Given my reputation as a stathead here and throughout my years with Bernie’s Crew, I should note that I thought about submitting the following picture when it came time to submit my staff photo:
I should say, just in case it’s unclear, that I’m not really a determinist when it comes to baseball stats. Specifically, I don’t necessarily believe that because a club has a specific run differential at a specific time, that club can be projected to play at that level for 162 games. While I’ve had some bouts of determinism with my friends — I teased a Pirates fan last year that their run differential suggested that, despite their hot streak, they would finish under .500 (boy, was that mean, in hindsight) — it is ultimately the case that any club can suddenly shift their trends and rattle off an uncanny set of victories (the 2011 Brewers are one of my favorite examples of this). Of course, that leaves behind another issue entirely, which is teams that are flat out able to score fewer runs than they allow, but still win (think of the 2007 Diamondbacks, or the 2012 Orioles).
Why do I rely, so frequently, on teams’ runs scored / runs allowed, if I don’t believe the stats to be accurately projected in all cases? Well, I think of a run differential like “polling” in politics — while there are certainly some methodological questions about polling, there are few means of more accurately capturing a picture of public opinion, right here and right now, than polling. Of course, polling on an issue doesn’t always reflect legislation on an issue, and of course, Americans’ feelings in the polls don’t always translate to political outcomes that correspond with their attitudes (currently, the disjoint between Americans’ feelings on expanding background checks for firearms purchases contrasts their decisions to elect politicians that won’t enact such policies; more generally, an even better example of such a disjoint between polling and politics would be Americans’ approval ratings of Congress versus their general performance in re-electing incumbents. In this regard, our sentiment about our Representatives apparently does not impact our behavior in elections). Anyway, just as Americans don’t always electorally or politically behave according to their sentiments in polls, baseball teams don’t always behave according to their run differential. This shouldn’t necessarily be surprising; after all, there are a full range of issues that impact a W-L record outside of mere run differentials: bullpen strengths or weaknesses in close games, winning one run games vs. losing blow outs, timely hitting, etc. Anyway, a run differential still serves as a snapshot of where a team actually “is” at any given moment.
Forget about the Cards
There’s some pretty cool stuff in St. Louis. Apop Records just celebrated their 9th anniversary, there’s a whole bunch of neat culture down there, and they even have professional hockey and football clubs. No wonder the Cardinals think Milwaukee is bush league — they go home and bury themselves beneath piles of acid rock albums while watching the very best football and hockey players available to humankind. Meanwhile, in Milwaukee….
…Okay, I have no idea what SPOOKS the Brewers so much about the Cardinals. But it’s ridiculous, and the worst part is, one set of seven games against the Cardinals is arguably derailing the Brewers’ season thus far. Consider this:
vs. St. Louis: 0-2 series, 1-6 overall, 17 RS / 42 RA
vs. Everyone Else: 4-3-1 series, 13-10 overall, 118 RS / 108 RA
Just for fun, if the Brewers played every game like they were facing the Cardinals, they’d be something like a 23-139 club. Ouch! There’s almost no silver lining, save for the April 14th comeback that spurred the extended winning streak for our beloved Milwaukee Nine. On the other hand, the Brewers haven’t exactly been world beaters against everyone else, but they’ve countered some rough outings with some strong performances, too. Contrasting their St. Louis series, against everyone else the Brewers play like a club that could go something like 88-74. Not bad.
The worst part about this St. Louis phenomenon is that the Brewers only face the Cardinals at the very beginning and very end of their season. There’s almost no gray area in this matter. Even stranger is the fact that the Brewers played the Cardinals evenly during the 2010 and 2011 seasons; one has to wonder the extent to which the 2011 NLCS damaged Brewers’ psyches against the Cardinals. These are professionals, of course, but they’re also human beings.
