Fielding versus Bullpen: Efficiency | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

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My dad called the other afternoon to talk about the Brewers. He asked me a simple question: is there any one stat that I can use to explain the difference between the 2011 and 2012 Brewers. I hmm’d and haw’d for a bit, before saying, “Murphy’s Law explains the 2012 Brewers pretty well.”

Getty Images

Even if it is a joke, the idea of Murphy’s Law does suit the 2012 Brewers. Pick an aspect of that excellent 2011 Brewers club, and chances are the Brewers have completely different fate in 2012. Yet, when we begin looking through elements of the 2012 Brewers, we can construct a more specific narrative about what’s going on.

The 2012 Brewers are not particularly good at winning 1-run games — which makes their last couple of victories particularly satisfying. The Brewers are 14-16 in one-run games, including a 6-8 mark from June forward. One of the elements of winning 1-run games is timely hitting, or an ability to put together a quick comeback when the game is close (or basically, have enough luck to capture good timing when a game is close or tied). Another element is bullpen performance, which is one of the easiest (and, personally, aggravating) differences to spot between the 2011 and 2012 Brewers.

A general term one might use to describe the differences between the 2011 and 2012 Brewers is “efficiency” — the differences between both clubs are differences of “efficiency.” The 2012 Brewers are simply an inefficient ballclub — beyond the injuries, beyond the replacement players, they have serviceable MLB elements that are failing to produce to their expected capabilities. One might cite individual examples in this case (Rickie Weeks, John Axford, Francisco Rodriguez, Randy Wolf, and even Nyjer Morgan to a certain extent), but one can also find team examples of inefficiency (one extremely inefficient element of the 2012 Brewers is their fielding, for example).

Late Game Inefficiency
Last Thursday I hinted that the Brewers’ defensive inefficiencies might be heightened in the late innings, which adds another potential explanation for the Brewers’ inability to win close games. When we isolate the 2012 Brewers’ fielding independent elements, and take a look at their runs allowed per 9 innings pitched (runs average), we can create a basic template to analyze the Brewers’ fielding inefficiencies.

2012 NL SP (7558 IP): 0.78 FIPratio, 3.57 FIPConstant, 4.35 runs average
2012 Brewers SP (465.7 IP): 0.62 FIPratio, 3.57 FIPConstant, 4.19 runs average

2012 NL RP (3653 IP): 0.72 FIPratio, 3.59 FIPConstant, 4.31 runs average
2012 Brewers SP (240.3 IP): 0.51 FIPratio, 4.66 FIPConstant, 5.17 runs average
*stats through Sunday, July 1 games.

Stat sidebar: FIP is an index that attempts to place a pitcher’s fielding independent elements — significantly, K, BB, and HR — on a scale consistent with runs average (or, more commonly, ERA). The actual “FIP Ratio” I use is *((13H+3BB)-2K)/(IP). The “FIP Constant” is simply the number used to express FIP in terms of runs average ((9R)/IP). This number might also correspond to a team’s fielding efficiency; in some cases, if a team has good pitchers and inefficient defenders, that team might feature a good FIPRatio and a poor FIPConstant; there really does not seem to be a strong correlation between FIPConstant and Defensive Efficiency, but it is a great way to get a quick and dirty calculation of which team runs might be solely the responsibility of the defense. Furthermore, the FIPConstant is valuable because it might help to express which percentage of a team runs average depends upon fielding; the reason this is significant is that certain ballparks suppress or increase K, BB, and HR in ways that significantly affects FIPRatio; by contrast, we can use the park’s adjusted runs average and FIP Constant to determine whether pitchers in that ballpark depend more on their defense (or less).

Some parks might encourage high FIPratios while still requiring pitchers to extensively rely on their fielders (see Coors Field), while others might encourage high FIPratios while relieving pitchers from their dependence on fielders (see Great American Ballpark). This might work the same way on the other end of the spectrum; Dodgers Stadium is a park that encourages low FIPratios with moderate dependence on fielding, while CitiField encourages low FIPratios while requiring high dependence on fielding.

