Pitching Resource: 4 Win Improvement | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

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

After judging the rotational depth in the DoU preview series, there is a general sense that the Brewers’ rotation is much improved for 2014. Matt Garza strengthens the club’s rotation by solidifying their top rotation depth, which in turn eases up the back end of the rotation. Valuable replacement depth can either move to the bullpen, providing more quality there, or take a chance to improve with regular work in the minors. Wily Peralta and Marco Estrada can draw from second half surges and strong secondary stuff to overtake Garza, Kyle Lohse, and Yovani Gallardo. Gallardo himself will look to recapture his solid, dependable form.

But, what does this improvement mean? Let’s sweat the small details.

Exercise #1: Runs Prevented

2013 Brewers IP Runs Prevented
Starting Core (+100 IP) 687.7 IP -8
Replacements (7 total*) 376.7 IP -25
*IP counted from SP and RP roles

In the most simple case, Garza’s innings in the rotation can knock out the worst replacement arms from starting duties. In 2013, seven replacements (and one emergency starter) were required to lift a heavy burden of 46 starts. If Garza maintains his three year average, he could give 152.3 IP to the Brewers rotation. That knocks out Alfredo Figaro, Hiram Burgos, Mike Fiers, and Johnny Hellweg, who worked 156.3 innings while allowing 41 more runs than an average NL / Miller Park pitcher. Even at an average rate, where everything else remains stable from the ’13 club, this significantly improves the Brewers’ rotation:

2014 Brewers IP Runs Prevented
Starting Core (+100 IP) 840 IP -8
Replacements (Top 3) 220.3 16

It may seem strange, but even an “average” Garza could help the Brewers win four more games by shifting around organizational arms to other roles. In this scenario, the Brewers can draw on their very best replacements when the rotation need an extra hand (in 2013, those quality replacements were Tyler Thornburg, Donovan Hand, and Tom Gorzelanny. As Ryan previewed, that picture may look different in 2014). Obviously, I am assuming a lot to think that Lohse, Estrada, Gallardo, and Peralta will all be at the same level in 2014 (or that the best replacements will be as good as Gorzelanny, Hand, and Thornburg). However, this is simply an illustration of how much one extra, dependable arm can improve the 2014 Brewers rotation.

It’s tough to look at that 40 run potential and not get excited about an improved Brewers rotation.

Exercise #2: Counting Starts
It is wonderful to speculate about potential improvements, but even runs prevented estimates are rather abstract. Without an understanding of how those runs are distributed, it is difficult to determine their potency. However, if one sweats the small details and itemizes these pitchers’ starts, one can provide a more concrete account of just how much the Brewers can improve in 2014.

There are several different ways to quantify a pitcher’s starts. GameScore can give a snapshot of a pitcher’s total performance: IP, R, K / BB / HR, etc. However, in this case, I would like to work on basic “runs allowed” scenarios, in order to judge a basic point: will the rotation improve enough to allow the offense to win 4 to 3 ballgames? How frequently will the offense need to score more than 4 runs to win? Will they be able to win when they score 3 runs? How often will the starters allow fewer than 3 runs, but only work 5 innings?

(Side note: the 2013 Brewers were 15-9 when they scored 4 runs, and 6-14 when they scored 3 runs.)

(1) First and foremost, the much-maligned “quality start” is one way to judge starters.
One of the problems with a quality start is its range; a quality start can be 6 IP / 3 R, or it can be 9 IP / 0 R. In the depressed environment of the current National League, a basic quality start is technically below average (4.50 runs average, 6 IP). However, an offense can still have a chance to win if their starting pitcher allows 3 runs.

(2) Next, pitchers can also work excellent, deep quality starts.
One way to differentiate pitchers’ performances is to look at the number of “deep quality starts” they work. It can be helpful to track these types of starts, since a quality start of 7+ IP and <3 R gives the offense a very good chance to win. In fact, if a starter works 7 IP and allows one run, that offense may not even need four runs to win; they could win with two or three runs (depending on the bullpen’s performance).

