Series Preview: Brewers @ Braves | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

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

2014:
Brewers (44 G): 169 RS / 159 RA
Braves (42 G): 135 RS / 134 RA

If you follow MLB Network and national news about the Braves, it is well known that the club strikes out a ton, but that the club also is based around the home run. Given this general one-liner about the Braves, I was shocked to actually learn how few runs the Braves scored thus far in 2014. If one wants to complain about the Brewers’ inconsistent offense, it is worth noting that the Brewers have scored three or fewer runs in 20 of 44 games; the Braves have scored three or fewer runs in 24 of 42 games.

What is notable about these performances is that the Braves’ primary offensive weapons have played the bulk of their team’s games. Seven of eight position players have started more than 80% of the club’s games thus far, and the Braves’ top three bench players have between 44 and 48 PA. Compare that with the Brewers, who can claim three regulars that have played in fewer than 80% of the club’s games. One might argue that Mark Reynolds ought not to count in this statistic, since he is a platoon player. But, the Braves cannot claim any grievance approaching the Brewers’ injury woes with Aramis Ramirez and Ryan Braun. Not surprisingly, the Brewers have five bench players with more than 44 PA, including two with 70 or more PA. The Brewers’ five replacements for three regulars shows, once again, that the benefit to keeping players healthy is that one replacement rarely fills in for one injured regular.

While the Brewers have some issues with underperforming, their offensive woes can largely be traced to replacement games. Sure, the Brewers played eight games with Carlos Gomez, Braun, and Ramirez in which they scored three or fewer runs, but the trio has played in nine of 16 games when the Brewers scored five or more runs (and six of nine games with six or more runs scored). Scattered here and there, the Brewers have played some solid games with their replacements, but there is no remedy as good as a healthy Gomez, Braun, and Ramirez. Although it is popular to complain about the Brewers’ offense, it is worth noting that the Brewers have quite a good offense, but we haven’t seen it for even half of the games:

Brewers Batting Order G R Last Occurrence (Result) W-L
w/ Gomez Braun Ramirez 21 G 86 R April 26 (5-3 W) 15-6
w/ Gomez Ramirez 12 G 40 R May 10 (5-4 W) 5-7
w/ Gomez Braun 2 G 8 R May 13 (5-2 W) 2-0
w/ Gomez 4 G 16 R May 11 (6-5 W) 3-1
w/ Braun 4 G 7 R May 18 (2-4 L) 1-3
w/o Gomez Braun Ramirez 1 G 4 R May 16 (4-3 W) 1-0

Meanwhile, the Braves can arguably claim that Dan Uggla, B.J. Upton, Jason Heyward, and even Chris Johnson are underperforming:

Underperforming Braves PA AVG OBP SLG
Uggla 117 .178 .239 .262
B.J. Upton 159 .203 .272 .329
Heyward 181 .215 .309 .316
Johnson 159 .270 .296 .349

It will be interesting to see how the Braves address this group of players during their midseason transactions, as they are paying these players nearing $36 million. One wonders whether their paychecks will urge the Braves to hold off on immediate replacement decisions, which also leads one to wonder how good the Braves will be when these four players begin producing anywhere near their potential.

Last Series:
Brewers: Series Loss @ Chicago Cubs
Braves: Series Loss @ St. Louis

In Chicago, the Brewers and Cubs played three games and scored 16 total runs. The Braves and Cardinals fared slightly better, scoring 23 runs in their three game set. With the Braves and Brewers combining for 15 total runs over six games, one gets the feeling that both offenses are champing for a blowout in Atlanta. Whenever it appears that two clubs are primed for a low-scoring series, I hold my breath and look for three slugfests. That didn’t happen in Chicago, as both the Brewers’ and Cubs’ low-scoring ways stayed true to form. Given that someone has to score runs in Atlanta, it will be interesting to see how the Brewers and Braves pitching staffs handle sets of struggling bats.

