Narratives Revised: 2012, Peralta’s Strikes, 2008 Sheets | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

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

There is a new narrative overtaking the 2012 Brewers’ season, displacing our grave concerns of April and May. Gone are those Milwaukee nine of the replacement breed; our beloved club now carries their best bats. After warming throughout the season, the Brewers’ offense scored 203 runs in 38 August and September games. This veritable explosion further exposes our feelings that this ballclub’s failure to fully participate in the playoff race rests on the shoulders of the Brewers’ bullpen.

Since the Rockies swept the Brewers at the Humidor, Milwaukee’s Best whipped together wins at a torrid 18-7 pace. Although those victories largely occurred against losing (or faltering) ballclubs, the Brewers have most recently turned their efforts to spoiling the National League Wild Card race. That effort continued last night, as the Brewers piled on four runs against the Atlanta Braves to take a commanding 4-1 lead in the 7th inning.

Key to the Brewers’ exceptional month is their ability to win while they score a moderate number of runs. On August 13, the Brewers were 14-26 when they scored between 3-and-5 runs (and they won 9 total games with 3 or 4 runs). Although the club has frequently scored 6 or more runs during their hot stretch, the Brewers are suddenly 7-3 when scoring between 3-and-5 runs. Recalling the exceptional 2011 Brewers squad, our Milwaukee Nine have won 5 games with 3-or-4 runs scored since the Rockies series.

Since August 13
6+ RS: 11-3
3-5 RS: 7-3 (5 wins with 3-to-4 runs scored)
0-2 RS: 0-3

2012 Milwaukee Brewers:
6+ RS: 45-12 (.475 of games)
3-5 RS: 21-29 (14 wins with 3-to-4 runs scored) (.355 of games)
0-2 RS: 4-30 (.241 of games)

2011 Milwaukee Brewers
49-9 in 6+ runs scored (.358 of games)
40-21 in 3-5 runs scored (27 wins between 3-4 RS) (.377 of games)
7-36 in 0-2 runs scored (.265 of games)

Overall, the Brewers’ offensive output helped boost the club to a 23-15 record since August 1. For the season, April remains the only month in which the Brewers allowed more runs than they scored, although unfortunately the club only claims a 59-59 record since May 1, despite scoring 571 runs against 523 runs allowed.

Whether we work with the replacement player narrative or the bullpen narrative, there is quite a pile of evidence amassing that this Brewers’ club is better than their record. Fortunately, that bodes well for 2013, even if it makes it difficult to sort through “what-if” scenarios in 2012.

Wily Peralta’s Strike Zone
Perhaps we don’t say it enough, but we truly appreciate our readership, and we especially appreciate the time everyone takes to comment on our posts. One of the benefits of fan writing is the ability to ask open-ended questions, and those questions are much more exciting and productive with strong commenting. Thank you for sticking with us!

Commenter “Ross B” deserves a shout out. He produced many strong comments on my post last Thursday, and his analysis of Wily Peralta‘s performance and Angel Hernandez‘s low strike call was dead on.

Last Wednesday, Peralta worked a quality start in Miami, facing two batters in the 7th before Ron Roenicke yanked him. According to the pitch f/x data on TexasLeaguers, Peralta threw 68 fastballs, 14 sliders, 9 change ups, and 1 curveball. Approximately 52 of Peralta’s offerings needed an umpire’s call, and Hernandez graced Peralta with 7 faulty calls. 6 of those offerings were falsely called balls, and they were hardly borderline offerings. Hernandez gave Peralta one wrong strike call to even the score.

Last night, Adrian Johnson gave Peralta a much more favorable strike zone, although Peralta did not need big strike outs to limit the Braves’ offensive attack. Compared to his first MLB start, Peralta allegedly threw two distinct fastballs last night, selecting a fastball in 69 of his 97 deliveries. Peralta pocketed his curveball, but he did feature his slider more prominently, selecting the hard breaking ball 23 times (along with a handful of change ups). Approximately 51 of Peralta’s pitches needed to be called by Johnson last night, and Johnson gave Peralta a unique strike zone. Approximately 5 of Johnson’s calls were mistaken, giving Peralta 2 strikes, 2 balls, and another strike on a borderline pitch.