(3) Not all “short,” 5 IP starts take away a team’s chance of winning.
Sometimes, a pitcher does not work a quality start, but they still don’t allow many runs. It may be rare, but some starters work 5.0, 5.3, or 5.7 innings while allowing 0, 1, or 2 runs. These starts won’t qualify as “quality starts,” but they give the club a chance to win. (For example, Marco Estrada once worked a 5 IP, 0 R start, and the Brewers managed to win 1-0. Receiving four scoreless innings of relief to win 1-0 might be statistically improbable, but it still counts toward the pennant race).

(4) If a pitcher allows four or more runs, their offense will need an above-average performance to win.
Finally, a pitcher can also be judged by the frequency of starts with four-or-more runs allowed. Granted, there is a solid difference between a 7 IP, 4 R start and a 3.3 IP, 8 R start. However, in both cases, the offense needs to score more runs than average to win. It might be easier to win 5-4 than 9-8, but both games require better-than-average offense.

In these four categories, here’s how Garza looks from 2011-2013:

Garza QS 7 IP<3 R 5 IP<3 R >3 R
2011 (31) 19 8 2 10
2012 (18) 10 4 2 5
2013 (24) 11 9 1 11
Note 2012: 3 IP 0 R start
Note 2013: 4 IP 3 R start

Over the last few years, Garza has consistently given his club quality outings, even when he’s not 100% healthy or not at his best. Last year, Garza stumbled compared to previous seasons, but still managed to work deep into the vast majority of his quality starts. This is a crucial way for him to make up for his lack of total quality starts in 2013; what Garza lacked in sheer number of quality outings, he compensated with excellent performances. Consistently working 7 IP while allowing 0, 1, or 2 runs in a start definitely gives the offense a chance to match their pitcher’s performance.

Garza’s middle-of-the-road, but quietly quality performances are a well-suited addition to the Brewers’ rotation core. It is worth noting that the Brewers’ injury issues, and lack of a regular fifth or sixth starter in 2013, hurt the club more than their regular four starters. Even if the regular starters allowed eight more runs than an average squad, they still worked a solid percentage of deep quality starts, and a good portion of quality outings overall.

In fact, the actual rate of quality starts and starts with 3+ runs for the 2013 rotation core is not that different than the 2011 and 2012 Brewers rotations. This may surprise Brewers fans, since the 2011 and 2012 rotations are regarded as much better squads:

2011 Rotation QS 7 IP <3 R 5 IP<3 R >3 R
Gallardo (33) 22 14 - 11
Marcum (33) 20 12 1 10
Wolf (33) 20 11 1 12
Greinke (28) 18 9 1 9
Narveson (28) 12 4 3 11
Estrada (7) 3 2 2 2
95 of 162 QS (59%) 52 7 IP<3 R 8 5 IP<3 R 55 >3 R (34%)
Rotation also worked 4 0-4 IP 0-3 R starts
2012 Rotation QS 7 IP <3 R 5 IP<3 R >3 R
Gallardo (33) 25 12 1 7
Greinke (21) 13 8 - 6
Marcum (21) 12 6 - 7
Fiers (22) 12 7 1 8
Estrada (23) 11 3 1 8
Wolf (24) 8 1 - 13
81 of 144 QS (56%) 37 7 IP<3 R 3 5 IP<3 R 49 >3 R (34%)
Rotation also worked 11 0-4 IP 0-3 R starts
2013 Rotation QS 7 IP<3 R 5 IP<3 R >3 R
Lohse (32) 20 8 2 7
Gallardo (31) 17 6 - 11
Peralta (32) 16 6 2 13
Estrada (21) 12 6 1 11
65 of 116 QS (56%) 26 7 IP<3 R 5 5IP<3 R 42 >3 R (36%)
Rotation also worked 4 0-4 IP 0-3 R starts

In general, notice that the basic rates of quality starts and >3 R games is rather similar between the 2011, 2012, and 2013 core rotations. The great advantages, of course, come from the sheer number of games started by the 2011 core (I included Estrada here, just because he served as a true “6th starter / swingman” from the bullpen. And, of course, he was the only extra starter the 2011 Brewers needed). Having six starters work 162 games is preferable to 11 (2012) and 12 (2013).