Previous Performances:
2013 Brewers: 74-88 (640 RS / 687 RA)
2013 Braves: 96-66 (688 RS / 548 RA)

2011-2013 Brewers: 253-233 (2137 RS / 2058 RA)
2011-2013 Braves: 279-207 RA (2029 RS / 1753 RA)

Wily Peralta (2-2, 34.3 IP, 9 R (26 K / 5 BB / 3 HR), 5 quality starts in last 5 GS) @ Mike Minor (1-2, 17 IP, 8 R in 2014 thus far; 204.7 IP, 16 runs prevented in 2013)

Unfortunately, I mistakenly forgot to write about Marco Estrada for my last preview, due to an inconsistency on the MLB.com schedule website. Fortunately, for this series, I decided to go with the MLB Press Pass for this series, and I get to write about Wily Peralta again. My point about judging Peralta from the previous preview stands for his outing against Mike Minor, who should conceivably be the favorite for this start (based on his 2013 campaign). Yet, Peralta clearly has the upper hand in 2014, and his improvement is due to commanding execution of his pitches in the zone.

Peralta IP R K% BB% HR% BF
2012 29 8 20.4 9.7 0.0 113
2013 through June 16 80 63 12.1 8.6 2.4 373
2013 June 21 and after 103.3 44 19.6 9.6 2.3 429
2014 thus far 52.7 17 18.1 4.6 2.7 216

Since Peralta is not beating himself with walks, his home run rate is not hurting him much. If you’re surprised that Peralta is this good in 2014, you ought to expect him to be able to go even further with his excellent fastball/slider approach.

Mike Minor was just-about-average in his first full season with the Braves in 2012, and the highly regarded southpaw stepped up his performance to build a young 1-2 punch with Julio Teheran last year (really, the Braves had an excellent 1-2-3 punch when considering Kris Medlen, too). Not unlike Travis Wood of the Cubs, Minor will throw primary, secondary, and cut fastball variations between 86-and-92 MPH (in this case, it may be worth saying that Minor effectively throws a slider). In his brief 2014 campaign thus far, Minor is equally favoring his curve and change, but he is throwing both pitches less frequently than in 2013. If his struggles continue, it will be interesting to see how Minor works between his off-speed pitches, or if he continues to hammer batters with his fastballs.

[Rematch] Yovani Gallardo (0-2, 31 IP, 15 R (20 K / 9 BB / 5 HR), 3 quality starts in last 5 GS) @ Julio Teheran (0-2, 33.3 IP, 10 R (33 K / 10 BB / 6 HR), 4 quality starts in last 5 GS)

If you’ve listened to a Brewers broadcast recently, you probably have heard the Brewers Radio Network note that Yovani Gallardo is trying to work more on his curveball in 2014. The righty’s most recent starts in May bear this fact, as Gallardo is shelving some of his sliders in favor of his 80 MPH curve. Of course, Gallardo’s slider still approaches favorite-pitch-territory, as the righty will toss the breaking ball in 1 of every 4 offerings. Interestingly enough, Joe Block referred to his slider as a cutter during a recent start, which shouldn’t be surprising: Gallardo’s 87-to-88 MPH slider is not even 5 MPH slower than his average fastball. Gallardo is throwing both his slider and fastball harder than in 2013.

Julio Teheran is approaching the game like a younger Gallardo this year, using primary and second fastballs for approximately 54% of his offerings and favoring a slider. However, Teheran’s breaking pitches are completely different than Gallardo’s, as the Braves’ young righty throws his slider nearly 10 MPH slower than his fastball. Of course, this means that his curveball is even slower, as 1 in 10 offerings the batters will see Teheran dip below 75 MPH. Against the Brewers on opening day, however, Teheran was all slider — his 30 selections of that pitch beat every other offering, and the Brewers saw 53% of his pitches between 74 and 83 MPH. If Teheran faces a short-handed Brewers order, one can imagine him throwing more fastballs to retire our Milwaukee Nine.

