Are the 2013 Brewers’ pitchers better than the 2012 Brewers hurlers? With less than 20% of the season remaining, the 2013 Brewers starters and relievers are approaching the 2012 staff’s performance. Thus far, the Brewers’ 611 runs allowed are approximately 25 runs below average, whereas the 2012 staff was around 17 runs below the NL and Miller Park when the dust settled last year.
This question interests me for several reasons. First, I believe that by approaching this question, we can accurately balance the importance of a bullpen compared to the importance of a starting rotation. Specifically, even though the 2013 Brewers pitchers are approaching the performance level of 2012, they are doing so for completely different reasons. Whereas the 2012 Brewers boasted a solid rotation and a shaky bullpen, the 2013 Brewers ‘ bullpen lifted their counterparts from the rotation.
One of the ways to compare these staffs is to see how their month-by-month performances unfolded. Remarkably, this year’s pitchers boast three above average months, one month within 7 runs of the league/park, one notably below average month, and, of course, their in-progress September; they could finish with more above average pitching months than the 2012 squad. Noting that the composition on below average clubs can include above average months, I thought it might also be useful to compare and contrast pitching months from the 2008 wildcard season onward.
I also think that these month by month performances might help us to analyze the types of pitching staffs that GM Doug Melvin constructs. Despite his reputation for not being able to develop pitchers, Melvin can indeed build a successful pitching rotation (in the last six years, he did so in 2008, 2011, and 2012). If it weren’t for bullpen issues in a couple of those seasons, the 2008 and 2012 staffs might look even better; certainly, the bullpen dragged down the performance level of the 2012 pitching staff.
One might not suspect it, but the 2012 and 2013 Brewers staffs can arguably be defined by their consistent performances. Specifically, while the month of May was bad enough to impact the entire season’s numbers, the Brewers were within 4% to 7% of the league average in their remaining months, thus far.
|Month||Brewers Runs Allowed||2013 NL / Miller Park|
Similarly, the 2012 club finished the season approximately 17 runs below average, but the majority of those “below average runs” occurred almost immediately in the season:
|2012||Brewers Runs Allowed||2012 NL / Miller Park|
By contrast, the 2011 Brewers made the playoffs thanks to their fully balanced roster. Their pitching was arguably the strongest of the balanced pieces, as the club allowed approximately 55 fewer runs than the 2011 NL/Miller Park. Here we can see the benefits of having a good starting rotation and bullpen; while the club only claims two notably above average months, they managed to limit the damage in their worst month, and hang around average otherwise.
|2011||Brewers Runs Allowed||2011 NL / Miller Park|
The 2011 club exhibited a nearly impossible swing from 2009 and 2010, when the Brewers’ hurlers were approximately 100 runs below the National League / Miller Park in both seasons. A gang of starting pitchers that collectively posted some of the worst seasons in the NL offset any benefits from a solid offense — combining 2009 and 2010, the Brewers offense was at least 120 runs better than the NL/Miller Park.
|2010||Brewers Runs Allowed||2010 NL / Miller Park|
It is worth noting that as bad as the 2010 pitching staff was, it included some above average months that were notably better than months in 2011, 2012, or 2013. What this shows is that a bad pitching staff is not necessarily bad all the time, but that an unbalanced staff is much more likely to perform below average than a balanced staff. This helps to build an argument that, for all their shortcomings, Melvin’s pitching staffs have been more balanced since 2010. It also provides a completely different profile than the 2009 pitching staff, which was above average for two month before falling off the edge of the earth:
|2009||Brewers Runs Allowed||2009 NL / Miller Park|
Of course, this pitching shift was quite shocking after 2008, when the Brewers fielded a pitching staff that was nearly 50 runs better than Miller Park and the NL. Perhaps no Brewers club other than the 2008 squad proves the importance of maintaining a balanced pitching staff. The Brewers staff in 2008 used career performances by Manny Parra and Dave Bush, as well as key swingman roles from Carlos Villanueva and Seth McClung, to accompany Ben Sheets and Jeff Suppan, alongside a touch-and-go bullpen (remember the Eric Gagne Experience?). Nevertheless, the Brewers hung in with their here-and-there pitching staff, enough to make a mideason splash for CC Sabathia. Sabathia’s impact on the club is apparent:
|2008||Brewers Runs Allowed||2008 NL / Miller Park|
Ultimately, between 2008 and 2013, in groupings of 36 months (collecting March/April and September/October), the Brewers boast 18 average or better months, six months between 1 and 7 runs below average (half of those came during 2008), 11 notably below average months (eight of those came during 2009-2010), and one month in progress (September 2013, of course).
STATS: Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC., 2000-2013.