Miller Park seems to be a ballpark that encourages high FIPratios, while requiring moderate reliance on defensive performance. See here for more details.

Looking at the Brewers’ K, BB, and HR, this season becomes even more frustrating — the Brewers’ pitching staff is notably above average (approximately 10 runs above NL average, even better once adjusted for park factors). The relievers present an even more confounding case — their respective home run and strike out rates drive a solid performance, one that suggests that the relievers should be lights out. Unfortunately, isolating the Brewers’ fielding and fielding independent elements, we might come to the conclusion that the Brewers’ defensive inefficiencies increase when the relievers enter the ballgame.

Fielding Dependent Elements
What gives? Certainly the relievers cannot be so great to post exceptional fielding independent elements without preventing runs; that relationship should not be that extreme. In this regard, one good explanation to the Brewers’ inefficient defense while the relievers work is the relievers’ respective line drive rates:

Brewers Line Drive / Groundball / Flyball Rates*
John Axford: 26.0% LD, 45.5% GB, 28.6% FB
Francisco Rodriguez: 26.5% LD, 41.1% GB, 31.5% FB
Kameron Loe: 23.1% LD, 51.9% GB, 25.0% FB
Jose Veras: 30.2% LD, 41.7% GB, 28.1% FB
Tim Dillard: 19.5% LD, 53.4$ GB, 27.1% FB
Manny Parra: 24.3% LD, 50.5% GB, 25.2% FB
Vinnie Chulk: 36.4% LD, 24.2% GB, 39.4% FB
Mike McClendon: 24.1% LD, 55.2% GB, 20.7% FB
Juan Perez: 18.8% LD, 43.8% GB, 37.5% LD
*through Sunday, July 1.

AP Photo / Pat Sullivan

Even though some Brewers relievers boast strong groundball-to-flyball ratios (especially Tim Dillard and Manny Parra), their line drive rates generally leave something to be desired. Given that defenders are much less likely to cleanly field line drives (and convert them into outs) than other types of batted balls, we can begin to see how the Brewers’ relievers might be able to boast great fielding independent elements while allowing quite a few runs.

One side effect of using fielding independent pitching stats is that, at some point, if a pitcher has fielding independent ratios that are too strong, that pitcher will be unable to prevent runs. Zack Greinke is my favorite example of this — Greinke’s strike out and walk rates are so strong that his FIP will almost always look exceptional. Now, he might receive poor defensive efficiency during some seasons (he certainly did in 2011), but at some level, if a player strikes out more than 4 batters for each batter he walks, that player’s FIP will be unduly influenced and become less realistic — no defense could live up to that standard; one cannot allow negative runs.

Efficiency Victims?
If we look at individual Brewers relievers, we can find three particular culprits that have seemingly received more than their fair share of inefficient fielding. Manny Parra’s fielding independent ratios suggest that he has allowed 9 more runs than expected; John Axford’s run total is approximately 7 runs higher than expected; and Tim Dillard’s run total is approximately 4 runs higher than one might expect, given his FIP.

My next cue was simple: do their game logs reflect this? What actually happened during their outings in which they allowed runs?

Axford’s case is tough, because he contributed one fielding error himself, during one of his rough outings, and he frequently supplies his backstops with wild pitches. However, he has experienced a few other defensive mishaps beyond those influenced by his own play. Overall, these defensive elements help to explain why Axford is unable to fully match his strong fielding independent elements.

April 15:Walk, groundball E (3) / advance on E (4), Walk, Strikeout, Single (GB)
April 20: Single (FB), PO/advance on E(1), Flyball out, single (GB), single (GB), lineout, groundout
May 9: Strike out, strike out, single (LD), double (LD), single (FB), IBB, groundout
May 11: ROE (5), strike out, wild pitch, triple (LD), strike out/wild pitch (run scores), strike out, single (LD)
June 3: home run (FB), flyout, walk, wild pitch, flyout, groundout
June 10: strike out, single (LD), double (GB), walk, single (LD), walk
June 13: groundout, walk, flyball, defensive indifference, walk, triple (FB), strike out
June 14: strikeout / wild pitch (batter reaches), groundout, strike out, walk, single (LD)
June 19: home run (LD), home run (LD), strikeout, groundout, lineout (CF)
June 26: home run (FB), strike out, strike out, groundout

