On May 6, 2011, the greatest Milwaukee Brewers team in franchise history sat in last place in the National League Central. The club struggled to stay afloat after their prolonged winless start, and they flat-out sputtered to a halt to open May. From April 30 to May 6, the Brewers scored 7 runs total, the bats stifled by everyone from Wandy Rodriguez to Tim Hudson and back. The pitching staff looked serviceable, having allowed 140 runs over 32 games, but the offense hardly scored 3.90 R/G. Time-to-panic!
I’m not just saying this to make you feel better about the Brewers’ recent struggles in San Diego. Over the course of a season, even the most improbable of 96-win ballclubs will have their difficult stretches, even when they have an above average offense (as the 2011 Brewers did). Currently, that’s about all we have to hang our hats on — in the depressed 2012 National League, the Brewers’ 102 runs scored over 25 games does not look all that bad.
Still, even where the offense looks like the strong part on the current Brewers club — easy to say when the team allowed 129 runs thus far, thanks to poor pitching and inefficient fielding — one would like to see the Brewers’ bats come through when the pitchers only allow a couple of runs (Tuesday night’s game comes to mind). Even if runs prevention is the team’s biggest problem, the offense comes to forefront of the blame game when they post consecutive goose eggs on the scoreboard.
The bottom line, for fans, is that they want to assign blame. The reality is, the Brewers’ woes are not as simple as finding an underperforming culprit.
Thus far, the 2012 National League R/G is hovering somewhere between 3.96 R/G and 4.06 R/G, which translates roughly to a run environment of 4.10 R/G to 4.18 R/G at Miller Park (a rather neutral field which is tending slightly toward a hitter’s park). The fact that the Brewers scored more than 6 runs eight times in April, and scored between 3 and 5 runs ten times last month, looks rather promising — the bats, on the whole, are producing runs scored totals that are at least close to league average on most nights, if not better.
If it seems like the team is simply not firing on any cylinders, that’s probably about as correct a feeling as one could have at the moment. To my eyes, that’s a better source of frustration than assigning blame or looking for solutions to underperforming players. Sure, the Brewers went 7-1 in those games with 6+ runs scored, but they only managed a 3-7 record in those games with 3-5 runs scored. This, I propose, is the most significant difference between the 2011 Brewers and 2012 Brewers thus far. Not necessarily the fact that the pitching is poor, the fielding is inefficient, etc.; beyond that, the very balance between runs scored and runs allowed is skewed, and neither the offense nor the defense are picking up the other.
I said earlier that the 2011 Brewers were an improbable 96 win club. I say this because the ballclub notably outplayed their run differential. Of course, their pitching did not hurt in this area, and they also faced a boatload of one-run games, winning a disproportionate share. Beyond that, the club simply clicked when things fell between than 3-5 runs scored range. By my count, the 2011 Brewers worked out the following distribution of victories based on ranges of run support:
49-9 in 6+ runs scored
40-21 in 3-5 runs scored (27 wins between 3-4 RS)
7-36 in 0-2 runs scored
Of course, the gaudy win total in 6+ runs scored games, and the awful loss total in 0-2 runs scored games, might be the types of outcomes expected in those types of games. The 2011 Brewers played nearly 38% of their season within that 3-5 runs scored range, and they posted a strong .656 winning percentage in those games. In case you think that’s a fluke stat that’s bolstered by victories in 5-runs-scored games, the bulk of those victories occurred when the club scored 3-4 runs (a below average offensive output, on the whole, for 2011 National League/Miller Park).
Thus far, here’s how things work out for the 2012 Brewers:
7-1 in 6+ runs scored
3-7 in 3-5 runs scored (2 wins between 3-4 RS)
1-6 in 0-2 runs scored
That range between 3-5 runs scored is crucial to explaining the lack of balance in the 2012 Brewers. Certainly, there are red flags that I could sit here and write about all day — Rickie Weeks and Aramis Ramirez are struggling to hit, Randy Wolf and Yovani Gallardo are not pitching to their potential, Francisco Rodriguez and John Axford are not lights out, etc. We could go on and on.
Beyond those discussions rests the distribution between team runs scored and team runs allowed. No matter how strong the bats get, they’re still going to score between 3 and 5 runs in a heck of a lot of games; if the team cannot capitalize on those performances, that’s going to provide a lot of mileage in explaining their inability to win, beyond noting their basic run differential or lamenting the shortcomings on the ballclub.
Furthermore, one might note that winning nearly 2/3 of ballgames between 3 and 5 runs scored in 2011 is unsustainable, no matter how good this 2012 squad becomes. This is what interests me the most about baseball; as much as we can study the Brewers’ run differential, as much as we can project pitching and fielding improvements, as much as we can hope for key offensive components picking it up, if that balance of victories within that range of “league average” runs scored (one run up, one run down) doesn’t turn around, we could spend the remainder of the year wondering how the Brewers will squeeze more wins out of their run differential.
This is what frightens me the most about 2012: that the Brewers could rebound and return a run differential just as strong as the 2011 club, but without all the victories and a division championship to boot.
RESOURCES: Baseball-Reference Standings + Results, Sports Reference, LLC., 2000-2012.