Brewers Round ‘Em Up: 81 down, 81 to go! | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

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

Yesterday, I was working on run distribution and run prevention stats for the Brewers, and I was really hoping I’d get to write this after another solid pitching performance. After an extremely rough month of May, the Brewers’ pitching staff put things together in June, allowing 4.15 runs per game. While that figure appears to be below average in the depressed 2013 National League, it is actually quite a good figure in Miller Park; against their league and park for 27 games, the June Brewers were a handful of runs better than the league.

Brewers Runs Allowed per Game:
April: 4.52
May: 5.29
June: 4.15

Last night, the Brewers offense scored five runs against the Nationals, which completely undermines my general hopes for using this analysis to suggest that the Brewers’ offense is the more problematic element of the ballclub. Franchise Starter Yovani Gallardo was cuffed around early, and our Milwaukee Nine had little chance of winning (save for hanging multiple crooked numbers on Wisconsin Native and up-and-coming ace Jordan Zimmermann. For all the hype Stephen Strasburg gets, Zimmermann is probably the best, most consistent pitcher on the Nationals, suitable to be a true ace some day). Where run distribution connects to fan expectations, fans can mete desert based on their club’s performance; if the offense scores a handful of runs but the club can’t win, it’s probably the pitchers’ faults, but if the pitchers keep the other bats silent and the club still loses, it’s on the bats.

Brewers Runs Scored per Game:
April: 4.72
May: 3.50
June: 3.75

Even accounting for replacement performances, the Brewers’ offensive performance thus far is disappointing. Their regular contributors from 2012 are struggling to match their previous output in most cases, with Carlos Gomez serving as the notable exception. Although we can note that more than 25% of the Brewers’ plate appearances have come from replacement players, the ineptitude from replacement positions is amplified by the regulars’ inability to produce at a high level. This isn’t to say that every position player is having a bad year; for example, with Ryan Braun, Jonathan Lucroy, and Aramis Ramirez, we might note that their production is good in 2013. It’s just not up to the standards that helped propel the 2012 club to produce runs at exceptional levels.

One way to capture the overall impact of the regulars and replacements on the batting order is to review the harmonic mean between each position’s R and RBI ((2*R*RBI)/(R+RBI)). By taking the harmonic mean between these numbers, we can link each fielding position to their general role in the batting order (for instance, lead off roles rely on R more than RBI, whereas middle order positions match RBI and R), and also eliminate excess counts of R and RBI (i.e., when a player homers, that counts as a R and RBI for their record). While such a measure is more circumstantial than an abstract Runs Created estimate, it also immediately ties a player’s production to their league environment and park. Here, I have taken the harmonic mean between R and RBI (RRBI), per Plate Appearance, to showcase the estimated run production of the 2013 Brewers versus their 2012 performances.

Position 2013 RRBI 2012 RRBI Difference (600 PA)
C .103 .124 -12
2B .105 .110 -3
LF .114 .159 -27
CF .133 .107 +16
RF .072 .117 -27

Beyond the regular positions, 3B and 1B have suffered from replacement production. On the other hand, the Brewers’ new shortstop is adding production for the club (compared to 2012). I’ve placed Jean Segura in this group because for all intents and purposes he gives SS a completely different outlook from the 2012 club. Furthermore, whereas shortstop was largely a replacement position for the 2012 Brewers, it is a regular position for the 2013 club.

Position 2013 RRBI 2012 RRBI Difference (600 PA)
1B .105 .128 -14
3B .108 .155 -28
SS .113 .100 +8

Overall, the 2012 Brewers were approximately 58 runs better than their league and park. By contrast, if the 2013 Brewers continue their current pace, they will score approximately 48 fewer runs than their league and park average. We all wrote about a lot of different areas of the ballclub between 2012 and 2013, and one area that was not considered was a potential 100 run swing for the Milwaukee offense. Sure, some analysts, fans, and writers provided conservative conditionals such as, “if the Brewers’ offense is merely average in 2013….,” in order to judge the level of competence required from the pitching staff. Notably, for the Brewers’ offense to fall back to average, nearly 60 runs would have to be shaved from the ballclub’s bats. That seemed a frightening but distant prospect during the offseason; now, we are presented with an offense that is on pace to shatter those rosy worst case scenarios.

