It’s hard to imagine that too many Brewers fans are happy with the 3-4 record through the first seven games of the season. Trevor Hoffman and the starting pitching has struggled, and a 9-5 drubbing from the Cubs yesterday seems to be leaving much of the Milwaukee faithful distressed. However, after two series against the Rockies and the Cardinals – two of the best teams in the National League and one game at the unfriendly confines of Wrigley Field, a 3-4 record is nothing to hang heads in shame over, and certainly won’t prevent the Brewers from making a playoff run.
Let’s take a look at four systems that project team wins and losses – certainly not an exact science, but it should give us an idea of what kind of competition the Brewers have faced so far. These systems are CHONE, PECOTA, CAIRO, and FanGraph’s FAN projections. Taking the average of what these systems project from each team, we can hopefully eliminate some of the noise in the projections. Then, by adjusting for the fact that six of the Brewers games were at home and one was at the road, we can find the overall strength of our opponents so far.
The “Adjusted” row is where I adjust for home or road – typically, home teams have a 4% advantage, so home/road is accounted for by subtracting .04 from the Rockies and Cardinals winning percentages and adding .04 to that of the Cubs. Then, taking average of these adjusted winning percentages (accounting for the fact that the Brewers played the Cubs once and the other two teams three times), we get the total strength of opponents so far, which comes out to .503.
Then we can use a simple formula to figure out the Brewers expected winning percentage:
Win% = .500 + BrewersWin% – OppWin%
We have OppWin% at .503 already, so you can figure out what you would expect the Brewers to have done over these first 7 games based on your opinion of the Brewers talent? Think the Brewers are a .500 team (like these projection systems do, basically)? Then they should’ve had a .497 winning percentage, or won 3.4 of the 7 games. The Brewers only winning 3 of the 7 can then easily be explained by random variation – for example, a home run by a falling down Nick Stavinoha against Trevor Hoffman. For essentially any reasonable evaluation of the Brewers – a 78-84 win true-talent team by most judgements – a 3-4 record through 7 games falls well within expectations.
What does this all mean? Even though we can and should be disappointed that Milwaukee wasn’t able to win the series against St. Louis, a 3-4 record through 7 games means the Brewers are in essentially the same situation they were to start the season. They still have about a 15-20% chance to make the postseason. Most importantly, though, there’s no need to panic. The sky is not falling, and enough things have gone right that we can still hope for a playoff berth.