A Tale of Two Defenses! | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

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

Over the course of the year, I have worked on using Fielding Independent Pitching stats to make certain judgments about particular ballparks, as well as to make some judgments about fielding efficiency (and fielding support of pitchers).

In the course of these articles, I presented arguments that were often fragmented / incomplete, obscure / opaque, or perhaps, just plain uninformed or on the wrong path. However, I continue to work with the issues of Fielding Independent Pitching, ballpark context, and fielding statistics because the 2012 Milwaukee Brewers provide a very real application for this constellation: the 2012 Milwaukee Brewers (1) boast strong overall Fielding Independent Pitching performances, but (2) have allowed a whole lot of runs because (3) they received inefficient defensive support or (4) some element of their pitching performances helped to encourage more runs allowed.

(3) is particularly interesting because the Brewers’ traditional fielding statistics are not bad in 2012, while “advanced” metrics tell a tale of a markedly inefficient defensive club. This is a REAL disjoint; something about the Brewers’ fielding performance is escaping analysis, providing different stories according to different statistics. (4) is also interesting because some of the Brewers’ relievers have allowed line drives at significant rates, which might suggest that the Brewers’ fielding woes occur at the hands of the pitchers themselves.

While working on an argument for a thread over at Badger State Sports forums, I stumbled upon a wildly interesting split between the Brewers’ home and road pitching / fielding statistics.

Stated simply, the 2012 Brewers (a) have posted stronger Fielding Independent Pitching performances on the road, although (b) their fielding is more efficient at home than on the road. (a) and (b) combine to create a bizarre picture, one that suggests that Miller Park not only encourages home runs, but influences batted balls in play in a way that might help the Brewers to produce better fielding performances at home.

Way back at the beginning of 2012, I worked out a potential formula to adjust Fielding Independent Pitching statistics to ballpark contexts. Not only do park factors affect runs scored and runs allowed, but they also influence the extent to which pitchers strike out or walk batters, allow hits, errors, etc. While working on this problem, I suggested that Miller Park might influence batted balls in play in such a way that the Brewers could actually get away with a poor defensive club:

Furthermore, we can use these types of exercises to think about the importance of defensive efficiency in certain parks. Take Miller Park, for instance, which features a strange interaction of elements that encourages more home runs without favoring overall increases in runs scored. Miller Park is an odd breed of park, a rather average runs environment over time that happens to have strange effects on fielding independent elements. For this reason, one might ask, if the Brewers’ pitching staff does an extremely good job limiting damage in terms of their fielding independent elements, is defensive efficiency less important for the Brewers than other clubs? (I am not sure, but I believe this might explain how 2011 worked for the Brewers).

Since I wrote this, Miller Park’s run environment increased during the 2012 season, and its overall tale is one of an average ballpark that is trending toward an increased run environment. BUT, the same basic facts remain the same: because of the extent to which Miller Park encourages home runs, walks, AND, strike outs, ballgames at Miller Park might rely slightly less on batted balls in play to produce runs. This might provide the added benefit of shielding the Brewers’ defense from a high number of baseballs to field at home.

Here are the 2012 home/road splits for Fielding Independent Pitching elements, for the National League and Brewers:

2012 NL Home: 0.658 FIPratio, 3.872 FIPConstant, 4.14 runs average
2012 NL Road: 0.822 FIPratio, 3.708 FIPConstant, 4.53 runs average

2012 NL Home: 39870 BF, 8129 K, 3066 BB, 1022 HR, 295 HBP, 413 SH (0.676 BIP%)
2012 NL Road: 38460 BF, 7473 K, 3234 BB, 969 HR, 295 HBP, 418 SH (0.677 BIP%)

2012 Brewers Home: 0.812 FIPratio, 3.828 FIPConstant, 4.64 runs average
2012 Brewers Road: 0.366 FIPratio, 4.074 FIPConstant, 4.44 runs average