I wonder how much the umpire’s analysis system and grading program influences their strike zones. Is 90% accuracy on balls and strikes the best that umpires can muster? It seems that an awful lot of pitchers receive strike zones with mistaken calls on approximately 10% of their called pitches. Given that type of performance, are umpires’ grading systems based on the fact that only 9 out of 10 called pitches might be correct over time? Or do umpires call their preferences in such a way that their strike zones adhere to a specific passing grade?

Revisiting Ben Sheets’s 2008
For those interested in Ben Sheets‘s final seaosn in Milwaukee, Adam McCalvy reported on Sheets’s reflections on his elbow injury that rendered the righty ineffective during the Brewers’ 2008 stretch run.

Originally, Sheets’ injury was reported after his September 17 start in Chicago. Sheets reportedly started feeling pain in his elbow as early as his August 26 start against St. Louis, a start that began a crucial 20 IP scoreless stretch for Sheets that spanned three starts. As early as September 2008, the narrative of Sheets’s battle with his elbow suggested a story of a pitcher that worked through pain as much as possible to help his team down the stretch.

McCalvy’s latest article sheds clearer light on the type of pain Sheets worked through. Early accounts of Sheets’s injury in 2008 did not emphasize the elbow tear; Sheets clarified to reporters that he did feel a tear in his elbow during his September 17 outing against the Cubs. In McCalvy’s words:

He ranks among the Brewers’ all-time top 10 in every statistical category, including No. 1 in strikeouts, with 1,206, but fell just short of being beloved because of a string of ill-timed injuries. The most serious was in 2008, when he went 13-7 with a 2.82 ERA through his first 28 starts, his elbow just beginning to give him trouble. He was a pending free agent with two young sons, one just born the year before, and had he shut down then, he would have received a mega-contract in the offseason.

But the Brewers were chasing their first postseason berth in 26 years and Sheets wanted to be part of it, so he kept pitching. He struggled through a Sept. 11 game in Philadelphia, then lasted only two innings in Chicago six days later and felt a tear in the elbow. Ten days after that, made it to the third inning against the Pirates and was done.

Sheets’s latest comment is as blunt as his September 2008 proclamation about his “broke arm”: “Really, I wasn’t bitter or mad or anything. It’s just — that was what the arm said I had. The arm was done. Regardless of what I wanted or the team wanted, there was nothing else in there. There was nothing left to give. The elbow was pretty shot”

McCalvy effectively raises the question of Sheets’s reputation as an injury prone pitcher in Milwaukee, but his reporting suggests that we should revise our understanding of Sheets’s stretch run in 2008. While many fans conveniently note that CC Sabathia risked his free agency money by starting on short rest throughout his historic stretch run, those same fans typically forget that Sheets also put his potential free agency money on the line by working through his elbow injury.

If Sheets had followed any sort of protocol for rest with his elbow in late August of 2008, he might have been able to rehab his elbow without incident and take 168 IP with 140 K / 38 BB / 14 HR, 4 complete games, and a 3.16 ERA into his free agency season. He began his stretch of working through his injury with strong performances, tossing blank frames against the Cardinals, Mets, and Padres. In fact, his Padres complete game shut out followed his early exit against the Mets, where a groin issue masked his ailing elbow.

Sheets continued to work through his elbow pain, and he felt his elbow tear in Chicago. Nevertheless, the club and Sheets worked on his elbow for nine days, and he tried to take the mound once more to help the Brewers’ wild card cause. The fact that Sheets continued to work on a torn flexor tendon seems reckless in hindsight, and his efforts almost certainly cost him a chance to sign a lucrative multi-year contract — afterall, people forget, Sheets would have been one of the very best right-handed starters on the free agency market prior to the 2009 season.

In light of McCalvy’s reporting on this issue, I think Brewers fans need to seriously rethink their appraisal of Sheets’s final months with the Brewers. Not only was Sheets the starting pitcher that largely held the rotation together from April 2008 through the acquisition of Sabathia, but he also gambled with his arm in order to aid the Brewers down the stretch. While we might vividly remember those failed efforts on a bum elbow against the Cubs, we should also remember that he worked several strong outings on that same elbow. While Sabathia gambled with his pending contract on short rest, Sheets gambled with his contract on his elbow, and while Sheets’s tale doesn’t look as heroic as Sabathia’s exceptional performance, he deserves praise for doing everything he could to aid the Brewers.

I suppose some fans won’t feel inclined to revise their feelings on Sheets, but it seems rather clear in hindsight that fans should have never questioned his dedication and toughness.

Strike Zones: TexasLeaguers. Trip Somers, 2009-2012.

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