On Sunday morning, I did something out of the ordinary and slept in. I walked my dogs then double-checked that everything was good to go with my fantasy baseball line-up. That’s when I saw that the Brewers game had started and the Crew was already down 3-0 in the third inning. Living on the West Coast means games are always earlier in the day for me but this one started even soon than I expected. I turned on the game to see the Brewers blow two chances to turn a double play to get out of the bottom of the third. Instead, the Reds took a 4-0 lead. After the first two games of the series in Cincinnati, this seemed par for the course for the Brewers.
Now, there’s nothing I dislike more than watching the Brewers face Bronson Arroyo (aka Saturn Nuts), who is, at best, a league average pitcher, who makes $16M a year, but dominates the Brewers by throwing lollipop pitches at 80 MPH. So when Jean Segura slapped a double to right field to start the fourth inning, I looked up from my computer and started to pay attention. Ryan Braun grounded out to short, keeping Segura at second. Yuniesky Betancourt hit a Texas Leaguer to center, which froze Segura and only allowed him to advance to third. After Martin Maldonado rolled into a double play, I know exactly where this game was going. So, to distract myself for this very slow, and painful, car crash, I scoured Fangraphs and Baseball Reference in search of some promising Brewers’ stats. Unfortunately, a lot of what I found was harder to look at than another dominating performance by Saturn Nuts.
According to Fangraphs’ WAR calculations of position players, the Brewers are the only team that has three players in the top 25 —
- #1 Carlos Gomez at +2.6 WAR
- #4 Jean Segura at +2.1 WAR
- #22 Ryan Braun at +1.5 WAR
Good production from a Brewers’ offense that is not even at full strength. Yet, for as good as the bats have been, the Brewers are only third in the NL Central in runs scored per game –
With the Brewers scoring runs at that rate, they should win more games. This scary stat explains why the Brewers record is five games under .500 –
The struggles of the Brewers’ pitching staff is no secret. If you watched and/or listened to any of the games this weekend, I’m sure you heard how the Brewers’ team ERA is the worst in the National League at 4.70, which is fitting because that is also Yovani Gallardo’s exact ERA.
Meanwhile, instead of getting my hopes up when Jeff Bianchi doubled off Arroyo with two outs in the fifth inning, I dug deeper into the numbers and saw the Brewers’ pitching staff leading the National League in a lot of things they don’t want to be leading the league in. Here are some of those scary stats –
- Most runs allowed – 177
- Most earned runs allowed – 162
- Most home runs allowed – 48
- Highest batting average against – .269
The Brewers also led the NL in hits allowed until the Diamondbacks snuck past them after the Phillies pounded out 15 hits on Sunday. These numbers get even scarier when you consider that the Brewers have only played 35 games this year — only the Mets have played fewer (34). So the Diamondbacks might have given up two more hits, so far this year, but they’ve also played three more games.
Way more interested in seeing what was at the heart of the Brewers’ pitching woes than watching Arroyo get through the sixth inning on 12 pitches, I came across another stat where the Brewers’ pitching staff leads the NL — a .304 BABIP. The NL team average for BABIP is .287. Does that mean the Brewers pitching staff is a bit unlucky, right now, and we’re bound to see a correction? Not necessarily. There are two more stats Brewers’ pitchers lead the NL in and both indicate that opposing teams are hitting them hard.
First, there is line drive rate (LD%). Opposing teams are squaring up the ball and hitting line drives at a rate of 23.7%. That’s over a full point higher than the closest team (Giants at 22.6%) and over three points higher than the NL average (20.5%). Fangraph’s glossary on LD% explains exactly why this is a problem –
“Line drives are death to pitchers, while ground balls are the best for a pitcher. In numerical terms, line drives produce 1.26 runs/out, fly balls produce 0.13 R/O, and ground balls produce only 0.05 R/O.”
Second, the Brewers’ home run to fly ball rate (HR/FB) leads the NL at 14.8%. That’s 1.4% higher than nearest team (Pirates at 13.4%) and 2.4% higher than the second closest team (Reds at 12.4%). I wrote about this earlier in the season when, after eight games, the Brewers’ HR/FB rate was 16.7%. So, instead of giving up one home run out of every six fly balls, Brewers’ pitchers are now giving up one home run out of every seven fly balls. Not nearly as big of a reduction as I had hoped. Last year, the Brewers’ HR/FB rate was 12.1% and league average, in 2013, is 11.1%. Park factors in Milwaukee should keep them above league average but not by this much. In fact, during the last five seasons the Brewers’ HR/FB averages out to 11.2%. The current 14.8% is yet another indicator that this year’s team is consistently getting hit hard.
Part of the reason behind the Brewers’ pitching problems is that, as a team, their fastballs have been getting hammered. Brewers’ pitchers throw fastballs 60.2% of the time, which is 7th most for NL teams and just above the NL average of 58.7%. Yet, according to Fangraphs’ pitch type linear weights, fastballs have cost the Brewers’ –20.4 runs.
How bad it that? No other pitch has hurt any other team in the NL as much as the fastball has hurt the Brewers. The Cubs success with the fastball is second worst in the NL and it’s cost them only –6.2 runs. On the other end of the spectrum, throwing the fastball has helped the Braves’ pitching staff save +18.5 runs to start the season. To frame it another way, every 100 fastballs thrown by Brewers’ pitchers cost them –0.71 runs, by far the worst in the NL.
Shocked by the Brewers’ complete inability to throw a good fastball, I almost didn’t notice the Brewers get two runners on base with two outs in the seventh inning. I applauded Dusty Baker for not believing in Arroyo and pulling him from the game. Then I watched Sam LeCure come in and strike out Jeff Bianchi looking. Not what I wanted to see but, if Arroyo had been the one to do it, I might have thrown my computer at the TV.
After Xavier Paul did his best Jay Bruce impression and buried a Mike Fiers fastball deep in the right field bleachers, I came to terms with the Brewers falling to 15-20 and 7.5 games behind the first place Cardinals. I know it’s only 35 games into the season but something I read on Friday had my gears turning. In his “Ten Stray Thoughts On A Friday” column, Dustin Parkes recommended doing “Something Fun That Will Depress You”. Namely, figuring out what winning percentage your favorite team needs to make the playoffs. Obviously, this is not predictive, at all, and more of an exercise in self-torture. Much like how I was trying to watch the Brewers play but not see Arroyo pitch.
Using his method, if the Cardinals played .500 ball for the rest of the season, they would finish 86-75. To catch them, the Brewers would have to go 71-56 to finish out the season. That’s a .559 winning percentage. Of course, the entire NL Central would be lucky to see the Cardinals only play .500 ball for the rest of the year. Realistically, the Brewers will need closer to 90 wins just to be in the Wild Card conversation. So to get to 90-72, the Brewers have to go 75-52 from here on out. That’s a .591 winning percentage. For a little context, the means the Brewers would have to win ball games at the same rate the San Francisco Giants have been winning so far this year.
After burying myself in some scary Brewers’ stats, I discovered there was one thing that I disliked more than watching Bronson Arroyo pitch. That’s admitting that Arroyo is a good pitcher, at least against the Crew. With his win Sunday, Arroyo has now won more games (14) against the Brewers than any other team.