However, the 2012 Brewers showed that a rotation that requires 11 starters is not always bad. If those 11 starters need to work 18 starts, that’s quite a different story than 12 starters that need to work 46 starts. The 2012 Brewers rotation was not bad because despite the number of replacements they needed, they had a rather stable core (that worked 89% of the season). Furthermore, even though the 2012 starters did not work as many deep quality starts as the strong 2011 staff, they did manage to pitch into the 7th while allowing less than three runs in 26% of their starts. In 2013, the Brewers’ worked 7 IP with less than three runs allowed in 22% of outings:

Brewers Core Rotation GS QS% 7 IP <3 R% >3 R%
2011 162 59 32 34
2012 144 56 26 34
2013 116 56 22 36

Garza will help the Brewers’ rotation because of his ability to work deep into ballgames when he pitches quality starts. Between 2011 and 2013, Garza worked 7+ IP with less than three runs allowed in nearly 29% of his starts. That makes his 55% quality start rate look even better, as well as his rate of allowing four or more runs in 36% of his starts.

How might one quantify this performance? Here’s how Garza compares to the 2013 Brewers replacements:

Pitcher GS QS% 7 IP <3 R % >3 R %
‘13 Replacements 46 35 9 41
Garza 24* 55 29 36
*average 2011-2013

Obviously, comparing 46 starts to Garza’s ‘11-’13 average of 24 starts shows that Garza must receive some help from Estrada, Gallardo, Peralta, and Lohse to improve the rotation — he cannot make up for the 2013 rotation deficiencies on his own. However, the difference in those 24 starts is significant:

-5 more quality starts in 2014 (than ’13 Brewers replacements)
-5 more DEEP quality starts in 2014 (than ’13 replacements)
-2 fewer starts with four or more runs allowed in 2014 (than ’13 replacements)
-(In addition to the chart above, Garza is likely to work 2 fewer “short starts” of 0-to-4 IP and 0-3 R)

In crude terms, Garza gives the 2014 Brewers approximately seven more chances to win while scoring 4 or fewer runs. Obviously, the Brewers will not score four runs in every game. In some of Garza’s great starts, the offense might also struggle. Garza might also allow five runs on a day that the Brewers score 10. None of this is set in stone. However, by saying that Garza could help lead a significant shift over those 2013 replacements by eliminating the back of the Brewers’ replacement group, that shift gives the Brewers’ offense seven more tries to maximize minimal offensive output.

By one projection, Garza could be worth a 40 run shift within the Brewers’ pitching staff. By another, Garza could give the Brewers seven more games that could be won with four runs scored. By either measure, this gives the Brewers a lot of room to improve in 2014. One ought to note that we don’t need our Brewers to win pretty in 2014. They probably won’t dominate, given their tough division, but as the Pirates have shown over three seasons, a club can stay afloat and compete while maximizing close game victories. With seven more games where the starter allows less than four runs, one only needs to hope that the offense and bullpen come along for the ride.

Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC., 2000-2013.

Preview Series

3/10: Ryan previewed the catcher position

3/11: Curt previewed first base

3/12: Jonathan previewed second base

3/13: Steve previewed third base

3/14: Vineet previewed short stop

3/17: Adam previewed left field

3/18: Alex previewed center field

3/19: Ryan previewed right field

3/20: Jaymes previewed the top of the  rotation

3/21: Nicholas previewed the back of the rotation

3/24: Ryan previewed the rotation depth

3/25: Tim previewed closer

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