA, 15-12, +2
April 2013, 110 RS / 110 RA, 15-12, +2
August 2013, 111 RS / 113 RA, 14-14, -
April 2012, 58 RS / 66 RA, 10-12, -
85-74 (87 win pace per 162 games)

Brewers (extra 1.8 wins per month)
July 2011, 112 RS / 116 RA, 16-11, +3
May 2011, 118 RS / 115 RA, 17-12, +2
April 2011, 102 RS / 122 RA, 11-12, +2
July 2013, 107 RS / 115 RA, 14-14, +1
June 2011, 119 RS / 126 RA, 14-13, +1
72-62 (87 win pace per 162)

Cardinals (extra 1.33 wins per month)
August 2011, 117 RS / 125 RA, 15-13, +2
August 2012, 124 RS / 127 RA, 16-13, +2
June 2012, 120 RS / 129 RA, 13-14, -
43-40 (84 win pace per 162)

Reds: (extra 0.83 wins per month)
September 2012, 78 RS / 81 RA, 15-11. +2
June 2013, 93 RS / 116 RA, 12-15, +2
September 2011, 106 RS / 127 RA. 12-14, +1
August 2011, 121 RS / 125 RA, 14-14, -
April 2012, 87 RS / 90 RA, 11-11, -
May 2011, 133 RS / 141 RA, 14-15, -
78-80 (80 win pace per 162)

It is worth noting that Ron Roenicke‘s Brewers squads have also been quite good at outplaying poor months. Unfortunately for the 2011-2013 Brewers, they also have some months where they underplay solid RS / RA performances. The balance between scoring runs and winning ballgames can be tricky at times; it’s not necessarily worth praising a club’s ability to outplay their run differential during poor months if they also underplay their run differential during potentially great months. However, in Hurdle’s case, his Pirates used their ability to outperform their run differential to secure a playoff spot and homefield for the Wild Card game during tenacious August and September 2013 campaigns. Going 29-26 while allowing seven more runs than scored to earn a playoff spot is quite a praiseworthy accomplishment.

The Pirates have nearly a full season’s worth of “outperforming months” from 2011-2013. Despite going 576 RS / 613 RA during 159 games, Hurdle’s Pirates are 85-74 during those six months (that’s 85 wins in 159 games with a 3.64 RS/G average).

2014 Preview
Once again, the Pirates and Brewers do not necessarily have a chance to impact playoff pushes through direct competition. Rather, their 2014 match-ups will largely be the “table-setting” types of series, series that set the temperature for early-to-midseason runs. It should be clear that these early season series are key for the Brewers to establish a base for a successful season, perhaps more important for the Brewers than for the Pirates’ contending hopes. One of the benefits for the Pirates’ contention in 2013 is that they answer to the Cardinals and Reds now. On the other hand, the Brewers will need to spoil the Pirates in order to prove that they can compete in the NL Central once more.

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