Last night, some guy named Kyle Hendricks shut out the Brewers 3-0. The night before, the Brewers had faced Jake Arrieta, one of the best pitchers in baseball this year. They stayed with him, scored three runs, and won the game.
Few things are more frustrating than the thrill of having your team figure out an elite pitcher, only to be flummoxed the following day by some no-name guy. Often enough, we hear fans complaining that their team can hit the good pitchers, but not the bad or simply ordinary ones. Another version of this complaint is that certain teams cannot hit so-called “AAAA” pitching.
Do the Brewers suffer from this problem, or was last night an aberration? I decided to take a look.
Because these complaints usually surround the ability to hit starters, I put my focus there. To evaluate starters, I chose something simple: Game Score. Game Score was invented by Bill James, who wanted to improve on the concept of the “quality start,” which traditionally refers to a start that lasts at least six innings, in which the starter is charged with three or less runs. The Game Score system awards points to pitchers for each out they get, each strikeout they achieve, and for each inning they survive after the fourth. It deducts points for runs, walks, and hits. Any start above 50 is considered above average. If you want the full explanation, you can look it up here.
Game Score is somewhat arbitrary, and doesn’t inherently account for competition, park, the number of starts, or the pitcher simply having an off day at any given time. On the other hand, it’s tough to argue with the general results. According to Baseball Reference, which keeps track of these, the highest average Game Scores for the 2014 season belong to, in order, Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez, Johnny Cueto, Chris Sale, and Masahiro Tanaka. I think this’ll play.
To determine how the Brewers have fared this season against different levels of pitching, I averaged all game scores for major league starting pitchers, and used standard deviations to sort them into four bins. (The average Game Score this year is 51). The categories are:
|Pitcher Quality||Game Score||Statistical Basis|
|Excellent||61+||Greater than +1 SD|
|Average Plus||51–60||MEAN to +1 SD|
|Average Minus||41–50||-1 SD to MEAN|
|Bad||Less than 49||Less than -1 SD|
From there, I added up the average Game Score for each starter the Brewers have faced this year, and totaled the differences between how the Brewers did versus each starter’s average for the 2014 season. Positive total scores mean that the Brewers hit better than average against that category of pitcher, and a negative score means that they did worse. Here’s how it came out:
|Category||Brewers Plus or Minus||Representative Pitchers|
|Excellent||Plus 5.2||Wainwright, Kershaw, Price|
|Average Plus||Minus 0.1||Lackey, Niese, Cole|
|Average Minus||Plus 2.5||Kelly, Peavy, Bolsinger|
|Bad||Plus 3.0||Wolf, Friedrich, W. Rodriguez|
Bad news for the haters: the Brewers hit bad pitchers quite well. They also do well against average to below-average pitching, and so far have killed elite pitching: certainly something you like to see for a team with its eye on the postseason. (That number is probably a bit fluky; be happy it is positive at all and move on). The one bracket the Brewers have been more challenged by is the average-plus category, but that’s basically even: the Brewers have hit these pitchers the way most people do.
In sum, there is no evidence the Brewers struggle hitting any particular category of pitcher, and they have generally feasted on below-average pitching. So if you were under the impression that the Brewers can’t hit bad pitchers, or are hitting the bars instead of preparing for the no-names, I’m afraid the evidence just doesn’t support it. On to the next conspiracy theory!
Follow Jonathan on Twitter at @bachlaw.
All statistics from Baseball Reference.