Milwaukee Brewers Pitching Staff Avoiding Hard Contact | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

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

Before “Gomez-gate” turned a pleasant Easter Sunday into knock-down, dragout 14 inning 3-2 victory, there was a very interesting piece on ESPN.com from Keith Law and Mark Simon examining the usefulness of shifts in MLB. The post (sorry, it’s insider only) makes the case that the teams that are doing a pretty good job of shifting are picking up a notable advantage in balls-in-play turned into outs, especially once we account for how much hard contact their pitchers are giving up:

Bearing in mind that the sample size for 2014 remains quite small, here are some points that jump out: If you rank all MLB teams by the number of shifts they’ve employed this year, four of the top six teams are in that lower-left quadrant (allowing relatively little hard contact and generating a low BABIP rate): Houston, Milwaukee, Oakland, and Pittsburgh. 

If you’ve been watching the Brewers since Ron Roenicke took over as manager in 2011, you probably have noticed how much the Brewers shift, so that isn’t really news to the already well informed fan. What struck me was the other side of the graph presented in the article, how much hard contact the various pitching staffs are giving up. This is measured in a proprietary ESPN statistic called Well Hit Average or WHAV for short.

WHAV Leaderboard
ERA OPS K/BB BABIP WHAV
1. Atlanta Braves 2.40 .581 2.77 .282 .101
2. San Diego Padres 2.75 .590 2.58 .264 .114
3. Los Angeles Angels 4.21 .718 2.23 .287 .116
4. Oakland Athletics 2.48 .589 3.14 .255 .117
5. Tampa Bay Rays 3.78 .656 2.57 .283 .117
6. Cleveland Indians 4.23 .735 2.25 .339 .119
7. Milwaukee Brewers 2.69 .630 3.31 .271 .122
8. Los Angeles Dodgers 2.85 .643 2.74 .289 .123
9. Washington Nationals 3.66 .710 3.32 .322 .123
10. San Francisco Giants 3.14 .717 3.85 .307 .123
11. St. Louis Cardinals 3.16 .645 2.95 .285 .125
12. Houston Astros 4.68 .755 1.64 .296 .127
13. Cincinnati Reds 3.50 .685 2.32 .260 .129
14. Pittsburgh Pirates 3.79 .729 2.66 .287 .129
15. Chicago Cubs 4.06 .711 2.17 .303 .130
16. Kansas City Royals 3.20 .642 2.51 .274 .135
17. Colorado Rockies 4.19 .719 2.69 .290 .136
18. Miami Marlins 3.62 .721 2.56 .308 .138
19. Boston Red Sox 3.52 .719 3.41 .321 .141
20. Seattle Mariners 3.48 .691 2.20 .270 .141
21. Detroit Tigers 3.59 .704 3.02 .300 .142
22. Arizona Diamondbacks 5.70 .793 2.11 .317 .145
23. Texas Rangers 4.11 .720 2.27 .304 .149
24. Minnesota Twins 4.90 .760 1.76 .303 .152
25. Toronto Blue Jays 3.85 .719 2.01 .309 .155
26. New York Mets 4.20 .752 2.42 .295 .165
27. Chicago White Sox 5.18 .760 1.44 .305 .166
28. New York Yankees 4.21 .733 3.26 .297 .167
29. Philadelphia Phillies 4.88 .807 2.27 .331 .171
30. Baltimore Orioles 3.92 .767 2.22 .313 .171

Seventh place may not seem like a major accomplishment, but it is quite an improvement from their 0.168 mark last year that ranked 23rd in baseball. It’s also a good thing to keep in mind when looking at the fact that they’re 25 points below the league average in batting average on balls in play (BABIP), which often suggests that regression back towards the league average is likely. While they’ll almost certainly see a higher rate of balls in play fall for hits than what we’ve seen so far, avoiding hard contact can’t hurt the cause.

It’s important to remember that we’re currently less than one eighth of the way through the season now, so sample size issues always apply and drawing too firm of  conclusions is never a good idea in these cases. That being said, they’ve also posted the fourth best strikeout to walk ratio (3.31) in MLB thus far, which is generally a very good measure of the quality of a pitching staff. Taken along with the WHAV numbers, and the picture emerges of a team that has largely earned their 2.69 ERA to this point.

Going forward, it’s very likely that both the Brewers percentage of hard contact allowed and their ERA will go up. This defense is never likely to excel at turning balls in play into outs, and the pitchers are probably throwing about as well right now as they will all season. If they can continue to strikeout many more batters than they walk and stay at least around average in terms of hard contact allowed, though, the defensive shifts should go a long way and keep the team’s run prevention low enough for the offense to win games.

Oh, and just in case you were wondering, the offense is currently ranked 19th in MLB in with a 0.125 WHAV. That is a bit concerning, but then again, remember that so far the Brewers have faced some really good pitching staffs. In fact, 16 of their 19 games played thus far have been against teams with ERA’s better than the MLB average.

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Comments

Tell us what do you think.

  1. Nicholas Zettel says: April 21, 2014

    Fascinating stuff. It’s tough to gauge with these proprietary stats, but I wonder if we could attribute the lack of well-hit balls to the sinker. In general, 3/5 of the Brewers staff are now using a sinker.

    I know that we can generally expect this kind of stuff to correct over 162, but I do wonder if we can look at areas of the pitching approaches to see if these great trends can be extended (I’d argue a sinker-approach could be helpful with a frequently-shifting ballclub).

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