May 17-19: Brewers @ Cardinals
August 19-21: Cardinals @ Brewers
September 10-12: Brewers @ Cardinals
September 20-22: Cardinals @ Brewers
Some kind soul provided the Brewers one more home game than road game against the Cardinals this year, but thus far, that advantage is negligible.
The gist is, if you feel bad about the Brewers’ chances this year, there’s no reason to. So far, they’ve actually performed at quite a strong level — when they’re not facing the Cardinals. One could even argue that the Brewers’ relatively strong performance, overall, is even more encouraging given their replacement roster and ineffectiveness issues they’ve faced. This club has not yet had their best players and top offseason roster together, and the worst we have it is 14-16 seven days into May.
Earlier this season, the National League appeared to have some advantage over the American League, and the Senior Circuit beat their morally superior counterparts. However, the balance has handily shifted back to the younger league, and the American League now boasts a 17-15 lead over the NL.
Furthermore, there’s quite a difference between the two league’s run environments. This is one area of the year-round interleague play that I have been looking forward to tracking: will year-round interleague play equalize the run environments between the two leagues? Thus far, apparently, there is no reason to think so.
In fact, thus far the run environments in both leagues are slightly less potent than they were last year:
2013 NL: 4.17 RS/G, 4.21 RA/G
2013 AL: 4.42 RS/G, 4.38 RA/G
2012 NL: 4.22 RS/G, 4.26 RA/G
2012 AL: 4.45 RS/G, 4.40 RA/G
Again, I’m not sure what significance to draw from these early season run environments. The NL’s current run environment is particularly interesting given the attention to new fence alignments in New York and San Diego. Thus far, there’s no grand shift in their 3-year park factors:
CitiField 2013: 95 / 96
(CitiField 2012-2010: 96 /96, 96 / 96, 97 / 97)
PetCo Park 2013: 92 / 93
(PetCo Park 2012-2010: 92 / 92, 93 / 93, 91 / 91)
It is reasonable to believe that these park adjustments might shift a bit more in the future, but one might note that there are many different reasons that parks play particular trends. One might suggest that there are reasons that Citi and PetCo are pitchers parks outside of their fence alignments.
2013 NL Efficiency:
NL Basic Runs Created Estimate: 1955
NL Actual Runs Scored: 1968 (1.01 of runs created estimate)
Brewers League / Park Environment (30 Games): 133 RS expected
Brewers Basic Runs Created Estimate: 138
Brewers Actual Runs Scored: 135 (0.98 of runs created estimate, 0.97 of league RS / RC ratio)
NL Fielding Independent Pitching: 0.80
NL Runs Average: 4.23
Brewers Fielding Independent Pitching: 1.22
Expected Runs Average (w/ average defense): 4.65
Expected Runs Allowed (268 IP): 138
Actual Runs Allowed: 148
League Fielding Efficiency: .698 (Brewers: .682)
If you feel like the Brewers are better than their current statistics show, you’re on the right track. The Brewers’ basic efficiency pace places them 14 aggregate runs off of their foundational offensive and pitching performance (hits, walks, total bases; strike outs, walks, and home runs). In fact, given these elements, one might expect the club to be 15-15, at approximately 139 RS / 138 RA.
It is worth noting that if the Brewers correct this pace, and become a more efficient club with their batting and fielding, they might be expected to win 80 games (instead of 76, their current pace).
What happens if the club completely flips their efficiency? What if they play at a rate that consistently earns them 4 runs per 30 games, and 10 runs prevented per 30 games? That ballclub would produce approximately 629 RS / 563 RA over 132 games, worth a winning percentage of approximately .518. That Brewers team could win 82 games. Even better? If the Brewers continue their current place against non-Cardinals clubs, they might be expected to go 81-62 in those games. Of course, given that the Brewers are currently 1-6 against the Cardinals, we can see the importance of performing better against the Cardinals. It’s interesting to think that one stretch of bum games could turn a ballclub competing for a division title into a ballclub competing for 80-84 wins.
Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC.