Yesterday afternoon’s ballgame felt like a grand tradition — or, it should become a grand tradition. Opening day, first game of the season, crowd buzzing with anticipation, and the Brewers deliver just about everything one would (or would not) like to see. The Brewers overcame a rough start from franchise starter Yovani Gallardo, a couple of baserunning blunders, and a blown save by John Axford to beat the Rockies in 10 innings, 5-4.
Regardless of your expectations of the 2013 Brewers, our Milwaukee Nine played a robust game that touched on at least one part of every offseason narrative. The club was aggressive, indeed, on the basepaths, but they were also notably patient at the plate. Five of the 41 Brewers plate appearances resulted in a walk, and eight strike outs accompanied those walks. The club also flashed some power, including Aramis Ramirez‘s go-ahead, bases clearing double in the eighth inning. As if that wasn’t enough of a display of timely hitting, the club inched toward a winning run in the 10th, loading the bases with a hit batsman and two walks before Jonathan Lucroy plated the winning run on a sacrifice fly.
Chances are we won’t see the Brewers showcase each attribute of their offense in every single game. Yet, Ron Roenicke‘s batters showed their multidimensional, flexible attack throughout the ballgame yesterday. We can draw conclusions from each of these outcomes, noting that, indeed, this is a team that will run into outs, indeed, this is a team that will steal bases, they will hit for extra bases, and they will hit when situations demand. This is the benefit of having a deep, multifaceted batting order — this club can depend on their top batting spots to produce offense on their own (such as Norichika Aoki‘s home run), and their middle order is further solidified by batters beyond the clean-up spot that can deliver (such as Lucroy’s sacrifice fly). This might sound like unnecessary praise, but that’s really not the case — most teams cannot boast five solid, productive bats to open their batting order. The Brewers showed the benefits of having a deep batting order.
On Pace for 97 Wins
I remember reading the Journal Sentinel when I lived in Milwaukee, and finding the Brewers’ projected W-L record based on their current record. Of course, it’s a little ridiculous to say that the team is currently on pace to go 162-0. However, we can use the Brewers’ run differential to show where their current pace would lead. If the Brewers score five runs a game, and average four runs allowed per game, they would produce a notably above average season — 810 RS / 648 RA. Both of these figures would be notable improvements over the 2012 Brewers, although scoring 810 runs for this club is much more realistic than allowed 648 runs (that would mean a pitching staff at least 50 runs, and probably closer to 70-80 runs, better than the National League / Miller Park environment). Anyhow, as you can guess a ballclub that averages a 5-4 outcome would be quite good; this ideal scenario would lead the Brewers to a 97-win pace with their run differential.
This might look like nothing more than playing around with numbers, but this exercise should be helpful for fan expectations. Specifically, a lot of Brewers fans (and members of the media) expect this club to win anywhere between 78 and 82 wins (or so). If we simply look at the club’s run differential, assuming the Brewers’ offense can continue to produce at above average levels, the club would need to have a significantly bad pitching staff (or significantly poor timing with the bullpen and situational hitting) to win 78-82 games while scoring approximately 800 runs.
Of course, perhaps those that feel the club is only poised to win 80 games or so believe that the club is destined for an offensive regression, alongside a questionable pitching staff. In this case, the Brewers’ opening day win should be even more exhilarating — basically, while Corey Hart is injured, every game with five runs scored (or more) is arguably a successful campaign. And of course, every game in which the pitching staff allows fewer than five runs is similarly successful. It’s only one game, but it’s the first game, so it’s amplified — the Brewers showed that they have the tools to produce strong outcomes, even while missing a bat, or failing to receive a great starting pitching performance. In that regard, one wonders how the team will negotiate the terrain between 97 and 78 wins expected.
Yovani Gallardo’s Velocity
Adam McCalvy reported that Gallardo’s velocity might have been missing something in yesterday’s start. McCalvy reported that, even via the standards of Miller Park’s radar gun, Gallardo only topped out at 92 MPH, and did not top 91 MPH after the second inning. Gallardo’s TexasLeaguers chart supports this observation, noting that Gallardo’s primary and secondary fastballs averaged between 90.1 and 90.2 MPH.
Of course, one of the big “don’t's” of reading pitch f/x stats is judging a pitcher’s velocity by one start. Not only can certain parks impact pitch f/x readings (almost nothing is immune from park factors!), but there are numerous mechanical and situational reasons that a pitcher’s velocity could be down for one start.
Nevertheless, one might expand that specific observation into a general inquiry: how hard does Gallardo typically throw in April?
April 2009: 91.1 MPH (92.3 MPH season) (first start: 90.8)
April 2010: 91.5 MPH (92.6 MPH season) (first start: 90.9)
April 2011: 91.7 MPH (92.6 MPH season) (first start: 92.3)
April 2012: 91.4 MPH (91.7 MPH season) (first start: 91.4)
April 2013: 90.1 / 90.2 MPH (???)
Since Gallardo returned from his injury shortened season in 2008, he has consistently thrown slower in his first month of work, compared to his final season velocity. Interestingly enough, his first start velocity does not always correspond to his general trend of throwing “slower” for the first month. I’m not sure how to test or correlate these types of numbers against an average, or test them for error, but we might also note that the distance between Gallardo’s first month velocity and final season velocity consistently shrank between 2009-2012. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but it might be an interesting jumping off point for a more detailed study; it’d be interesting to know how many regular starters have velocity fluctuations like this (my hypothesis would be that velocity shifts are a regular occurrence).
Anyway, none of this matters if Gallardo improves his performance. One could technically look into his 2012 velocity, and raise a number of questions about his performance, but I gather that that type of issue doesn’t land on anyone’s radar when a pitcher allows only 86 runs in 204 innings. Gallardo did have some issues with the home run in 2012, and he also out-performed his fielding independent ratio by approximately 15 runs, so one might point to those areas of concern. Again, this is all moot until we see how Gallardo performs in the coming months; if his velocity remains somewhat lower and he performs well, it’ll be an interesting area to study, whereas if he throws slower and doesn’t perform well, it’ll be a problem. We just can’t know or understand what’s happening based on one start.
Fun With Win Probability
Depending on how you view or define baserunning, here are the Brewers’ notable baserunning plays from yesterday’s game, and their impact on the club’s chances of winning.
2nd: Gomez picked off, caught stealing (-4%)
6th: Weeks out, stretching 1B into 2B (-2%)
8th: Aoki moves 1st to 3rd on Weeks 1B (total play +5%)
8th: Braun scores from 1st on Ramirez 2B (total play +58%)
10th: Weeks steals second (+6%)
The 8th inning plays are difficult to analyze without noting the key baserunning performances. Certainly singles and doubles will be positive batting results in almost any scenario, but Aoki moving 1st to 3rd allowed him to score a certain run on Ryan Braun‘s single; it’s a tougher baserunning play, even for Aoki, to score from 2nd on a single (especially while trailing; perhaps Aoki would be less aggressive in that scenario). Meanwhile, the value of having a top/middle order with speed adds a crucial element to extra base hits, as Braun exhibited on Ramirez’s double. His ability to score from first on Ramirez’s double produced the Brewers’ go ahead run (at that moment).
Strike Zone Conspiracies
Some fans say that they don’t mind when umpires call strange strike zones, so long as they are consistent. In this regard, Wally Bell rather consistently handed low-and-inside strikes to both Jhoulys Chacin and Gallardo, while taking away the high strike.
Chacin (received approx. 82% correct calls):
33 pitches outside the zone, 27/33 called balls (.818)
17 pitches inside the zone, 14/17 called strikes (.824)
2 borderline pitches: 0/2 called strikes
Gallardo (received approx. 81% correct calls):
34 pitches outside the zone, 28/34 called balls (.824)
19 pitches inside the zone, 15/19 called strikes (.789)
2 borderline pitches: 1/2 called strikes
All things considered, wouldn’t it be nice to have the standard strike zone enforced?
Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC. 2000-2013.
MLB Advanced Media, 2001-2013.
TexasLeaguers. Trip Somers, 2009-2013.
Opening Day (AP, Jeffrey Phelps): http://www.heraldonline.com/2013/04/01/4737234/lucroy-lifts-brewers-past-rockies.html
Strike Zones: Trip Somers, 2009-2013.