When the Brewers take the field in Minneapolis tonight, they have one of their 2014 season streaks on the line. If the Brewers lose their second consecutive game, one might call into question their recent, sudden winning surge. If the Brewers win tonight, they have a chance to win a four-game home-and-home series and continue their winning ways.
Following the Brewers’ “Pythagorean W-L” — an estimation of the club’s expected W-L calculated from the club’s run differential (RS / RA) — our Milwaukee Nine are continuously outplaying their run differential. While one might expect this to indicate an element of luck, which would basically mean that the Brewers are winning games at an unsustainable pace due to circumstances or lucky bounces, there are also indications that these “extra wins” are due to the club’s skills. Recently, Jonathan explored the traits that could potentially help a club win close games, which is an excellent ability of the 2014 Brewers: the club is 11-7 in one-run games, 6-4 in two-run games, and even 5-3 in extra-innings contests. Basically, when the game is close, the Brewers have the personnel and skills to win thus far. Thus far, they are seizing their opportunities to win.
Another wonderful trait of the 2014 Brewers is their streaky play. Basically, when the Brewers win, they win in bunches; they have also lost in bunches, too. Why is this a good thing? Well, if the club has the personnel to win close games, and generally has a basic roster core with the talent to compete in any given ballgame, streaky play can turn into frequent and abundant winning streaks. These close game traits give the Brewers a chance to snap a losing streak, or respond to a blowout with a victory. While the Brewers have yet to match their exceptional nine game winning streak from April 4 through the 13th, they have slyly put together 9-2, 5-1, and 5-2 stretches in 2014.
I know what you’re thinking: how can one judge a ball club from a 5-1 stretch, or a 5-2 stretch, or even a 9-0 stretch? On the surface, these types of little streaks seem inconsequential. Given the ubiquity of the stats movement, we are now trained to see everything as a “sample size,” even though there really isn’t anything to sample from 162 games — we might call little winning and losing streaks, “stuff that happens on the field.” (Anyway, six games comprise 3.7% of an MLB season; scatter a handful of 5-1 streaks, and your club sneakily has a 25-5 base with 81.5% of the schedule remaining). While one can certainly debate which elements of the Brewers’ performance are sustainable throughout 2014, one cannot debate the fact that the Brewers have generally minimized losing streaks, and maximized winning streaks thus far. When their outcomes come in bunches, they are largely resulting in wins:
For this exercise, I used two criteria to build a working definition of a “Streak:”
(1) A “streak” must begin with 3 or more consecutive W or L
(2) But, a “streak” ends with two (or more) consecutive L or W
This is important because a streak basically ends when another opposing streak has the chance to begin. If a club wins three consecutive games, and then loses two consecutive games, they have the makings of a losing streak in the works. This definition may seem arbitrary, but one should note that it does not categorically exclude winning teams, losing teams, or .500 teams. For, even a .500 team could have 54 consecutive three-game streaks of W and then L (such a team would be infuriating to watch — 3 W / 3 L / 3 W / 3 L, and so on. See also, 2014 Brewers May 6-present, as the club is .500 (13-13) during four different streaks).
(By the way, it is worth noting that a team does not necessarily need winning streaks to post a winning record. By my working definition, a team that simply won two-of-every three games in that sequence — W-W-L, W-W-L — could win as many as 108 games without a single winning streak. Perhaps this is what fans desire when they dream of a “consistent” ballclub.)