Brewers run distribution
One of the reasons I picked the Brewers to have a winning record for 2013 — besides blind homerism and sheer optimism (who wants to be negative during the offseason!?) — is that I felt their offense could outperform even the most troubling pitching staff. Here, I felt that the Brewers’ ability to consistently score six or more runs (or at least score five) would make up for those 3-2 or 2-1 games that the club seemed unlikely to win. So, I suppose my own expectations set me up for disappointment this season, which also must explain why my tone is so negative lately (although, who likes to come home from work, turn on the ballgame, and find their favorite club down 3-to-6 runs within the first frame or two?). Another way to capture the Brewers 2013 troubles is to analyze their run distribution.

Brewers RS W-L % of G
6+ 16-5 .263
3-5 13-19 .395
0-2 3-25 .350

While looking at this chart, we are tempted to shift blame from the bats to the pitchers. Afterall, the fact that the club has five losses when scoring 6+ runs showcases the problems with this pitching staff. The club’s inability to stay near .500 while scoring 3-5 runs solidifies the feeling that this club’s pitching staff is losing ballgames for the Brewers. While a bad pitching staff loses ballgames that should be surefire wins (like, when the offense scores six runs), the biggest problem of such a staff is that those close games between three- and five-runs scored become more difficult to win. Even the strongest offenses cannot be expected to score six or more runs frequently, and even the strongest offenses will frequently score between three- and five-runs.

On the other hand, the fact that the Brewers have scored between three-to-five runs in 39.5% of their games, and two-or-fewer runs in 35% of their games highlights the problems of the offense. Not only does the club have a below average pitching staff, but their offense frequently puts them in extremely difficult positions to win. The recent series in Pittsburgh highlights these difficulties, and emphasizes the lack of balance between the different parts of a club. A good ballclub will distribute runs in a way that helps the bats pick up the pitchers, and the pitchers pick up the bats. A bad ballclub distributes runs in a way that produces losses when the bats score six, and losses when the pitchers allow two.

Balance
If you’re inclined to continue to blame the Brewers’ pitchers, consider their improvements over the last month. Over the last month, the club’s arms have slowly lowered the extreme number of five- and six-runs allowed games, while increasing the percentage of games with two-or-fewer runs allowed.

Brewers runs allowed and Balance

Month 0 R 1 R 2 R 3 R 4 R 5 R 6 R 7+ R
April (25)   2 5 4 5   1 8
May (28)   2 1 3 6 4 5 7
June (27) 3 4 2 4 2 4 1 7

These improvements are mimicked in the general success by Brewers’ replacement pitchers (compared with some notable regulars). Despite their unexpected position, replacement and emergency starters Alfredo Figaro, Donovan Hand, and Tom Gorzelanny have provided generally positive contributions to the Brewers’ pitching staff (even in Figaro’s case, six runs below average is quite different from a replacement than an opening day starter):

Pitcher IP Expected R Actual R Prevented
Gallardo 101.7 48 61 -13
Lohse 94.3 IP 45 40 5
Peralta 92.0 44 70 -26
Estrada 69.3 32 42 -10
Burgos 29.3 14 23 -9
Figaro 54.3 26 32 -6
Gorzelanny 39.0 19 10 9
Hand 24.0 11 8 3
Fiers 22.3 11 20 -9

In April and May, respectively, the club allowed six-or-more runs in 36% and 43% of games; in June, they allowed six-or-more runs in 30% of contests. By contrast, the June Brewers allowed two-or-fewer runs in 33% of their games, compared to 28% in April and 11% in May. These percentages outline the extremes of expected wins and losses in baseball. Look, six run outings are going to happen from pitching staffs, and it’s not likely to win those games; on the other hand, when a club allows two-or-fewer runs, those are outings that the bats need to seize.

Regardless of their extreme (6+, 0-2) runs allowed games, the pitching staff has consistently allowed 3-4 runs in each month. In April and May, the club allowed between 3-4 runs in nine games (each), and in June, they allowed 3-4 runs six times. In April, the club went 8-1 when the pitchers allowed three or four runs, but in May that record swung to 2-7. In June, the club corrected those games, going 5-1 when the pitchers allowed between three and four runs. This is a compelling sign that perhaps the Brewers will play balanced baseball in the coming months. However, it’s difficult, overall, to see the Brewers posting a 15-9 record when they allow three or four runs, for two reasons: first, shifting things back onto the pitchers, it’s difficult to see that the Brewers staff has allowed three or four runs only 24 times all season; secondly, it’s difficult to see that the Brewers’ bats were not able to capitalize on those opportunities. Perhaps this gets right to the point of differences between good and bad teams; bad teams simply are not balanced enough to capitalize on every opportunity.

