First Must-Win Series? Arizona Diamondbacks @ Milwaukee Brewers | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

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

The recent Brewers roadtrip through NL Central contenders immediately takes on two opposing faces. In the first place, the basic Brewers performance of 3-4 through such a roadtrip is encouraging, as maintaining a basically even level of competition on the road (within the division, against contenders) is categorically good during a baseball season. Given the Brewers’ shorthanded roster throughout both series — unofficially shorthanded in St. Louis, officially shorthanded with a flurry of disabled list moves in Cincinnati, this 3-4 record does not appear terrible.

On the other hand, the Brewers’ shorthanded roster, their 23 RS / 34 RA differential, and the overall performance of their bullpen raises questions moving forward: have we yet again entered May? If you’ll recall, May was the month that widely derailed the 2013 Brewers. After a surging April, it appeared that this Brewers club was on a different track for injuries and ineffectiveness. Now, the club cannot even score 3.50 runs per game during a seven game stretch. In fact, isolating the exceptional 6-0 roadtrip in Boston and Philadelphia, the Brewers are an 82 RS / 95 RA team in 26 games.

Stand Teams W-L RS / RA
Home Atl 1-2 4 RS / 6 RA
Road Bos-Phi 6-0 42 RS / 18 RA
Home Pit-Stl 4-2 17 RS / 15 RA
Road Pit 3-1 18 RS / 23 RA
Home SD-Chc 4-2 20 RS / 16 RA
Road Stl-Cin 3-4 23 RS / 34 RA

That the club remains 15-11 in those games is a testament to the Brewers’ bullpen and timely hitting thus far (building off the base of their excellent starting pitching, of course). However, with a set of almost continuously low-scoring, close-game affairs, the bullpen will only be able to do so much. Outside of the excellent eastern road trip, the Brewers have managed 4.00 RS/G in only one other stand (that would be their four game trip to Pittsburgh). Similarly, with a now-rotating cast of slumping and injured bats, the prospect for a sudden surge of high-scoring affairs seems unlikely. In case you’re wondering, here is how a team scores 23 runs in seven games:

Road Trip PA AVG / OBP / SLG
Lucroy 26 .333/.385/.417
Maldonado 7 .200/.429/.200
Reynolds 22 .278/.364/.667
Overbay 23 .182/.217/.182
Gennett 32 .219/.219/.313
Bianchi 16 .133/.188/.133
Weeks 4 .333/.500/.333
Ramirez 20 .063/.250/.250
Segura 16 .250/.250/.313
Davis 27 .192/.222/.462
Gomez 33 .226/.273/.484
Braun .000/.000/.000
Herrera 15 .286/.333/.286
Gindl 10 .111/.200/.111
Schafer 4 .000/.000/.000

Perhaps this trip is not foreshadowing May 2013 all over again, since the Brewers are continually stealing games. Between St. Louis and Cincinnati, the Brewers won one more game than their run differential expected; this helps to sustain their excellent early season cushion. So many of us are writing, “If the Brewers only play .500 ball from here on, their record will be ______________,” simply because it appears that the Brewers will now be facing their tough stretch of the season. It matters not that the schedule apparently eases up just as soon as the Brewers are injured and facing some performance woes; the baseball schedule is hardly ever about justice, and if the Brewers seized their share of victories through a brutal early schedule, one might question what an easier stretch of the schedule will bring.

So, we hold our breath. The idea of a must-win series in May seems silly. But, with the specter of May 2013 clouding the minds of Brewers fans and analysts, we’ll take any sign that this is not deja vu.