|Streaks||W-L||RS / RA||RS/G and RA/G|
|April 4 to April 13||9-0||53 / 23||5.89 RS / 2.56 RA|
|April 18 to April 29||9-2||46 / 35||4.18 RS / 3.18 RA|
|May 6 to May 9||0-3||10 / 15||3.33 RS / 5.00 RA|
|May 10 to May 16||5-1||25 / 21||4.17 RS / 3.50 RA|
|May 17 to May 26||3-7||38 / 42||3.80 RS / 4.20 RA|
|May 27 to ???||5-2||45 / 30||6.43 RS / 4.29 RA|
|Streaks||31-15||217 RS / 166 RA||4.72 RS / 3.61 RA|
|Non Streaks||4-9||33 RS / 58 RA||2.54 RS / 4.46 RA|
One might note that 38% of the Brewers’ losses in 2014 have occurred during “non-streak play.” Indeed, the fact that the Brewers’ non-streak record is 4-9 shows that they have isolated a sizable portion of their losses into one-time games or situations. These games include:
|Non-Streak Games||Special Characteristics|
|Opening Series vs. Atlanta||Four-run loss April 1|
|Series vs. St. Louis||Four- and Five-run losses|
|April 17 debacle at Pittsburgh|
|April 30 debacle at St. Louis|
|Series at Cincinnati||Four- and Five-run losses|
|May 5 Victory vs. Arizona||Five-run win|
Eight of these thirteen non-streak games are games that were not necessarily close. Seven of the games were losses of four-or-more runs, which is an anomaly for a pitching staff that has generally kept games within reach for the bats. This trend alone should signal a promising characteristic for 2014: the Brewers simply are keeping games close, and using those opportunities to produce victories. While this will almost certainly result in handfuls of frustrating or disappointing games, it also gives the club many chances to steal victories here and there. This is exactly what happens if we break down the Brewers’ Pythagorean W-L by “Streaks” and “Non Streaks”:
|Type of Game||Percentage (Expected W)||Actual|
|Streaks Pythag||.594 (27.32 wins)||31|
|Non Streaks Pythag||.266 (3.46 wins)||4|
One can argue that it is a good thing that the 2014 Brewers are a streaky team, for their streaky play occurs in the conditions that allow their team to excel: close games. We can continue to scrutinize close-game skills or traits throughout the year, but the basic point is, the Brewers are winning many games because they are “in” so many games. This is beneficial because (a) it allows the Brewers to steal victories and win more games than expected, and (b) it gives the Brewers a strong base to work from when both the offense and the pitching click (see early 9-0 streak, and current 5-2 streak). In fact, the current streak even shows that when the Brewers’ pitchers fail, their offensive ceiling will help them to continue their winning ways (specifically, this current streak is the first winning streak with below average pitching, which should be a really encouraging sign for the ball club. Contrary to a popular fan refrain, the Brewers’ offense can carry the club).
The best part about analyzing streaks and close game wins is that even if you don’t believe it, the wins still count. In this worst case scenario, you’re stuck saying, “The Brewers are a lucky team.” If they manage to keep this up, thankfully they won’t have to print that quote on any pennants or trophies. Even so, a lucky squad can exploit close games to produce victories, which gives the team a good base to succeed when their offense is hot, and weather their difficult losses. If this is merely luck, for goodness sake may it continue.
From Monday’s Series Preview:
Marco Estrada (3-1, 29.7 IP, 17 R (28 K / 10 BB / 10 HR), 2 quality starts in last 5 GS) @ Ricky Nolasco (1-2, 27.7 IP, 17 R (24 K / 10 BB / 4 HR), 3 quality starts in last 5 GS)
Wily Peralta (0-4, 29.7 IP, 13 R (22 K / 9 BB / 4 HR), 3 quality starts in last 5 GS) @ Kevin Correia (1-3, 27.3 IP, 17 R (19 K / 6 BB / 4 HR), 2 quality starts in last 5 GS)
These two games in Minneapolis outline the various forms that back-rotations can take in the MLB:
Ricky Nolasco is a veteran righty that typically worked slightly-below-average-to-below-average campaigns in Miami (and, briefly, for the Dodgers). However, Nolasco’s ability to work full seasons, and his potential to produce average-at-best campaigns, keeps him in the rotation and earned him a longterm contract in Minnesota.
Kevin Correia might be renowned as a replacement-level starter, but the righty has worked 100+ IP in seven consecutive seasons, including five straight seasons as a full-time starter. If he continues to take the ball with the Twins’ rotation, he will work his eighth consecutive “reliable” season. Yet, Correia is performing at his worst level since 2010, which places his near-average campaigns in 2009 and 2013 in question: are these merely bookends for replacement seasons, or can Correia still turn those dependable starts into a quality service level for his club? In the pitching-starved MLB, where clubs typically need to employ at least eight starters to finish a season, one can imagine the reliable righty keeping a job for quite a while.
On the other hand, Marco Estrada has not reached the innings workload of starters like Nolasco and Correia, but his performance ceiling is higher. The Brewers’ change-up specialist is one of the NL’s replacement-starter-turned-regular-starter success stories, thanks to his consistently above average work in 2012 and 2013. Perhaps Estrada’s issue with the long ball and injuries will keep him from reaching the full-time workload of a Correia or Nolasco, but Estrada is dependable in his own right.
Wily Peralta might be the best kind of low-rotation starter: the young organizational arm earning his sea legs. Peralta followed an excellent September 2012 campaign with a replacement-level 2013, but the righty’s full slate of starts was valuable for a rotation that needed a dozen starters to complete the season. While Peralta sits at the back-end of the rotation, he is arguably the Brewers’ most electric starter in 2014, using his slider and hard sinker to attack batters. Having a pitcher like Peralta is valuable because it allows the Brewers to turn the tables on their opponents; while 1-through-5 orders rarely survive an MLB season, Peralta’s improvement in the fifth spot gives the Brewers a chance to turn potential mismatches into victories.
Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC., 2000-2013.
MLB Advanced Media, LP., 2014.