An effective comparison, at the opposite end of the spectrum, comes from the Top Five pitching clubs in the National League. The Pittsburgh Pirates, Atlanta Braves, St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds, and Washington Nationals show the different ways that successful (or competitive) clubs capitalize on their opportunities.

Run Distribution: Top Teams (Runs Scored, W-L, and Total Percentage of Games)
Pirates (50-30)
6+ RS: 17-2 (.238)
3-5 RS: 25-6 (.388)
0-2 R: 8-22 (.375)

Braves (48-34)
6+ RS: 28-1 (.354)
3-5 RS: 16-11 (.329)
0-2 RS: 4-22 (.317)

Cardinals (49-32)
6+ RS: 28-2 (.370)
3-5 RS: 17-11 (.346)
0-2 RS: 4-19 (.284)

Reds (47-36)
6+ RS: 20-2 (.265)
3-5 RS: 21-14 (.427)
0-2 RS: 6-20 (.317)

Nationals (42-40)
6+ RS: 23-2 (.305)
3-5 RS: 14-8 (.272)
0-2 RS: 5-30 (.432)

Brewers (32-49)
6+ RS: 16-5 (.263)
3-5 RS: 13-19 (.395)
0-2 RS: 3-25 (.350)

Notice that a Brewers team that allowed fewer runs wouldn’t necessarily win more games on the low-end of the runs scored spectrum. Rather, the balance of competitive clubs occurs largely in that range between three and five runs scored per game. Similarly, those clubs hardly lose when they score six runs.

% of Games 6+ RS 3-5 RS 0-2 RS
Pirates .238 .388 .375
Braves .354 .329 .317
Cardinals .370 .346 .284
Reds .265 .427 .317
Nationals .305 .272 .432
Brewers .263 .395 .350

In the case of these competitive or contending clubs, it’s not necessarily that they score six runs more frequently than the Brewers in every single case, or even that they score 3-5 runs more frequently (in every case). But, on a case by case basis, we can learn that the balance afforded by strong pitching is not simply in winning lots of close, low-scoring games, but rather, in simply winning a sizable percentage or moderate-to-high scoring games.

This reminds me of a Brewers postgame show I heard the last time I visited Milwaukee, and the press I read when the Brewers won their first game of the season while scoring two runs. The press reaction suggested that the Brewers should have won such a game sooner, or rather, that winning with a low runs-scored output should be a regular occurrence. However, we can see that even contending, competitive clubs fail to win in those cases. Their benefits for balance are shown in the middle of the runs scored spectrum.

Conclusion
Overall, the Brewers’ first half is full of disappointing trends and performances. Perhaps the most unfortunate feeling is that of opportunities versus execution — it’s not necessarily the case that the Brewers have been awful at every turn of the season, but rather, that their missed opportunities at different points in the season are amplified by the tough stretches of replacement batting orders or pitching ineffectiveness. The lack of balance resulting from replacements on the roster is especially upsetting when one views the strides made by the pitching staff; improvements by the pitching staff correspond with droughts from the offense.

For the first two months of the season, I held onto the idea that the Brewers were a talented club that had to weather a difficult stretch of replacements. But, June beckoned…now, with June gone, and replacements promised at first base for an entire season (as well as in place of injured regulars), the idea of our beloved Milwaukee Nine storming back seems far-fetched. Now, we look to our unsung heroes and hope for some unexpected bliss. Now that our expectations for success are tempered, it is time for someone to step forward and seize their opportunity.

RESOURCES:
Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC., 2000-2013.

IMAGE: http://www.birminghamobserver.com/2013/05/27/former-jacksonville-state-pitcher-donovan-hand-makes-mlb-debut-with-milwaukee-brewers/

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Comments

Tell us what do you think.

  1. D Rock says: July 2, 2013

    With the bouts of injuries this year, in particular to the offense, I’d like to ask a weird question, and in a roundabout way, with some sidenotes even. I’ll start by saying that I like these articles, but sometimes they get a bit too stats heavy without enough concrete language thrown in, at least for a dude with an English degree.

