The Brewers just completed their 20th series of the season with a rousing victory over the Pirates at PNC Park. With the chance for a series victory in the balance, the Brewers weathered several late scoring opportunities waged by the Pittsburgh players, ultimately winning 1-0 to steal the road series. It should not be surprising, given the Brewers’ excellent W-L record, but our Milwaukee Nine are 13-6-1 in their 2014 series.
Undoubtedly, Sunday’s 1-0 victory was instantly one of my favorite victories of the season. However, the win marked a strange close to a series marked by two previous blowouts. Once again, the Brewers managed to beat the Pirates in a series without outscoring them — the Brewers were also outscored by the Pirates during their four-game series victory in April. Instantly, that dramatic victory to seize the series made this last series one of my favorite on the year.
This, of course, made me wonder which series were the Brewers’ best in 2014. Certainly, there are several ways to judge a series, and some of those criteria are rather unquantifiable — one cannot necessarily measure the utility of smacking around the previous World Series Champions during their Ring Ceremony series, or of Ryan Braun continuously answering Philly boos with homers, or of Yovani Gallardo executing a monstrous pinch-hit walk-off win.
Naturally, I turned to a much more boring-but-quantifiable criteria: efficiency. Basically, by judging the Brewers RS / RA and their series outcome, one can determine whether the club efficiently used their runs to win. Of course, a 13-16 series victory is ultimately worth as much in the standings as a 17-8 series victory, but a tight 13-16 series victory obviously trades in completely different territories than the dominant 17-8 series.
|Series (Month)||Outcome (4 G series)||RS-RA||Note|
|@ Pittsburgh (April)||W (4)||18-23||BRAWL!|
|@ St. Louis (April)||W||13-16||2 wins in extras|
|@ Pittsburgh (June)||W||15-18||1-0 finale W|
|Vs. Yankees (May)||W||14-14||Walk-Off Finale W|
|Vs. Pirates (May)||W||10-9||Walk-Off Finale W|
|Vs. Cubs (April)||W||10-9|
|Vs. Padres (April)||W||10-7||1-2 Loss in Extras|
|Vs. Orioles (May)||W||21-16||Walk Off W|
|Vs. Pirates (April)||W||11-5||First Home Series W|
|Vs. Cubs (May)||W||20-13||Lohse SHO in finale|
|@ Boston (April)||W||17-8||First Road Sweep|
|@ Miami (May)||W||17-8||First Replacement Start (W)|
|@ Philadelphia (April)||W||25-10||Braun Multi-HR|
Basically, half of the Brewers’ series victories showcase the benefits of a team’s ability to win close games. Since the Brewers are “in” every game, they can win series even when their opponent outscores them. By balancing a couple of close wins against a blowout, it doesn’t really matter if the Brewers’ run differential is negative for a series — they can still claim that series victory. Meanwhile, if you really liked the brawl series at Pittsburgh, it also turns out that that was the Brewers’ most efficient series victory of the year.
|Series (Month)||Outcome (4 game series)||RS-RA||Note|
|@ Reds (May)||L (4)||10-18||2 Bullpen Losses (Henderson & Thornburg)|
|@ Atlanta (May)||L (4)||13-20||Bullpen Loss (Kintzler)|
|Vs. Cardinals (April)||L||6-11|
|@ Cubs (May)||L||6-10|
|Vs. Braves (April)||L||4-6||Opening Day W|
|Vs. Diamondbacks (May)||L||15-13||Bullpen Loss (Kintzler)|
|@/Vs. Twins (June)||T||22-19||Bullpen Loss (Wooten)|
On the other hand, the continuous close games also produce disappointing and frustrating series. The Diamondbacks and Twins series were arguably the Brewers’ least efficient efforts of the season, and they are especially disappointing for their bullpen losses.
Overall, the balance between Milwaukee’s offense and pitching is helping the club to win series in a variety of ways. Ultimately, one must continually assess and appreciate the benefits of a “close-win-club,” too. By continuously staying in ballgames, the Brewers have won nearly two thirds of their season series.