2012 Brewers Home: 2625 BF, 639 K, 210 BB, 88 HR, 19 HBP, 20 SH (.628 BIP%, .309 BABIP)
2012 Brewers Road: 2351 BF, 483 K, 198 BB, 44 HR, 9 HBP, 28 SH (.676 BIP%, .330 BABIP)

Notice that on the road, the Brewers pitchers allow batted balls in play (BIP) at a significantly higher rate than at Miller Park. In fact, prorated against 2351 plate appearances, the Brewers’ road BIP% means that they have allowed approximately 113 more batted balls in play on the road than at Miller Park. Not surprisingly, the Brewers fielders have allowed approximately 43 more hits on batted balls in play on the road.

Overall, it seems that the Brewers’ 2012 fielding performance can be explained in two significant ways:

(1) Miller Park’s environment may suppress the Brewers’ need for their fielders during home games. As a result, the Brewers can produce a relatively average fielding performance at Miller Park.

(2) Once they get to the road, the Brewers’ pitchers no longer benefit from the extreme K, BB, and even HR factors. Simply, this means more batted balls in play on the road, potentially exposing the Brewers’ fielding flaws.

Given the Brewers’ noted dependence on fielding shifts in the last year or so, it might be interesting to see if the club uses different fielding shifts on the road than they do at home. OR, perhaps the Brewers SHOULD use different shifts at home than they do on the road.

On this point, I feel like I could go one way or the other: Does the fact that the Brewers face more batted balls in play on the road mean that they should use FEWER shifts on the road? Or, should they use MORE shifts? Same question for Miller Park: since the Brewers face fewer batted balls in play at Miller Park, does that mean that they can use even more extreme fielding shifts? That is, since they know that a K, BB, or HR is more likely to occur at Miller Park, might they be able to play toward a hitter’s tendencies in the field? Or, does this simply mean that they Brewers can get away with standard / straightaway fielding at home?

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Comments

Tell us what do you think.

  1. Cecil Cooper's Love Child says: August 30, 2012

    Interesting analysis. This could be a big piece in the home/road W-L splits puzzle. If you can figure out the VALUE of the shifts at home and on the road, then you should be hired immediately by the Brewers front office.

    From an unscientific observer, I would guess that there should be fewer shifts at Miller Park. Too many RH batters hit the ball just to the left of the mound (which happens to be the hole in the Brewers typical home shift). Those are playable balls with a normal alignment.

    Good luck with your research! Zack Greinke splits/FIP/home vs road W-L splits…I think there is a connecting thread that links all of those topics that we discuss very often.

    • Nicholas Zettel says: August 30, 2012

      Thanks for reading, and for the comment! I especially like your point on Greinke — these splits / shifts could be an interesting explanation to his performance w/ the Brewers….

      Lots to think about! I wish there was some reliable source for tracking fielding shifts. Think anyone would give away grant money for season tickets to study defensive placement?

      • Luke says: August 30, 2012

        Nicholas, when are you going to become a fangraphs author? Your ability to break down the smallest and seemingly insignificant things to compliment your position is unrivaled by nearly everything I read on there. Time to start bringing in the $ with these posts. They’re Gold Jerry! Gold!

      • Nicholas Zettel says: August 30, 2012

        Thanks for the kind words, Luke. You know, I simply love writing about the Brewers as a Brewers fan, and I’m lucky enough to be writing with the gang here; I guess I’ve never thought about writing for FanGraphs.

  2. Jerry Eldred says: September 1, 2012

    I think Miller Park has transformed into a more extreme hitters’ park this year in part because of the hot, dry air we’ve had all summer. Similar to the Coors affect, such weather will encourage not only home runs but increase speed on line drives and grounders, making them harder to field. Worth mentioning, I think.

    • Nicholas Zettel says: September 1, 2012

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Jerry — that’s an interesting idea, I hadn’t thought about the weather. You might be on to something….

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