Wow. The Brewers are just one game out of the Wild Card race. One game! This team is so much fun and energetic. Resilience is one of the most defining characteristics of the squad, as whenever they seem dead, they come to the ballpark the next day and exceed expectations yet again. One of the areas of the team where this has been exemplified strongly recently is the bullpen.
Yes, the bullpen. Remember back at the beginning of the year, where when the Brewers had a late-inning lead, doubt plagued the minds of Brewers fans? You basically would sit back on the couch, toss your hands behind your head and think, “Well, here comes a loss.” But that time is no more! The Milwaukee pen has come back with a resounding force and is one of the primary reasons the team is where they are today in the standings.
Let’s take a look at the beginning of the season. We’ll analyze stats from Opening Day through the All-Star break. There’s a strong chance many will be unaware of the stats I’ve picked from FanGraphs, so I’ll make sure to give a thorough introduction to them.
First, we’ll break apart -WPA. No, -WPA is not a term that’s associated with nuclear physics. Trust me, it’s a real stat that’s assessed with bullpens. -WPA is a loss advancement stat. It deciphers the amount of negative wins a player contributed to his team, including only the plays where he decreased his team’s win expectancy.
So, what was the Brewers’ -WPA in the first half of the season? You’d have to scroll all the way down to the bottom to find out. Once you’re finally there, you’d see the Brewers were the worst team in Major League Baseball when it came to this stat, as they sat at -26.76. Ah, yes, the PTSD from the first half bullpen is triggered among fans everywhere reading this. Definitely not good.
The bullpen’s SIERA statistic was poor as well. What’s SIERA, you might ask? In a nutshell, SIERA is an estimator rather than an actual average. Pitching in the major leagues is tough, and SIERA takes that into consideration. It compiles a pitcher’s components, their strikeout rate, their walk rate, and ground ball rate. It steers away from the tradition of just viewing how many runs were allowed. When it came to SIERA, Milwaukee had the 7th worst in all of baseball (4.18).
All of this resulted in 13 blown saves for the Crew in the first half.
But thankfully, baseball is a 162 game season. It’s a very forgiving sport. It’s definitely one of the reasons I enjoyed it so much while playing, and as a fan. Players always get chances to redeem themselves. Oh, and you can make trades in baseball. That’s pretty nice too, especially when the Crew gets a guy like Anthony Swarzak.
When Anthony Swarzak was first acquired by David Stearns, I’ll admit it — I was skeptical. But then I realized that the Brewers would have to assign Ryan Cordell a spot on the 40 man next year to keep him, and I was fine with the idea. Now, I’m very fine with the idea. Since acquiring the righty reliever, Milwaukee has boasted one of the best ERA’s as a bullpen in all of baseball (it’s currently sitting at 3.84).
Swarzak and others have done it with masterful, precise location of pitches. Here’s a map that breaks down where Swarzak works to hitters. Notice the tremendous combination of low and away to right-handed hitters and low and inside to left-handers:
Swarzak’s success as the setup man has only been part of the successful equation. Josh Hader has been a massive piece to the puzzle, along with Corey Knebel (we’ll forget about last night). How good has the bullpen been in the second half? Let’s compare some of the stats we shared in the beginning of this article.
Remember that -WPA stat and how the Brewers had the worst in the league at -26.76? Well, the second half has seen a major decrease, as that number has deflated to just -15.58. Folks, that’s pretty good.
As for the bullpen’s SIERA? That’s gone down a considerable amount too. If you recall, the Crew had the 7th worst in all of baseball in the first half (4.18). Where does their second half rate rank? How does the 6th best in baseball sound? Yes, you read that right. Milwaukee’s SIERA currently sits at 3.59, which is good for the No. 6 spot. Pretty exciting.
These are just a few of the more incredible stats that show the crazy turnaround the Crew has made. You can find countless more examples. It really is pretty remarkable how much they’ve trended up. For a team that’s contending for a spot in October, every strike and good pitch made by relievers is like striking gold. And right now, the Brewers have their pickaxes in their hands ready to go.