Kyle Lohse (2-0, 32.3 IP, 13 R (20 K / 3 BB / 5 HR), 5 quality starts in last 5 GS) @ Ervin Santana (3-1, 31.7 IP, 13 R (29 K / 8 BB / 1 HR), 3 quality starts in last 5 GS)

Ervin Santana was most similar to Kyle Lohse through age 24, boasting a 988 similarity score. From there, both pitchers’ similarity scores reflect their peripheral statistics quite well: Santana is most similar to Brett Myers through ages 25, 26, and 30. Through ages 28, 29, and 30, Lohse was most similar to Jeff Suppan, but his late career surge has earned him similarity scores consistent with Esteban Loaiza through years 33 and 34. On both pitchers’ lists, one really sees a who’s who of recent RHP over the last 20 years or so. This start is more about one career redemption against another improving RHP. Together, Santana and Lohse provide quiet-but-solid rotation bases.

If there is a poster child for faith in Fielding Independent Pitching statistics, it must be Ervin Santana. Entering the 2012 season, Santana had two consecutive above average, workhorse seasons under his belt. On the last year — two with an option — in Anaheim, one could have been forgiven for suggesting that the RHP contract explosion could benefit Santana’s pocketbook. Unfortunately, Santana struggled in 2012, as he failed to win 10 games and posted an ERA above 5.00 in a supposed-pitcher’s haven. Yet, Santana’s peripherals were not terrible, and the Royals acquired the righty in hopes of solidifying their contending chances with a turnaround campaign. Santana did not disappoint in Kansas City, as his solid HR and BB improvements helped him build on his 2010-2011 success. Now, the righty is expanding those trends to include a strike out explosion in Atlanta, while his homers are also disappearing. If Santana keeps this performance going, not even the threat of losing a draft pick will scare clubs away from the righty.

[Rematch] Matt Garza (2-2, 28 IP, 16 R (27 K / 12 BB / 1 HR), 3 quality starts in last 5 GS) @ Aaron Harang (1-3, 28.7 IP, 19 R (37 K / 5 BB / 2 HR), 3 quality starts in last 5 GS)

For goodness sake, would one of the Brewers’ coaches tell Matt Garza that he’s facing the top of the order to open the fourth inning when he takes the mound against Aaron Harang? The righty once again suffered a tough first inning setback. This time, his fastball was slower in the first inning, which is a complete shift from his previous start against the Yankees. Garza touched 93 MPH a few times in the first, but also opened the game with as many 90 and 91 MPH fastballs. Between the second and fourth innings, Garza frequently worked between 92 and 94 MPH with his fastball, before settling down in the 5th. In the 6th and 7th innings, Garza only hit 93 MPH three times, which completed his fastball arc for the game.

I really need to stop being such a velocity hawk on Garza, but I find the range of his fastball absolutely fascinating. How is it that a pitcher can consistently work with a fastball that has a 5 MPH range? The pitch seems to work in clusters for Garza, who will work in a 90-92 MPH range during some innings, and a 92+ range during other innings. I hesitate to suggest that Garza is throwing two completely different types of fastballs, but it does not seem that a pitcher’s fastball should fluctuate that frequently.

For his career, Aaron Harang throws his fastballs in approximately 65% of his deliveries. So, if you’re like me and you’re wondering where his 2014 success begins, it is worth noting that Harang is selecting his fastballs almost 10% more frequently in 2014 than his career. Each of his secondary pitches is suffering equally at the hands of his fastballs, although Harang still sticks with his slider as his favorite off-speed pitch. One might bet that if Harang is going to increase his slider usage for any team, it’s the Brewers, but the righty is favoring his fastballs so much that working those 89-90 MPH pitches could be his best, and most surprising, course of action.

Resources
BaseballProspectus. Prospectus Entertainment Ventures, LLC., 1996-2014.
Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC., 2000-2013.
Brewers Radio Network. WTMJ 620. WTMJ / Journal Broadcasting Gorup, 2014.
FanGraphs.
MLB Advanced Media, LP. 2014.
TexasLeaguers. Trip Somers, 2009-2014.

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