    The gist of the article: Brewer’s offense is not taking advantage of the few good starts they are getting. And your numbers totally back that up. And it’s not just replacement level players- the veterans are a bit less amazing this season as compared to last.

    Don’t worry, I’m starting my question now. Kinda. I’m wondering what measures we can put in place to measure the mental impact the replacements are having on the starters. Especially when we start changing batting order. Some guys hit the same no matter where they are in the lineup- they usually land jobs as lead-off hitters ;). But, we’ve all seen BAs go up and down as hitters get moved into different spots.

    1) Is this actually significant, or do we only look at a couple of slumps a year and make this conclusion? I mean, there must be hundreds of lineup changes a year, and every play slumps, so am I (and a lot of other folks) making the post hoc assumption that the change in order caused the slump? (I think I may have answered my own question, but I’d be curious to see what the numbers would say.

    2) Just to plainly state the question I implied above: To what degree do a) new faces b)new lineup orders affect hitters?

    • Nicholas Zettel says: July 2, 2013

      Thank you for reading, and commenting. Believe me, I am working on writing more and stats-ing less, but I kind of wanted to do a comprehensive feature on two problematic areas of the club for the midseason.

      Your questions are good:
      (1) I don’t necessarily think it;s significant when someone moves in the batting order and performs differently, if only because we don’t necessarily know what’s impacting that performance. For instance, if a player is moved to the bottom of the order (like Weeks in 2012) after suffering a severe injury and working on that injury, to what extent does that player’s performance correspond with the injury, rather than the batting order spot?

      On the other hand, some players take it very seriously: do you remember a few years ago when Prince and Braun had yet to have their spots established? I seem to remember some public comments of dissatisfaction regarding those switches (I could be wrong or misremembering).

      The thing is, overall, there are so many elements that influence a player’s performance that I’m not quite sure how to judge a player’s shifts between batting order spots and performance.

      (2) I want to focus on the new faces idea. I am absolutely of the opinion that clubhouses can have certain characters or “auras,” as any workplace can. If a club tries really hard to compete and suffers injury after injury, suffers some slumps, and is in the midst of a consistent shuffling of minor leaguers, waiver claims, replacements, etc., I imagine it’s tough to keep a consistent aura.

      I am not sure how to measure that, other than through anecdotes. For instance, there was an amazing quote last year by Marco Estrada, where he said that everyone sort of relaxed in the rotation after Greinke was traded. WHAT A QUOTE! It also totally corresponded to Estrada’s phenomenal performance — he was better than Greinke in the second half.

      To what extent did the clubhouse atmosphere influence that? Well, statistically and mechanically, I have no idea. Estrada also came back from an injury and revamped his mechanics. Was it the mechanical shift? All the elements combined?

      • D Rock says: July 2, 2013

        studying one team over 5 years, and yes, you’ll just have a lot of anecdotes but no “power” data.

        However, we could take the last 20 years, and run analyses on the teams that had the most DL activity to the least DL activity, and then mean out the teams by position. I think I’m on the right track with that. Or, we could sample the top 10% and bottom 10% regular games won, and look for DL activity with meaned position play.

        As to number #1, I think there may be a little relevance for a few players shuffling on the order. The shuffling around of the 3&4 hitterswith Braun and Fielder was, IIRC, a question of where to put the big lefty bat. The versatility of a #3 hitter who consistently puts the ball in play in opposite field is self explanatory: RBI machine. Which, as it happened, worked better for the Brewers with him in the 4 slot, because Weeks and (Hart?) both had such high OBP.

        • Nicholas Zettel says: July 2, 2013

          Does DL activity correspond to batting order changes? I’d be interested to know how teams handle their DL stints over time, and whether that corresponds to more extreme shifts in batting performance.

          • D Rock says: July 2, 2013

            I think that if (In order) your 1, 4, or 3 bat go down, there will probably be a change in the lineup.

            Man, we’re just coming up with some great questions today…

          • Nicholas Zettel says: July 2, 2013

            I think one potential hurdle is normalizing the amount of batting order changes in the first place; once you settle the issue of how frequently bats change order spots, and how performance typically shifts, I think the DL activity question could be answered.

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