Summary of Previews: Brewers’ First Half | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

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

62.5%

If there’s a telling statistic about the Brewers’ recent success and struggles, it’s also a straightforward statistic: from June 1 onward, 62.5% of the Brewers’ games required five runs (or more) in order to win. Let that sink in: basically, for every series, the Brewers needed to score at least five runs twice. Let that sink in: for a league that averages between 4.02 and 4.08 RS / G (in Miller Park), the Brewers needed to score five or more runs nearly two of every three games.

Distributing the Blame / “Middle Ground Games”
It is a wondrous occurrence that the Brewers managed a 20-20 record from June forward. This 20-20 record is quite true to the club’s 192 RS / 190 RA differential over that timeframe. That run differential also hints at the distribution between offensive and pitching performances over that time period. Miraculously, the bats were as good as necessary to hold the club afloat — while the arms allowed nearly 19% more runs than an average pitching staff, the bats held steady with a 20% better-than-average performance. Thus, one can update the distribution of batting wins (where at least 5 R were required), pitching wins (where 3 R or fewer were required), and middle ground wins (4 RS wins):

Category Wins
Batting Wins 17
Middle Ground 10
Pitching Wins 26

The losses also are telling: while the Brewers have lost only three games in which they needed 3 RS (or fewer), they have 36 losses in which the bats needed 5 RS:

Category Losses
Batting Losses 3
Middle Ground 4
Pitching Losses 36

Perhaps the most troubling trend from June through the All Star Break is the lack of “middle ground” games: while the club is 11-0 when 3 RS are required, and 7-18 when 5 RS are required, from June onward the club only played in four “middle ground” games that required 4 RS to win. By contrast, the Brewers played 10 such games from March through May (that’s a decline of 44%!). Basically, the lack of these middle ground games showcases the issues that the pitchers have faced in June and July.

(This lack of “moderate” games also has a very real impact on the club’s W-L; from June through July, the Brewers feature eight losses in which 3 RA would have arguably won the game. Even worse, there are three such games during the Brewers’ recent slide in which the club actually held the lead while scoring four or more runs, only to lose the ballgame. Those games are July 2 at Toronto, July 8 vs. the Phillies, and July 11 vs. the Cardinals).

The biggest problem that an absence of “middle ground” games presents is the lack of efficient wins. When the pitchers hit 3 RA, the bats can still win with a “merely average” performance. Indeed, a 4-3 win is arguably the most efficient win. Although one could argue that a 1-0 victory is efficient, such a game requires an exceptional pitching performance and includes a significantly below average offensive effort — 75% below average, to be exact. By contrast, in a 4-3 ballgame, the pitchers are afforded some mistakes and the bats need not capitalize on every single opportunity to produce an explosive runs scored total. A 4-3 victory seizes a solid pitching effort with an average runs scored output, and is therefore quite efficient.

Balancing Wins / Offensive Potential
One of the keys of the April and May Brewers were those “moderate,” middle-ground games. The Brewers were 8-2 when exactly 4 RS were needed to win in April and May. Coupled with the club’s excellent 15-3 effort when 3 RS (or fewer) were needed to win, the Brewers could work through offensive injury issues and streaks of ineffectiveness precisely because the pitchers allowed three-or-fewer runs in 50% of the club’s games.

Why is this balance important? Frankly, even though the offense emerged as an excellent unit in June and July, there is reason to believe that over time, the strong batting core may “only” be “moderately above average” for the season:

Brewers Batting Order G R Last Occurrence (Result) W-L R/G
w/ Gomez Braun Ramirez 50 G 224 R July 13* (11-2 W) 29-21 4.48
w/ Gomez Ramirez 16 G 54 R July 9 (1-4 L) 6-10 3.38
w/ Gomez Braun 15 G 76 R June 3 (4-6 L) 9-6 5.07
w/ Braun Ramirez 3 G 20 R June 29 (4-10 L) 2-1 6.67
w/ Gomez 6 G 34 R June 25 (9-2 W) 5-1 5.67
w/ Braun 5 G 11 R May 22 (4-5 L) 1-4 2.20
w/o Gomez Braun Ramirez 1 G 4 R May 16 (4-3 W) 1-0 4.00
*April 27 through June 3 No Ramirez          

For the season, the Brewers’ core of Carlos Gomez, Aramis Ramirez, and Ryan Braun (arguably their three most important bats entering 2014, prior to the emergence / explosion of Jonathan Lucroy) has produced at a level that is consistently 8% to 10% better than average. However, one can counter that the typicaly early-season Ramirez slump, as well as a host of injury issues (battled simultaneously by Braun and Ramirez) unduly impacted that season average. The “before” and “after” Ramirez injury statistics bear this truth:

Braun Ramirez Gomez G RS RS/G
Through June 3 21 86 4.10
June 6-present 29 138 4.76

In general, the Brewers need to increase their “moderate” ballgames because (a) the pitching will probably need to carry the offense again (at some point this season), (b) moderate RA totals will maximize the number of games a great offense can win, and (c) moderate RA totals will allow the bullpen and bats to seize close game victories. Basically, a return to “moderate wins” will provide a measurement of health for the second half Brewers.