Brewers (64 G): 277 RS / 253 RA
Mets (63 G): 252 RS / 257 RA
This comparison between the Brewers and Mets is a good place to note the effects that various home parks can have on a team’s performance. Although it appears that the Mets’ offense is much worse than Milwaukee’s bats, and that both clubs have similar pitching staffs, the differences between CitiField and Miller Park place these run differentials in different perspective. Thanks to CitiField’s downright oppressive conditions, Mets bats are actually 14 runs better than average — which is almost exactly the same value that the Brewers’ 277 RS mark has in Miller Park. On the other hand, New York pitchers are nearly 16 runs below average, while Milwaukee arms are nine runs better than average (that recent blowout in Pittsburgh really knocked them down a notch). Once again, the Brewers face an opponent with a solid offense in a pitcher’s paradise — it will be interesting to see whether Milwaukee’s pitching issues continue at CitiField.
Brewers: Series Victory @ Pittsburgh
Mets: Swept @ San Francisco
The Mets suddenly looked ready to cause trouble, after they won series against the Pirates and Phillies (a 4-1 performance during a five game set at Philadelphia, no less). The Mets were 28-29, and their 11-2 victory against the Phillies inflated their run differential to 233 RS / 228 RA. New York’s Senior Circuit squad was tied with the Washington Nationals in the standings, and ahead of expected NL Central contenders, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. Unfortunately, they have not won since, losing two consecutive series of close games (including 1-2 and 4-5 losses at the Cubs, and 2-4, 4-5, and 4-6 losses at San Francisco). It is not time to dismiss the Mets, for their offense provides a core that can win games in bunches. The Mets are the type of team that can now make tough decisions about contending in the expanded Wild Card; that they are hanging around with expected contenders should allow us to question the possible surprises from the 2014 pennant race.
2013 Brewers: 74-88 (640 RS / 687 RA)
2013 Mets: 74-88 (619 RS / 684 RA)
2011-2013 Brewers: 253-233 (2137 RS / 2058 RA)
2011-2013 Mets: 225-261 (1987 RS / 2135 RA)
Marco Estrada (3-1, 29.7 IP, 17 R (28 K / 11 BB / 9 HR), 2 quality starts in last 5 GS) @ Daisuke Matsuzaka (1-0, 2 holds, 13.7 IP, 7 R (11 K / 8 BB / 0 HR), 1 quality start in last 5 G)
Brewers bats have supported Estrada rather well this season. After two consecutive starts in the middle of April where Milwaukee’s offense failed to score four runs, the Brewers have scored 44 runs for Estrada in eight starts (including six starts with four or more runs). This is a fortunate turn of events, for Estrada has needed every run of support. The Brewers’ change-up specialist has allowed at least one home run in nine consecutive starts, a stretch that includes five multi-homer games (12 HR total in those games). Of course, Estrada will stick in the rotation because he has a good chance at pitching an average season, and he’s certainly better than the typical low-rotation starter. Perhaps his most frustrating trend is particularly exasperating over these nine homer-happy starts — Estrada boasts an excellent 51 K / 17 BB rate in those starts, and even over his last five tough starts, he’s still 28 K / 11 BB in 29.7 IP. Perhaps that walk rate is creeping a bit high, but Estrada is doubling down on his off-speed pitches, lately; against the Twins, he threw nearly as many curves and change ups as fastballs. Exaggerating that recent trend at CitiField could be just the medicine Estrada needs to end his homer streak.
After his solid 2007 MLB debut, Daisuke Matsuzaka experienced a brief stint on the disabled list during his exceptional 2008 season. This DL stint seemed relatively short compared to his next four years in Boston. Matsuzaka allegedly pitched through an injury during the 2009 World Baseball Classic, and he’s never been quite the same since. While he eventually made 25 starts for the 2010 Red Sox, after his sore arm season in 2009, he never reached the heights of his first two seasons. The Mets acquired Matsuzaka after his stint on the Indians’ farm in 2013, and the veteran righty was four runs below average in 38.7 replacement innings.
While one might expect that Matsuzaka’s stuff would suffer after his injuries, his top velocity has remained relatively consistent. The biggest shifts in Matsuzaka’s approach concern his secondary fastball and curveball. Although his primary fastball remains near his previous velocity level, his riding fastball is nearly 2 MPH slower (and it “sinks” and “rides-in on righties” less, too). With this slower pace, Matsuzaka throws his fastballs and slider much less frequently, while selecting a slower curve in lieu of those offers. With the Mets, Matsuzaka is throwing nearly as many curves as sliders, and his curveball is slower (with more exaggerated break) than his Boston curve. If Matsuzaka can use his riding fastball and curve to reinvent himself, he has a chance to use his Mets experience to extend his career.
