The Brewers dropped their third straight game on Tuesday, this time to the Rays by a final of 5-1. In what is becoming a recurring theme, the team got a solid start but it wasn’t good enough for the victory. Matt Garza went seven innings and allowed only one run, but Will Smith’s nightmare month of July continued with a four-run eighth inning sealing the Brewers’ fate. The offense was stymied once again, held to a mere three hits for the second straight game.
As with most fanbases enduring a run of low scoring games from an otherwise good offense, the cries of “inconsistent” are growing louder by the day. So is there anything to this? Are the Brewers bats really too streaky?
Short answer: no, they’re not.
Well depending on how unreasonable you are, perhaps you feel differently. The Brewers have scored more runs this season than any other team in the National League besides Colorado, but they haven’t scored as much lately. For the month of July, they rank 10th out of the 15 NL teams in run-scoring. As the Brewers slog through their toughest road trip of the season, fans are pulling their hair out over the stream of close losses, tempted to blame various attributes of the Brewers’ lineup as somehow substandard or prone to streaks. And our favorite Brewers writers certainly are asking themselves (and the players) questions about consistency and the meaning of the recent cold stretch.
Most of this hand-wringing is silly. All teams go through hot and cold streaks.
And if we’re going to compare them to other baseball teams, which seems like the right frame of reference, the Brewers overall are doing just fine.
I’ve long wondered about what causes streakiness, and so I spent some time the last few nights studying it. To do so, I selected 78 seasons of various teams over the past six years. I calculated the standard deviation of their runs per game over the course of that season, looked at the team attributes that correlated with those deviations, and placed the 2014 Brewers in context with those other teams. Standard deviation here is a mathematical measurement that measures the extent to which your team tends to deviate from its average performance. A higher standard deviation means that a team is more volatile from game to game; a lower standard deviation, less so.
Here’s what I can tell you:
First: the 2014 Brewers lineup is actually LESS streaky than most baseball teams. The average standard deviation — the variation from game to game for teams — in my sample was 3.03 runs per game. The 2014 Brewers have a standard deviation of only 2.92, which is less streaky than average and well within the reasonable deviation from even that measurement.
Second: please stop saying that the Brewers’ streakiness in scoring is caused by their tendency to strike out. This has shown up in numerous stories / posts, and it is wrong. First off, they’re not even in the top half of the NL in strikeouts, currently ranking 10th out of 15 teams. What’s more, there is no connection whatsoever between a team’s strikeout rate and the volatility with which they score runs from game to game. (r2 =.02, p>.268).
Third: please stop saying that the Brewers would be less streaky if they took more walks. This is wrong too. In fact, the more walks your team takes, the more volatile your run-scoring gets from game to game. (r=.34, p<.001).
Fourth: the more home runs and extra base hits that your club hits, the more volatile their run-scoring will be. A club’s isolated power is moderately and significantly correlated with run-scoring volatility. (r=.41, p<.001). The Brewers are, for what it is worth, second in the National League in isolated power. They hit the ball hard, and get a lot of extra-base hits while doing it.
Fifth: on-base percentage (OBP) makes a difference, and the Brewers are challenged in on-base percentage because they don’t walk much. But higher OBP makes your run-scoring more volatile, not less. (r=.6, p<.001).
Sixth: being a good overall offense causes a team to be more volatile. There is a positive and moderate correlation between a team’s wRC+ and its run volatility. (r=.38, p<.001).
Have you started to see a pattern? I hope so. Let’s summarize:
1. The Brewers are not as streaky as your typical team. If you think they are too variable for your taste, there aren’t many better options.
2. The primary reason the Brewers lineup is as streaky as they are is because they have a really good offense. Good offenses are more volatile because they have the ability to score more runs, and often, but not always do. If the Brewers got on base more and took more walks, they would be more volatile in their run-scoring, not less.
3. If streakiness in run-scoring concerns you, I recommend you cheer instead for the Padres (SD = 2.64) or the Phillies (SD = 2.88). They have some of the lowest run-scoring volatility in the league. You know why? Because they stink. Those teams can’t score runs, and when you consistently stink, you don’t have to worry about being volatile. It’s the same sad show almost every night.
So, if you like run-scoring, you’re in the right place if you’re a Brewers fan. Be patient. Like most other spells this season, this too shall pass.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter @bachlaw.