Parra’s May 23rd appearance in relief of Marco Estrada might be the best summary of the southpaw’s fortunes in 2012. After yielding a groundball out, Parra allowed two singles (one on a groundball to first, the other on a linedrive). He followed with another groundball that Aramis Ramirez could not turn into an out, as Melky Cabrera reached first. Immediately thereafter, Parra allowed a bases clearing double. While we can certainly pin elements of this outing on Parra himself, we can also note that he received some strange defensive plays that weren’t quite errors, but were certainly inefficient to some extent.

April 6: single (LD)/runner out advancing, single (LD), strikeout, double (LD), strikeout; flyout, single (LD)/advance on E(8), ground out, single (GB, to P), walk, flyout
April 21: walk, stolen base, single (BT, to P), groundout (force), stolen base, single (RF), walk, double steal, foul pop fly (1B)
May 13:lineout, single (GB), groundout, stolen base (3B), walk, wild pitch (run scores), double (fly ball), wild pitch, ground out
May 18: strikeout/E2 (batter reaches), flyout, groundball (E3), stolen base, walk, strike out, single (LD)
May 19: groundout, groundout, flyout; popout (SS), groundout, home run, popout (2B)
May 23: grounds, strikeout, single (LD), walk, strikeout; groundout, single (GB, to 1B), single (LD), fielder’s choice (3B-1B, no out), double (FB), groundout, groundout
June 5: strikeout, strikeout, strikeout; double (FB), fielder’s choice (SS; rundown out at 3B, batter to 2B), wild pitch, intentional walk, strikeout, single (LD),
June 9: groundout, lineout, double (GB), walk, single, popout (3B); groundout, strikeout (C-1B), strikeout
June 16: walk, single (GB, 1B/weak 2B), single (LD), GIDP, flyout
June 19: flyout, flyout, walk, single (LD), strike out (wild pitch, batter reaches), single (LD), wild pitch, strikeout
June 24: double (LD), flyout, walk, single (LD)

The Legend of Tim Dillard might title a follow-up album, The Groundball / Line Drive Chronicles. Dillard’s case is difficult because although he certainly allows his share of crisp line drive hits, he also receives his fair share of groundball singles. That’s the trouble of working as such an extreme groundball pitcher — at some point, there are simply going to be groundballs that are just past an infielder’s reach, or simply not good candidates to result in outs.

April 6: groundout, groundout, groundout; double (GB), groundout, walk, double (FB), double (LD), single, line drive double play
April 8: groundout, foul pop fly (1B), double (GB), single (GB, weak 3B), groundout
April 9: walk
April 21: groundout, single (GB), groundout, strike out; home run, groundout, strike out, groundout
April 27: single (LD), pop fly (SS), strike out, double (LD), groundout
May 5: strike out, groundout, groundball E (5), double (FB)
May 6: single (GB), bunt groundout, intentional walk, walk, single (FB)
May 16: lineout, flyout (foul), home run (FB), groundout; strikeout, flyout
May 26: flyout, flyout, walk, strikeout; groundout, strikeout, double (LD), single (LD), groundout (force)
May 31: single (LD), single (GB, to 2B), GIDP
June 1: groundout, flyout, double (FB), walk, double (LD), lineout (SS); single (LD), single (GB, to 3B), flyout, strikeout, groundout
June 8: single (GB, to 1b), GIDP, strike out; double (LD), ground ball E (6), flyout, groundout, triple (FB), strikeout
June 17: groundout, groundout, single (LD), flyout; strikout, flyout, flyout; single (LD), strikeout, single, single/out at home (rundown)
June 19: groundout, single (GB, to weak SS-2B), walk, single (LD)
June 23: single (LD), bunt groundout, flyout/advances runner, single (LD), walk, flyout
June 30: single (GB), single (LD)/runner to 3rd, groundout (force at 2B), strikeout, groundout; home run (FB), strike out, single (GB), defensive indifference, groundout, strike out

These game logs are meant to be reviewed by the greatest skeptic. I, myself, am not entirely convinced that the Brewers relievers’ inefficient defensive support is due to the fault of Brewers fielders. However, there seems to be an inescapable fact here, one that simply states that the Brewers’ overall performance after the starters leave the ballgame is inefficient. Again, this makes the last two victories special — a real shift in fortunes for the Brewers, which hopefully means that the team turned some corner.