Wily Peralta (1-3, 28.7 IP, 15 R (23 K / 12 BB / 4 HR), 2 quality starts in last 5 GS) @ Jacob deGrom (0-2, 31 IP, 11 R (28 K / 15 BB / 5 HR), 4 quality starts in last 5 GS)
Is Wily Peralta throwing too many strikes? Over his last two starts, Peralta has thrown approximately one more primary fastball for a strike, and four more sinkers for strikes, than one would expect (based on his previous 2014 rates). Oddly enough, it is difficult to look at Peralta’s ball-in-play statistics for these fastballs and sinkers and determine that being around the strike zone with his fastball is harming his outcomes. However, Peralta has allowed his first home runs of the season off his slider over his last two starts, which is a complete reversal of his earlier outings. These fastball strikes could indicate that batters simply spitting on his hard pitches, and looking slider.
Peralta has basically abandoned his change up, compared to his previous starts (when he at least selected the pitch a few times per start). Without that change up, everything from Peralta is around the zone between 87 and 97. While Peralta’s slider can usually be nasty enough to survive such a differential, his current slider is elevated more than previous offerings (and breaking away from righties less dramatically). We’re splitting hairs here, with Peralta, but these minute differences can be detected by MLB batters, who can punish pitchers working around the zone with elevated sliders. Peralta’s distrust in his change doesn’t matter when he’s going well, but he could use another look to give batters when he’s struggling to produce with his fastball / slider.
Jacob deGrom snuck into BaseballAmerica’s Mets Top 10 for 2014, but the righty is getting his chance to make an impact at the big league level as the Mets face a series of rotational issues. DeGrom is quite a fireballer, but he favors his change up as his favorite off-speed offering. While a fastball / sinker / change / slider / curve approach might seem “no frills,” deGrom can rush that fastball between 94-95 MPH. If the organizational pitcher can continue to make waves, he might be able to cause trouble when the Mets are evaluating their future rotations with their hyped prospects. Certainly, a track record of success will endear deGrom to the front office, moreso than hype.
Kyle Lohse (3-1, 35.7 IP, 16 R (22 K / 2 BB / 5 HR), 3 quality starts in last 5 GS) @ Jonathon Niese (1-1, 31.7 IP, 14 R (18 K / 11 BB / 2 HR), 4 quality starts in last 5 GS)
I’ve written about this recently, but it bears repeating: this rotational turn could be taken by Matt Garza to close the series in New York. Why would Runnin’ Ron Roenicke do such a thing? Well, first and foremost, he could establish something of a Kyle Lohse / Gallardo top rotation, which stacks his best veterans. Secondly, such a move would allow both Lohse and Gallardo to pitch against the Reds, Diamondbacks, and Nationals in those upcoming series.
However, there is an argument to be made that managers can get “too cute” by attempting to alter their rotational alignment in the middle of the season. First, one can argue that because replacement pitchers are so prevalent in contemporary baseball, a manager will not need to force the issue of changing up his rotation with off-days. Furthermore, one can argue that since Milwaukee features five serviceable-or-better starters, there is no reason to change their work schedules. On any given day, the Brewers can have an even pitching match-up or advantage — this is especially true in recent series. Instead of changing his pitchers’ work routines and days off, one can argue that Roenicke is correctly allowing his rotation to simply go forward and approach each game as it comes.
Jonathon Niese is having the type of season that one would have expected after his 2012 “breakout” campaign. Behind R.A. Dickey, Niese prevented approximately 11 runs in 2012. Unfortunately, the southpaw was one of New York’s injury casualties in 2013, and Niese worked 143 below average innings through his injuries. In the absence of Matt Harvey this season, Niese is claiming the role of veteran ace on the Mets’ upstart-and-journeyman rotation, as the lefty is already seven runs better than his league and park in 2014. One glances at the Mets’ organizational depth and prospects and suspects that the club could have quite a rotation if they stay healthy, which makes Niese’s climb back into quality outings even more important.
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