Efficiency Trends #1: Five Early Issues | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

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

Good news, Brewers fans: thus far, the 4 RS Milwaukee squad is only moderately inefficient. Frankly, their series against Atlanta did not give the club many chances to score runs, but there is a sense that a few wasted opportunities loom large. Certainly, one would not look at three games and project issues for the season, but one certainly can analyze approaches and trends during a series to make some guesses about what’s going on with a ballcub.

Basic Runs Created Actual Runs Efficiency
2014 NL 141 149 1.06
2014 Brewers 4.73 4 0.85

#1: Efficient Defense
First things first, it is worth celebrating the Brewers’ pitching performances through the first series. Aside from a bottom-bullpen hiccup on Tuesday night, the starters and relievers alike were stellar against Atlanta. Specifically, each starting pitcher worked an excellent quality start — even if one wants to challenge Kyle Lohse‘s 7 IP, 3 R outing in that category, over 30 starts those 90 runs in 210 innings would be approximately 10-to-14 runs better than 2011-2013 Miller Park / National League. There’s not a Brewers fan (or a National League club, for that matter) that wouldn’t take that performance at Lohse’s salary. Matt Garza also made an exceptional debut at Miller Park, save for his one blemish against Chris Johnson. As I noted not terribly long ago, Garza typically works deep into ballgames when he does pitch quality outings, and it’s not his fault the Brewers offense faced their bogeyman, Aaron Harang.

2014 NL FIPRatio 0.05
2014 NL Runs Average 3.34
2014 NL FIPConstant 3.29
2014 Brewers FIPRatio 0.59
Expected Runs Average 3.88
Actual Runs Average 2.00

Of course, the 2014 National League is so depressed to start the season, one would apparently expect the Brewers’ opening series FIP to be notably below average. However, I highly doubt that the 2014 NL pitchers will maintain a 0.05 FIPRatio throughout the season; typically, the National League ratio of K / BB / HR / IP sat between 0.61 and 0.81 from 2010-2013 (although, the FIPRatio has generally declined as strike outs increase and homers decrease over the last few years). If the 2014 NL keeps this pace, the average improvement per 1400 IP would be 102 runs — such a pace would basically require a deadball season. Overall, the Brewers’ ratio of K / BB / HR is quite good; if they keep up this pace, one could reasonably expect a 60 run improvement compared to the 2013 Brewers.

One of the reasons that the Brewers have allowed so few runs — basically save for home runs — is their solid line drive rate. Less than 20% of the Brewers’ total batters faced have hit line drives, and two of those line drives ended up beyond the fence. Otherwise, 28% of the Braves’ total plate appearances resulted in ground balls, which can be quite a good thing against the organization’s shifts. The pitchers and fielders will have their blemishes in 2014, but the fact remains, they have their work cut out for them after this first series (as well as a great model to reflect on when they face troubles later in the season).

#2: Ryan Braun is Looking at Fastballs
If you search Ryan Braun at BrooksBaseball, you will find a disparaging analysis of his current performance against fastballs in 2014. I won’t ruin the surprise. The kind way of putting it is, Braun is looking at an awful lot of fastballs. In fact, according to TexasLeaguers, Braun has looked at seven fastballs in the zone, which comprises 29% of his total fastballs in 2014. Of those seven fastballs taken, three of them were in the middle of the strike zone.

Braves Series Pitches Taken in Zone Fastballs Taken Middle Pitches Taken (Fastballs)
Lucroy 15 6 7 (3)
Braun 13 7 5 (3)
Davis 7 4
Weeks 5 4 2 (2)
Segura 4 3 2 (1)
Gomez 4 1
Ramirez 3 1
Gennett 1 1

This is an interesting issue to dissect; one doesn’t want to say that Braun should swing at every single fastball in the zone. For, not every single fastball, nor every single pitch, in the strike zone is a good strike for hitting. However, in general, one would like to think that if Braun is looking for pitches to hit, fastballs in the middle of the zone would be among his favorites. Braun’s passive approach against fastballs suggests that he’s not necessarily seeing the pitches he wants to swing at, or that his eye is not yet sharpened to midseason form. For what it’s worth, according to BrooksBaseball, Braun swings at fastballs at a 47% rate for his career; so, he has some room for improvement with the fastball in 2014.

