Series Preview: Brewers @ Pirates | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

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

If the Brewers and Pirates last faced one another in a battle of NL Central clubs seeking dominance, their next match-up finds both teams searching for the winning path once more. After the Brewers swept the Pirates at Miller Park, Pittsburgh lost on the road to the Reds, capping a difficult road trip. Meanwhile, the Brewers faced their nemesis Cardinals, and the Redbirds generally strolled through Miller Park for a series victory. Again, it’s not that these April games necessarily decide the fate of the division, but the Brewers and Pirates cannot help the fact that 13 of their meetings occur before Flag Day.

Brewers fans will be searching for evidence that the club’s hot streak was legitimate, but the club can continue to find success even as they settle down. Forgetting the nine game winning streak as a whole, the Brewers followed a 6-0 trip to Boston and Philadelphia with a 4-2 homestand against two competitive division foes. If we forget our disappointment that the Cardinals stopped that winning streak, hindsight shows that this was quite a successful homestand (and, in general, I gather that for every six games against the NL Central, Brewers fans will gladly take a 4-2 mark). Anyway, the Brewers’ identity as a club is becoming clear, and the aggressive Milwaukee bats can continue to win in the NL Central.

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Pirates: 57 runs scored, 61 runs allowed
Brewers: 63 runs scored, 40 runs allowed

Which victory would you pick as a crucial component of the Brewers’ record? I ask because, already, the Brewers have outplayed their exceptional run differential with one extra victory. Their 63 RS / 40 RA mark suggests a 10-5 record, which means that the Brewers have stolen a victory early on. Of course, this could simply be a matter for correction over 162, and maybe the Brewers will not keep this victory cushion throughout the season. I simply thought it was interesting that such a dominant start to the season could also include a “stolen” or “unexpected” victory.

Last Series:
Pirates: Series Loss @ Cincinnati
Brewers: Series Loss vs. Cardinals

Previous Seasons:
2013 Pirates: 94-68 (634 RS / 577 RA)
2013 Brewers: 74-88 (640 RS / 687 RA)

2011-2013 Pirates: 245-241 (1895 RS / 1963 RA)
2011-2013 Brewers: 253-233 (2137 RS / 2058 RA)

After the Boston series, in which arguably every match-up was a pitching mismatch against the Brewers, the Brewers “split” mismatches / advantages in the Phillies and Cardinals series, 3-2-1 (Lee, Miller, and Kelly being the mismatch starts against the Brewers. Lynn/Garza was basically neutral). It seems strange, but the Wild Card Pirates find themselves on the short end of three pitching match-ups for this series. This stop in Pittsburgh may be the Brewers most advantageous series thus far, which could be an issue for the Milwaukee Nine. Two of the Brewers’ four losses occurred in starts in which Brewers starters arguably had the advantage (based on previous track record); the Brewers are 4-2 when they have the advantage, 7-1 when their opponent has an advantage, and 0-1 in “neutral” starts.

[REMATCH] Yovani Gallardo (2-0, 18 IP, 2 R in 2014; 180.7 IP, -7 runs prevented in 2013) @ Edinson Volquez (0-0, 14 IP, 3 R in 2014; 170.3 IP, -44 runs prevented in 2013)

The Brewers’ re-emerging staff ace and franchise pitcher Yovani Gallardo finally allowed a run the last time he faced the Pirates. In his face-off against Edinson Volquez at Miller Park, Gallardo threw nearly an equal mark of primary fastballs and sliders: 34 fastballs against 31 sliders. Gallardo basically pocketed his secondary fastball and curve, using 30 total deliveries for those pitches. One wonders whether Gallardo was saving his newfound two-seam fastball for an outing at PNC Park, where the fielding will be much more important than at Miller Park. Whereas Gallardo might not need to rely on his defense as much at Miller Park (since his home park generally favors K, BB, and HR), PNC Park will not be as favorable. Watch for Gallardo to completely overturn this strategy and throw at least 25 sinkers at Pittsburgh.

If Volquez keeps up his current performance in 2014, I’m going to have to stop saying mean “Replacement Theory” things about the RHP. The change-up artist went almost all off-speed in Milwaukee, choosing his curve 31 times and change-of-pace 22 times. This left just 40 deliveries for his 93+ MPH fastballs. Volquez has a completely different script to flip, compared to Gallardo; in this re-match, look for Volquez to revamp his fastball / change combo, to the detriment of his bender.

[REMATCH] Kyle Lohse (2-1, 20.7 IP, 7 R in 2014; 198.7 IP, 16 runs prevented) @ Charlie Morton (0-1, 19 IP, 9 R in 2014; 116 IP, -1 run prevented in 2013)

Wouldn’t it be interesting to know if the MLB Umpiring Supervisors track “Homer Strike Zones”? For instance, Kyle Lohse dominated the Pirates last Sunday, but he also received a total homer strike zone. While both he and Charlie Morton threw 27 pitches that were taken outside of the zone, Lohse had five such pitches called strikes (versus two false strikes for Morton). Both pitchers received strike calls on their borderline pitches (three total), but Morton received two false ball calls on 16 pitches taken in the zone (Lohse received one false ball call on 22 pitches in the zone). Lohse received more “wrong” calls than Morton, but the vast majority of those wrong calls were beneficial to Lohse.