“Complete Baseball”
Finally, I need to give a hat tip to commenter, “Jason” from July 11, who rightfully pointed out that the Brewers have yet to balance their best baseball:

More accurately, the Brewers have yet to play complete baseball. They have had long stretches of excellent pitching. They have had long stretches of excellent hitting. However, they need to get both sides of the ball working if they want to play in October. I’d really like to see them put it all together and make a statement after the All-Star break.

After 12 dreadful July games, however, one might be inclined to say that we’ve finally seen this Brewers club’s worst baseball:

2014 Mar/Apr May June July
Bats 4.07 4.18 5.43 3.33
Arms 3.39 4.32 4.54 5.25

What happens if the bats return to their June (or even May) batting levels, while returning to their April (or even May) pitching levels?

Combination G RS RA ExpectedW W Range*
June + April 66 358 224 46 95-103
June + May 66 358 285 40 89-97
May + April 66 276 224 39 88-96
May + May 66 276 285 32 82-88

*WRange is meant to calculate the impact that the Brewers’ RS / RA combinations could have on the final record, while also recognizing potential 10% shifts in win totals over the remaining 66 games. This is basically to note that teams can underplay or outplay their run differential.

The Brewers are currently on pace to win approximately 89 games, after their rough stretch in July. Their range of potential “collapses” to potential improvements largely mimics their best and worst stretches of the season. Remember that the club’s run differential fell to .500 during the rough May series at Atlanta; however, they also boasted a 91-win run differential after their late June winning streak against the Nationals and Rockies. These estimates, highs, and lows should simply solidify the fact that even very good baseball clubs can fluctuate throughout the course of 162 games.

If one wants to simply give up on the Brewers, the evidence and estimates are there to favor a “collapse.” Yet, this club also gives plenty of evidence for a correction, especially due to the fact that the Brewers have not balanced their best baseball simultaneously. Of course, one could argue that it’s silly to ever expect a ballclub to play at their best during an extended period of time; our Brewers could enter such a stretch in the second half, however, as bullpen reinforcements or healthy arms return, the replacement rotation takes shape, and a healthy Gomez, Ramirez, Braun, and Lucroy lead the bats.

One thing is worth enjoying, regardless of your view of the Brewers: our Milwaukee Nine lead the division after 96 games, and are a fraction of a game behind the best record on the Senior Circuit. If anyone can “ho-hum,” ignore, or dismiss this fact, I’d be interested in seeing their preseason expectations.

Resources
Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC., 2000-2014.
MLB Advanced Media, LP., 2014.

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Comments

Tell us what do you think.

  1. Mathdude says: July 15, 2014

    Excellent analysis, Nic. I am curious, what teams required an even worse percentage than 62.5%? That’s just an awful number.

    Hope they can put it all together. We’re gonna need it– August looks just brutal: 6 Giants, 6 Dodgers, 3 Cardinals, 2 Jays, 3 Pirates, 3 Padres. Those are some seriously good pitching staffs.

    • Nicholas Zettel says: July 16, 2014

      I agree that they’ll need to turn it around, but I think some of those pitching staffs are more vulnerable than one might initially expect. The Brewers are going to need some balance, though, to win the close ones like April.

      Thanks for reading, and the kind words.

  2. Sarge67 says: July 19, 2014

    The Brewers need a much more consisten offense in order to overcome their pitching deficiencies of late. Starters are allowing HRs at an alarming rate and the offense is horribly inconsistent. The pen is not anywhere close to what it was earlier in the year. Firstbase and SS continue to be problem positions on offense. Segura and his .266 OBP is awful and Reynolds is just a K or easy popup out. The 7-8-9 spots are black holes for the offense. Melvin needs to come up with somebody by the trade deadline to give this team a boost.

    • Nicholas Zettel says: July 20, 2014

      How much more consistent should the offense be? They’ve scored 5+ runs in 43 games, and 4 runs in 15 games. That means they have scored 4 or more runs in 60% of their games (which is pretty solid for a 4.38 RS/G team).

      The offense has been the best in the NL, adjusted for parks, throughout the season. I don’t think your complaints are correct about the offense. How much more consistent should they be?

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