#3: Line Drive Inefficiency
Perhaps the issue that is most affecting the Brewers’ bats as a group is their inability to produce line drives against the Braves pitching staff. In 95 plate appearances, the Brewers roundly favored groundballs, as their batted balls in play fell along the ground at a rate near 35%. Ironically, despite his issues looking at the fastball, Braun is one of two Brewers bats producing exceptional line drive rates; unfortunately, Braun does not have terribly many hits to show for his six line drives. It should be encouraging to see that he is hitting the ball hard when he is hitting it.

A rundown of the list of plays with poor line drive rates reads like a who’s-who among Brewers starters: Jonathan Lucroy, Lyle Overbay, Jean Segura, Khris Davis, Rickie Weeks, and Carlos Gomez did not produce many line drives during the Braves series.

One can say what they like about the batting profiles, approaches, and potential weaknesses of the Brewers’ batting order. However, it is not likely that almost all of the starters will struggle at once. That doesn’t mean it isn’t frustrating, especially after the early-season replacement issues the Brewers faced in 2012 and 2013. One simply expects that the bats will produce when the starters are in place, and that simply wasn’t the case in the first series.

#4: Swinging Youngsters
Despite these negative elements faced by the Brewers bats, there are some positive elements that should lead offensive improvements. Thankfully, the Brewers’ youngest, least experienced bats could lead offensive improvements with their strike zone control and disciplined swinging. According to Trip Somers’ TexasLeaguers database, Scooter Gennett, Davis, and Segura have largely avoided swinging at pitches outside of the zone.

Davis is mostly swinging at fastballs up in the zone, which suggests that his inability to connect is simply reduced to timing and mechanics (rather than his eye). Certainly, his ability to connect on fastballs in the zone will be crucial, given that teams may test him with offspeed pitches outside of the zone. Oddly enough, the Braves pitchers mostly fed Davis fastballs, and he easily laid off two curveballs that were nowhere near the zone. Of eight pitches outside of the zone, Davis spat on seven and swung at one. If he can keep that pitch recognition and plate discipline throughout the season, he should hit once he gets his stride right in his swing.

Similarly, Segura saw 16 pitches outside of the zone during the first series, and swung at two of them. Once again, another Brewers youngster swung at fastballs up-and-in-the-middle of the zone without great results. Again, this type of pitch recognition and patience by Segura is promising, and should help him lead the Brewers bats to an improvement.

Gennett’s rate of swings on pitches outside the zone is not as good as Davis’s and Segura’s. However, in fairness, Gennett’s three swings outside the zone occurred on borderline primary- or secondary-fastballs. This is the biggest area of the game where Gennett will differ from his second base counterpart, so its not necessarily news that Gennett swung at three of eight pitches outside of the zone. Pitchers hammered Gennett with fastballs during the first series, which suggests that he will have his chance to show that he can hit the hard stuff. Thus far, he is swinging at high-and-middle fastballs.

#5: Patient First Basemen
Even if GM Doug Melvin sold low on Juan Francisco‘s potential, he ended up with a first base situation that is notably improved over 2013. If there’s anything promising about Mark Reynolds and Overbay in the batting order, it is their patience potential against opposing pitchers. Thus far, both Reynolds and Overbay have swung at only three of 25 pitches outside of the zone. Furthermore, neither first baseman has taken a pitch inside the strike zone.

Overbay was probably hurt the most by his discipline, as four of fourteen pitches taken outside of the zone resulted in strikes. It is difficult to suggest that a batter should absolutely expand his strike zone, especially when such swings might play into the pitcher’s hand (or provide a less than ideal chance at a hit). However, one can generally feel confident that such patience trends will eventually pay dividends for first base production.

BaseballProspectus. Prospectus Entertainment Ventures, LLC., 1996-2014.
Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC., 2000-2013.
TexasLeaguers. Trip Somers, 2009-2014.

All strike zone charts are copyright Trip Somers, 2009-2014, from TexasLeaguers.

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