Fun with Pythagoras #7: Defensive Riddles | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

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

Watching last night’s solid 6-1 victory against the Cubs, a couple of things occurred to me:

(1) For once, it seemed, I was following a game in which the Brewers were consistently winning and playing well. I can’t be the only one who feels like every game I am able to follow is a gut-wrenching loss or a laugher. I suppose that’s an effect of watching a ballclub with more than 80 losses midway through September, but it’s frustrating nonetheless. It’s nice watching a solid win by the club.

(2) The Brewers’ defense looks bad. Granted, their bad plays last night were limited to a couple of instances. But, when they did occur, those bad plays compounded — Batting Champion Scooter Gennett lost a ball from his glove on a bloop into right by Welington Castillo, only to have Norichika Aoki airmail a throw across the diamond. Jean Segura made an errant throw on a Ryan Sweeney grounder, and Converted First Baseman Jonathan Lucroy made a futile dive for the throw.

Yet entering last night’s game, the Brewers’ fielding riddle was perfectly clear: for all their errors and poor fielding percentage, the Brewers’ defensive efficiency and overall runs allowed were solid.

Specifically, if we use Fielding Independent Pitching stats to outline the expected runs allowed based on the team’s K, BB, and HR (assuming an average defense), we can find that the Brewers’ total runs allowed fall squarely on the pitchers:

2013 NL FIPRatio: 0.62
2013 NL Runs Average: 4.07
2013 NL FIPConstant: 3.45
2013 NL Defensive Efficiency: .694

Brewers FIPRatio: 1.06
Brewers Runs Average: 4.43
Brewers FIPConstant: 3.37
Brewers Defensive Efficiency: .695

Coupled with defensive efficiency, which shows the rate at which a club converts balls in play into outs, one can argue that against all appearances, the Brewers’ defense has not hurt the club in 2013. In fact, if we note that the Brewers have allowed nearly 30 runs more than the 2013 NL / Miller Park, we can place that squarely on the pitchers.


One might ask, then, if we placed the Brewers’ defense in front of an average pitching staff, would they prevent runs?

First and foremost, looking at the club’s batted ball type, one can see that the Brewers’ below average pitching staff produces notably more line drives and flyballs than the league average. In these cases, the Brewers’ defense looks solid (judging by their opponents’ Batting Average on Balls in Play)

Batted Ball Type (BABIP) 2013 NL (Type% (BABIP)) 2013 Brewers (Type% (BABIP))
Goundball .324 (.236) .327 (.249)
Flyball .207 (.092) .216 (.091)
Line Drive .169 (.650) .172 (.603)
Bunt .018 (.344) .019 (.404)

However, BABIP in these cases does not necessarily show that the Brewers’ defense is better than average. For example, while the average NL pitching staff allows 91% of flyballs and 97% of line drives as batted balls in play, Brewers pitchers only allow 89% of flyballs and 96% of line drives as batted balls in play. This might sound like nitpicking, but in actuality, those small shifts in BIP% on fly balls and line drives suggest that the Brewers have allowed approximately 31 more home runs than the league average (approximately 24 more HR on flyballs, and approximately 7 more HR on line drives).

Stated simply, one might suggest that the Brewers’ fielders have been “insulated” by a below average pitching staff. Specifically, this means that although the club is allowing notably more flyballs and line drives than the league average, a smaller percentage of those batted ball types are playable by the defense. Perhaps this smaller percentage of playable line drives and flyballs contributes to the Brewers’ fielders solid efficiency rate on those batted ball types. The Brewers’ overall error rate on batted balls in play (by type) suggests a rather intuitive picture of the Brewers’ defense: while the club is above average on flyballs (and, surprisingly, bunts), they are below average fielding ground balls (and, to a lesser extent, line drives):

Error Rate on Batted Balls in Play 2013 NL 2013 Brewers
Goundball .024 .032
Flyball .003 .002
Line Drive .002 .004
Bunt .030* .019*
*Error Rate Calculated on all Bunts

This brings us to one of the best puzzles of the 2013 Brewers. Not only does the club generally allow more errors on batted ball types than the average NL club, but they also collect more outs on batted ball types than the average NL club. One of the reasons this occurs is that the club (1) records fewer strike outs than average (especially given Miller Park’s strike out split), which swings the “balance of outs” towards the defense, while (2) allowing more batted balls in play than the average NL club. In the following table, I estimated total outs per batted ball type by subtracting hits and errors from the batted ball type.

In this case, even “special” types of outs, such as SH or SF (which don’t count as AB and therefore influence BABIP), count — in general — as outs. I also added in total double plays, to gauge the number of defensive sequences that produced two outs (this can include a standard ground into double play, a strike-’em-out-throw-’em-out, an outfield putout-with-assist, etc.). Needless to say, there are other miscellaneous outs not accounted for here (basic outfield assists, outs on the basepaths, etc.). The point of this chart is to suggest the general number of outs the Brewers produced on these types of batted balls:

Approximate Outs Per Team 2013 NL 2013 Brewers
Groundball 1356 1317
Flyball 963 975
Line Drive 321 364
Bunt 87 85
Strike Out 1043 1021
(Double Plays) (361) (361)

Overall, we might call the Brewers’ fielders overworked. Not only do they make more than their fair share of outs, but they also have more chances to make errors, too. However, one might also argue that while their infield defense leaves questions about its ability to handle groundballs, overall, the defense balances out toward average. As the club continues to work on its shifting strategies, and improves its pitching, one can hope that the general trends of the Brewers 2013 defense result in a better than average runs allowed total in 2014.

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This is a companion piece to Fun w/ Pythagoras #5.

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REFERENCES
Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC., 2000-2013.

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