2014:
Diamondbacks (34 G): 126 RS / 186 RA
Brewers (32 G): 124 RS / 113 RA

Last Series:
Diamondbacks: Series Victory at San Diego
Brewers: Series Loss at Cincinnati (4 games)

Previous Performances:
2013 Diamondbacks: 81-81, 685 RS / 695 RA
2013 Brewers: 74-88 (640 RS / 687 RA)

I picked the Diamondbacks to win the NL West because I thought that their general roster core underplayed their potential last year. Another year of experience could help Wade Miley, Randall Delgado, and Patrick Corbin; Mark Trumbo could add some power to a solid offensive core. Yet, the Arizona pitchers are encountering one hurdle after another, and their offense is underwhelming for their environment. I wanted to pick upside over the proven rosters of the Dodgers and Giants; unfortunately, that pick doesn’t look good right now.

2011-2013 Diamondbacks: 256-230, 2150 RS / 2045 RA
2011-2013 Brewers: 253-233 (2137 RS / 2058 RA)

This series, the Brewers will not face an average fastball that is faster than 89-90 MPH. In fact, depending on your source for pitch classifications, not one of the Diamondbacks starters in this series throws a “traditional” primary fastball. Even at relatively low velocities, these Diamondbacks pitchers will use movement to their advantage, and the Brewers ought not rest easily on the heavy velocity advantage they claim for this series (probably their best advantage of any series thus far in terms of pure stuff).

Mike Bolsinger (1-1, 18.7 IP, 14 R in 2014 thus far) @ Matt Garza (1-2, 28 IP, 21 R (23 K / 11 BB / 3 HR; 14 FIPR), 1 quality start in last 5 GS)

Drafted in the 15th round by the Diamondbacks in 2010, Mike Bolsinger is the definition of an organizational pitcher. The Arizona front office is calling upon Bolsinger to help stop the bleeding in their pitching rotation, and Bolsinger will have his chance to make a name for himself from an unheralded pedigree (not unlike Fastballer Mike Fiers). In fact, according to Baseball-Reference, Bolsinger is the first of his draft round to make the MLB. Like Fiers, Bolsinger will rely heavily on a cut fastball, with a curve as his primary off-speed pitch. Bolsinger also picks his fastballs relatively frequently, given his top velocity; Brewers bats may see one of his fastballs 7 out of every 10 pitches.

Before Matt Garza suffered his early exit in St. Louis, he threw 20 sinkers. For a pitcher that may have only selected his secondary fastball 72 times during 2014, that number is excessively high for one start. Given that a set of Milwaukee starters are leaning toward moving fastballs, one wonders if Garza is coming aboard the sinker-train to correct his early season woes. Of course, Garza’s secondary fastball might be more of a riding fastball than a true sinker, but who’s keeping track? If getting more movement on his fastball helps Garza attack the zone, the development will be welcome to the Brewers. Although, one might question the necessity of such a development; after receiving little support in his opening game, the Brewers have scored 25 runs to go 3-2 over Garza’s last five starts.

Josh Collmenter (1-2, 1 save, 27 IP, 11 R ( 20 K / 6 BB / 3 HR; 12 FIPR), 1 quality start in last 5 G) @ Marco Estrada (2-1, 31.7 IP, 12 R (28 K / 7 BB / 6 HR; 17 FIPR), 5 quality starts in last 5 GS)

If the Diamondbacks continue to struggle this year, and the Brewers need an extra arm, one wonders where Josh Collmenter ranks in the Brewers front office. Collmenter still throws way, way up-top, with some of his release points for cutters and change ups approaching 7’6”, according to TexasLeaguers. Collmenter uses his “up-top” delivery to center his offerings, as his arm will almost perfectly split home plate for some of his pitches. This high release point must certainly endear the Brewers’ executives, given their favorable feelings about righties that throw over-the-top. Of course, Collmenter also has a really slow fastball, which should also grab the attention of the Milwaukee brass. Despite being moved out of the rotation last year, Collmenter has continuously worked as a successful pitcher in Arizona, which makes him an intriguing trade candidate. What would you trade for a successful depth arm that might not crack 88 MPH?

Marco Estrada can certainly relate to Collmenter’s career path, although Estrada’s arc as a starter has been higher and longer than that of his Diamondbacks foe. For the second time in three starts, Estrada matches another mid-80s fastballer, which means that fans will once again be able to watch a start with at least 100 fastballs between 86 and 89 MPH by the end of the fifth inning. I don’t know about you, but I love games like this. It’s great to see a set of mid-to-upper-80s fastball guys succeeding in this new “power game” MLB, which proves yet again that one does not need to throw 95 to stick in the MLB. In fact, even if you only throw 86 or 88, getting outs will get you a job in a pitching staff.

Bronson Arroyo (2-2, 27 IP, 19 R (13 K / 7 BB / 4 HR; 16 FIPR), 2 quality starts in last 5 GS) @ Wily Peralta (4-1, 34.7 IP, 9 R (26 K / 7 BB / 4 HR; 16 FIPR), 5 quality starts in last 5 GS)

I usually like BrooksBaseball’s scouting-based interpretation of the pitch f/x data, since their observations can be really helpful when wondering whether a guy throws a slider or a curve. Yet, with Bronson Arroyo, their conclusion is unsatisfactory: the BrooksBaseball team interprets all of Arroyo’s breaking pitches as “curveballs,” which does not seem to match the way Arroyo actually pitches. Specifically, Arroyo throws at least two different breaking balls at different speeds (and anyone that watches the scoreboard during his start will notice that he seems to grab every minute velocity differential when changing pitches). In this way, Arroyo is a lot like Jamie Moyer or even Zack Greinke, for he works as a pitcher that will change speeds at any given time on any given pitch.

For what it’s worth, BrooksBaseball doesn’t differentiate Greinke’s curveballs, either, which seems baffling; it seems patently false to say, “Zack Greinke throws a 74 MPH curveball for his career.” No, Greinke throws a hard spike curveball, and a soft lollipop schoolyard curveball. To conflate the two pitches says nothing of his approach. The same can be said of Arroyo’s breaking balls; he throws the Frisbee slider and a curve. Why is aggregate data acceptable to the stats movement? Why do we pretend that guys don’t throw two curves or two changes or two sliders, or whatever? Is it absolutely impossible to say that a 60 MPH curveball is a completely different pitch than a 75 MPH curve? Or in Arroyo’s case, a 75 MPH slider and 70 MPH curve?

Would you believe that Arroyo is 5-3 with a 2.89 ERA during 14 career games at Miller Park? Of the seven ballparks that Arroyo has worked in 10 or more times during his career, Miller Park is by far his best ballpark. Arroyo beat the Brewers 15 times in his career to date, which is his highest total of wins against any individual club. For his career, he has worked an entire season against the Brewers: 15-10, 33 G, 196 IP, 88 R, 144 K / 61 BB / 34 HR, 3.67 ERA (compared to a career 4.22 ERA).

If it seems that I only write about strike zones when the Brewers receive a decidedly errant zone, Wily Peralta’s strike zone during his masterful Saturday night start was extremely fair. The fireballing righty threw only nine called pitches inside the zone, with two of those pitches mistakenly called balls. His two borderline pitches were split ball/strike, and he received three false strike calls on 34 pitches outside the zone. Despite causing the Reds to look at only nine pitches in the zone, Peralta threw 71 pitches for strikes in Cincinnati. 41% of those strikes occurred on foul balls, and the Reds only managed 20 batted balls in play all night. Given that Peralta threw his fastballs 86 times (!!!), this is an extremely encouraging set of results. While it is indisputable that Peralta’s slider is among the Brewers’ best offerings on their entire staff, Peralta’s success in 2014 will come from improved fastball usage.

Resources
BaseballProspectus. Prospectus Entertainment Ventures, LLC., 1996-2014.
Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC., 2000-2013.
Brewers Radio Network. WTMJ 620. WTMJ / Journal Broadcasting Gorup, 2014.
FanGraphs.
MLB Advanced Media, LP. 2014.
TexasLeaguers. Trip Somers, 2009-2014.

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