Overall, we might use the fielding independent stats to point another way in which the Brewers’ 2012 performance simply confounds expectations. The team certainly has the components to compete; unfortunately the distribution of those components over a full 162 does not result in a team as competitive as expected.

RESOURCES:
Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC., 2000-2012.
FanGraphs.

IMAGES:
Axford: http://sports.yahoo.com/fantasy/blog/roto_arcade/post/Closing-Time-How-long-is-John-Axford-s-leash-?urn=fantasy,252435
Dillard (AP / Pat Sullivan): http://lubbockonline.com/sports/2012-05-17/nl-roundup-lee-drives-3-lead-astros-over-brewers#.T_LtC5FuDSg
Parra (Getty Images)

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Comments

Tell us what do you think.

  1. Matt Tracy says: July 3, 2012

    How much of an effect do you think the loss of Lucroy had on everything here?

    • Nicholas Zettel says: July 3, 2012

      That’s an excellent question. It’s really difficult to determine the full impact of one catcher on a particular club. For instance, how can we really quantify whether the relievers feel more comfortable with Maldonado, Lucroy, or Kottaras? In terms of defensive efficiency, I think we can draw some conclusions from the stats, but I’m not sure which stats we emphasize to make any grand statements.

      BTW, this is what’s interesting to me about this type of question — theoretically, each of the catchers receives the same information from the organization, and theoretically the catchers attend the same meetings to prepare for opponents. So, we really are talking about how different personalities might respond to meetings or how different personalities might digest information to make this type of judgment. Could game calling by Maldonado this year make a difference on relief pitching outcomes, for instance?

      Great question, I wish I had a better answer.

      • Matt says: July 3, 2012

        As has been pointed out by this blog (and underrated by the rest of the analysts) is Lucroy’s ability to frame pitches. If the strike-zone is something of a mystery or is atypical in a game, one would think Lucroy’s ability to squeeze out a few more called strikes would be a big benefit, and he would be in a unique position, having caught the whole game. Also, beyond his ability to block pitches, the framing aspect is doubly effective for guys like Ax and K-Rod.

        • Nicholas Zettel says: July 3, 2012

          Very solid point, Matt, that is another significant element.

  2. Nathan says: July 3, 2012

    I would be interested to see some of your thoughts on another inefficient characteristic that I’ve noticed, Inherited Runners scored from our bullpen. The Brewers have allowed a higher than average amount of these runners to score – specifically Parra and Loe. How has this impacted them so far?

    • Nicholas Zettel says: July 3, 2012

      Awesome — I hadn’t even thought about this.

      Just looking at a few of Manny Parra’s inherited runners-scored issues, and it’s clear how that type of thing can change a game.

      For instance, the May 30 game sticks out; Parra entered with the bases loaded and no one out, reliving Yovani Gallardo in the 7th (5-1 lead). Now, he did minimize damage to a certain extent, insofar as each baserunner did not score. But, that game changed from a potential yawner into a game that required K-Rod and Axford to close it out.

      There seem to have been a few games like that this year, where the bullpen’s inability to produce clean outings when the Brewers are leading by a sizeable margin turns games into close affairs. This changes rest patterns, etc.

      But, in other cases, like the other day in Cincinnati, that extra run allowed (a runner Parra inherited) resulted in a 2-run deficit for the Brewers, rather than a 1-run deficit going into the 9th. That clearly changes strategies or the Brewers’ ability to scratch together a quick comeback.

      I know this type of thing isn’t always going to be ideal, but I think you’re right to point out that this inefficiency has affected the club. Good eye!

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