Here are the Brewers’ runs allowed in their last 4 games: 3, 2, 5, 4. Here is their runs scored in the same games: 8, 0, 0, 6. Clearly, this week the team has gone as the offense has gone, and the offense has gone a little all over the place. Looking at the variance in their runs scored makes me want to wax a little on the topic of momentum, which I think is a key difference between the standard sabermetric viewpoint of the game and a more traditional point of view is the issue of momentum. Though it’s a word that gets thrown around a lot, I think it’s worth defining momentum through the framework of “true talent” and “random” parts which I introduced a couple weeks ago. To briefly recap, I think a team’s performance can be roughly summarized by their true talent, which is fixed, and by a random component, which can be viewed as luck. In this model, momentum would mean that drawing a good random component in one game (which would mean getting hits with RISP, ground balls finding holes, etc.) leads to a good random component in the next game, and vice versa (for the more statistically inclined, I’m directly equating momentum to autocorrelation). The reason I think this is a key difference between a sabermetric viewpoint and a more traditional one is that sabermetrics is all about trying to identify what is true talent and what is random, and separating the two, focusing on the true talent component to predict how a team will do. However, if teams experience momentum, by my definition of the term, that means what’s random in one game actually impacts the next game, and to separate it out is incorrect. The Brewers’ performance this week did not seem to exhibit much momentum; I’m not surprised, as I tend to think it is not generally present. However, I think it’s worth considering how it would interact with the framework through which I view the game, so that we can know what we are and aren’t saying.
Some other assorted thoughts from the week:
-If this team falls short of expectations, injuries will probably be the scapegoat. With both Gamel and Narveson gone for the season, and Braun and Gomez currently day-to-day, the team is experiencing a roster crunch like it never did last year. People tend to underestimate how common injuries are, so health is something that only gets noticed in the absence. “Healthy” is not the first word that would come to mind to describe the 2011 Brewers, but it would be one of the most accurate.
-I’m fine with Rickie Weeks batting in the 2-hole, but I’m not so fine with the thinking it represents. Yes, he’s only batting .177, but that’s with a .222 BABIP, which will go up. His walks and strikeouts are both slightly above his career norms, and he’s still managing a .300 wOBA (82 pts higher than Albert Pujols!). One potentially troubling indicator is that his infield fly ball percentage is at 25.9%, nearly double his career number; this could indicate a bad approach, but I suspect it’s just bad luck in a small sample. His infield hit percentage is only 3.2%, well below his career average of 10.7%, and that’s almost certainly due to luck. His batting average will climb back up as the season goes down, and then he’ll be the same old Rickie we know and love. To move him to the 2-hole, which I presume is in response to the notion that he’s “struggling”, seems mistaken to me. That said, the value of the hitter in the second spot is often drastically underrated; studies suggest he should actually be one of the top 3 hitters on the team. I don’t think it hurts the club to have Rickie batting second. It does hurt the club, though, to have Carlos Gomez leading off, so I hope that doesn’t continue.
-I am very happy that Brooks Conrad is on the big league club, just because I’m sick of seeing Roenicke pinch hit Izturis against left-handed pitchers. That said, I’m not sure a Conrad-Ishikawa platoon is a long term answer at first base; if nothing else, I think Conrad has more value on the bench, for pinch hitting and utility purposes. I’d like to see Roenicke be flexible with the position, and trying giving Hart and Kottaras some time, to see how well that works.