Called Pitches Pitches Outside the Zone (Fake Strikes) Borderline (Calls) Pitches In Zone (Fake Balls)
Morton 27 (2) 1 (1 strike) 16 (2)
Lohse 27 (5) 2 (2 strikes) 22 (1)

Baseball fans know that umpire performances are tracked in some way, shape, or form, but the content of those critiques is often left undefined. This leads me to wonder if (a) the pending home plate umpire for Friday’s game has been informed of the previous homer zone, (b) Vic Carapazza was informed of his home field bias behind the plate, or (c) if umpiring crews receive different types of critiques if their calls are “pro-Home” or “pro-Road” (this enters “Great Strike Zone Conspiracy Territory”). [(d) A conspiracy theorist might argue that umpires are encouraged to call homer zones, and one could prove this if one knew whether Supervisory critiques are evenly distributed to umpires for their home/road discrepancies.]

Matt Garza (0-2, 21 IP, 9 R in 2014; 155.3 IP, 2 runs prevented in 2013) @ Wandy Rodriguez (0-2, 16 IP, 13 R in 2014; 62.7 IP, 0 runs prevented in 2013)

I really dislike the idea of being a “velocity vulture.” Frankly, I think the radar gun ruins a lot of aspects of pitching, since even in the midst of a power-oriented MLB pitching is simply “disrupting timing.” However, the absolute goldmine of data available from pitch f/x does allow us to scrutinize each and every pitch made by any and every pitcher. Over the course of his career, according to BrooksBaseball, Matt Garza’s fastballs typically sat around 94 MPH; that reading remained generally steady even during Garza’s injury shortened campaigns. Over each of three starts in 2014, Garza’s fastball velocity has declined notably; 71 fastballs in his first start averaged better than 94 MPH; 61 fastballs in his second start sat between 93 and 94 MPH; and finally, 68 fastballs in his last start sat between 91 and 93 MPH.

These readings might not be anything other than park anomalies; Miller Park’s readings might have been “hot” in the first series and later corrected (it is worth noting that Yovani Gallardo and Kyle Lohse both had their Miller Park readings decline between their first and third starts). However, it’s still something to look for in Garza’s next start (for, not unlike Gallardo, he sometimes throws his slider harder when his fastball velocity is down, suggesting a mechanical issue rather than some other cause).

Career averages are funny things. Wandy Rodriguez boasts a career ERA of 4.04, and that ERA almost perfectly matches his performance against the Brewers in 27 career games. Over 155.3 innings, Rodriguez is 10-10 against the Milwaukee Nine, with 132 K / 60 BB / 20 HR. For his career against the Brewers, Rodriguez has outplayed his FIP by approximately five runs. Rodriguez has been quite a homer in his career, allowing approximately 32% fewer runs in his home ballparks than on the road. This streak especially extends to PNC Park, where Rodriguez limits opponents to a .244/.295/.360 line. Anyway, it’s a general “stathead” saying that things may even out over a long series of performances, and Rodriguez’s perfectly average career performance against the Brewers bears truth for this saying.

Marco Estrada (1-1, 17.7 IP, 7 R in 2014; 128 IP, 4 runs prevented in 2013) @ Gerrit Cole (2-1, 19 IP, 11 R in 2014; 117.3 IP, 7 runs prevented in 2013)

Due to the luck of the draw, Marco Estrada has been the “ace-slayer” for the Brewers. In his three starts, he has faced Jake Peavy, Cliff Lee, and Shelby Miller. The Brewers’ 2-1 mark in those starts is well-earned (and these mismatches also provide more evidence against the importance / concern about 1-2-3-4-5 ordering during the season).

Thus far, the Brewers’ bullpen has been exceptional, allowing only seven runs in more than 40 innings. However, one specific issue is the timing of those runs allowed. Even in an exceptional bullpen, there is an area for improvement: the bullpen has produced its worst outings while the Brewers trail in close games. Two of those seven runs were allowed in Kyle Lohse’s home debut of the season, expanding the offense’s threshold for victory from four runs scored to six. In his last start, Estrada worked a basic quality start against the Cardinals, but Jim Henderson allowed three runs to blow the game open; again, the Brewers’ offense went from four runs scored for victory to seven runs.

The Brewers lost both of these games, and arguably, they were likely to lose both games anyway: on April 1, the Braves’ probability of winning was 86% when Zach Duke allowed a home run, and on Tuesday the Cardinals had a 93% chance of winning before they blew the game open against Henderson. Overall, if the bullpen limits their implosions to once every two weeks — and, during deficits — the Brewers will arguably be in a good position. However, as performances even out after the hot streak, bullpen improvements during close deficits could help the Brewers scratch back into some games.

With Gerrit Cole’s series closing start, the Brewers will become the young righty’s most common opponent in his nascent career. Aside from the Cubs, Cole has faced no other team more than twice; this will be his fourth start against the Brewers. Oddly enough, Cole’s ERA against the Brewers is worse than his career mark, and the hard-throwing righty only has a 12 K / 5 BB performance in 19.3 IP against our Milwaukee Nine.

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

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