Are the Brewers’ Bats too Streaky? | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

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

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.

 

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Comments

Tell us what do you think.

  1. Nicholas Zettel says: July 30, 2014

    YES! Thank you for this.

  2. Heywaitaminute says: July 30, 2014

    Hold on, we might be working from a false premise here. The problem isn’t “inconsistency” in the sense that the team doesn’t score the same number of runs each game. The problem is inconsistency in the sense they don’t consistently score enough runs to give themselves a realistic chance to win each game. “Streaky” might be too indefinite a term to really be useful here. I imagine you have all the data in front of you, so it would would be interesting to have a comparison of the mean, median, and mode when it concerns the Brewers runs scored. The mean puts them second in the NL, but what where do the median and mode rank?

    • Ryan Topp says: July 30, 2014

      I was actually working on this same topic before Jonathan, and had completed some research on the subject. One of the things I did was look at frequency of runs scored by the top 3 teams in each league to see if the Brewers had more games with few runs scored.

      (CHART REMOVED. See Below)

      Those were the raw totals I came up with heading into Tuesday’s action. Best I can tell, that would make the Brewers median 4, along with all three AL teams, while the other 2 NL teams median’s were 3.

      As for the modes, the Brewers is obviously 4 runs, which is tied with Oakland for the best. LAA was 3 runs while the other 3 teams were 2 runs. Not sure that means a whole lot, but there it is.

      BTW, for the Brewers, at least, there are a couple of different “magic numbers” to look at. They’ve only won 4 games when scoring 2 or fewer runs. Not surprising. When scoring 3 runs, they’ve won 4 of 11, so it’s at least a fight at that point. At 4 runs, they jump over .500 to 10 of 17. Score 5 runs or more, and they’ve won 41 of 47 games.

      So if we break it down like that, into 0-2, 3-4, 5+ (and only look at the NL teams, because the runs environment in the AL is just a different beast) it breaks down like this:

      Runs MIL COL WAS
      0 to 2 32 24 34
      3 to 4 28 24 27
      5 plus 47 49 42

      As you can see, the Brewers run distribution really isn’t that different from the other two top scoring teams in the NL. It’s a little worse than Colorado, which should be expected because the Rockies have scored more runs than MKE and a little better than WAS, which again, is expected based on runs scored.

      So, yeah, there really isn’t much evidence for their run distribution being bad.

  3. L says: July 30, 2014

    YES! Yes, yes, yes.

    • L says: July 30, 2014

      …they are too streaky in regards to their ability to be clutch.

      • dbug says: July 30, 2014

        Congrats, Keith Law’s head just exploded.

      • Ryan Topp says: July 30, 2014

        Brewers AVG/OBP/SLG overall: .253/.311/.409
        With RISP: .268/.342/.426

        Anything else?

        • L says: July 30, 2014

          “streaky”

          averages don’t always best describe a team’s consistency.

          • Ryan Topp says: July 31, 2014

            Well, when you get down into subsets of subsets, you’re dealing with tiny samples. That’ll happen.

  4. dbug says: July 30, 2014

    The way I think of it is kind of like fantasy baseball, are we thinking head-to-head matchups or roto style? The season-long average may give us one picture, but the game-by-game matchups give us a very different one.

  5. Jason says: July 30, 2014

    I don’t think standard deviation works as well at describing “streaky” here. Typically standard deviation is inflated by outliers. Zero and one run games aren’t considered outliers. 13-1 laughers are and the Brewers don’t get into very many of those games.

    Earlier in the year DoU did a write-up regarding the stark differences in the records of the Brewers and the Cubs while having RS/RA differential that wasn’t all that different. The biggest reason for the close run differential was that the Cubs were on the happier side of a lot of laughers early in the season.

    The Brewers’ streakiness is more along the line of hot being normal baseball (scoring 3-6 runs) paired with polar vortex levels of cold.

  6. dbug says: July 30, 2014

    I’m not sure it was the desired effect, but reading this post and all of the comments convinces me that the team really does need to go out and pick up another bat. Seems like a matter of one more run per game would potentially be enormous. Let’s go get Adam Dunn and buy Lyle a rocking chair.

    • Ryan Topp says: July 30, 2014

      If they score one more run a game from here on out than they have so far, they’ll win the division by like 10 games. Of course to do that…that’s not happening. They’re not going to turn into the 1995 Indians.

      • dbug says: July 30, 2014

        True. I was kind of exaggerating, but a small improvement might make a big difference. I know this is totally unprovable, but the team might really benefit from a shakeup and a new player in the clubhouse. Napoli is expensive, but he has a ring, plays good defense, and might be available because of the Sox clearing salary.

        • Ryan Topp says: July 30, 2014

          That OBP sure would look nice in the lineup, though it would be nicer if he was left handed. Oh well, right?

          Not that I think it’s going to happen. He’s owed 5+ million this year and 16 million next year. That’s a hefty chunk of change to pay. I suspect if you want the Sox to pick up much of it, you’ll have to give up a pretty nice prospect or two, otherwise it’s just not worth their time.

  7. Evan (Maryland) says: July 30, 2014

    With regards to strikeouts some players are just going to strike out all the time (Reynolds) and others are going to have slumps like Gomez is having currently. This team isn’t amazing offensively but they get the job done for the most part. It’s just more glaring when you lose a game when the pitching was good or vice versa. Take out the nine game win streak at the beginning of the year and that stretch where the Crew lost 11 of 12 and you’ll probably see a relatively consistent team. They haven’t had a win streak longer than 4 games since April but have been able to stay above .500 and in 1st place. I’ll take it. Even with regressions from guys like Smith and K-Rod others have picked it up and evened things out more or less.

  8. Jeff says: July 31, 2014

    ESPN stats show that Brewer pitchers rank 12th overall in ERA, 9th in WHIP, and 2nd in Quality Starts – 2nd!! Yet, as of today, we’ve given up 442 runs which is tied for 5th worst in the NL. How is that possible with the 9th best WHIP overall? Is it just a lot of homeruns we’re giving up or are the errors being made on the field costing us more than other teams?

    • Nicholas Zettel says: July 31, 2014

      Two issues:

      -Brewers have played more games than anyone else but SF in NL.
      -Brewers play in a somewhat tougher park environment. That is important to remember when teams like the Mets, Pirates, and Giants are “ahead” of the Brewers.

      Brewers’ staff is basically average-to-5-runs better than average. That’s the most important thing to keep in mind. Rankings do not adjust for parks, games played, etc.

    • Nicholas Zettel says: July 31, 2014

      Also, remember that ESPN may count Earned Runs as quality starts, not total runs. There are some suspicious Garza starts that could be “quality starts” according to ESPN, but actually be terrible.

      Also also, 6 IP / 3 R is a below average start in 2014. So, a rotation could pitch 162 quality starts of that type, for instance, and end up 43 runs below average.

  9. Sphere says: July 31, 2014

    To tag along with what Jason said, standard deviation here might not capture what you are looking for because runs-per-game data is obviously truncated at zero on one end, but extends far into the positive direction. You really aren’t incorporating how bad a zero run game is (0% chance of winning) because it is so close to the mean. It’d make plenty of sense in basketball, but in baseball I am not so sure.

    What you are probably capturing is which teams have had a several winning blowouts in their season. Maybe that fits into the definition of “streaky”, but often blowouts like that are due to opposing managers giving up on the game and saving their pitching.

    It’d be better to look at an offensive equivalent of “quality starts” akin to what Ryan Topp did.

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