Given that we’re celebrating Independence Day in the USA, it seems criminal that the Brewers and Reds will play Friday evening at 7:00 PM. The late start time is a fitting commentary on baseball’s evolution from outlaw-immigrant-criminal pasttime to professional-entertainment-billionaire industry. Goodness willing some fielder on the Brewers or Reds will remember what sport they’re playing and tackle a baserunner, or at least grab them by the belt or step on their toes.
Sometimes I wonder, was it the lights that spurred baseball’s professionalism? I previously would have argued that the correlation between increased cable contracts and television rights, alongside the unionization of ballplayers and Jim Bouton’s Ball Four, would have marked the true development of the professional code (Bouton effectively established the line between press/players and “what happens in the clubhouse stays in the clubhouse,” which officially makes the press the sole arbiters of the clubhouse). Yet, perhaps it was a night game nearly 80 years ago in Cincinnati that marked the owners’ dive into absurd profits, and the players’ ascension from amateurs to professionals. Even with these excellent professional entertainers playing for us, it’d be great to have day baseball on the 4th of July.
Brewers (86 G): 388 RS / 354 RA
Reds (84 G): 325 RS / 313 RA
Currently, the Brewers’ offense is carrying the club. Depending on one’s park adjustment, the Brewers have currently scored between 39-to-42 runs more than the average 2014 NL/Miller Park club. By contrast, the Reds are driven by their pitching staff, which is between 25-and-28 runs better than the average 2014 NL/Great American club. This series should be rather interesting, as both clubs’ weaknesses are experiencing difficult stretches — the Brewers just allowed 11 runs in two games in Toronto, while the Reds just scored two runs in three San Diego games. In a strength-versus-strength series, it seems obvious to suggest that both clubs have a chance to show who has the upper-hand: Brewers bats or Reds pitchers? Yet, this series truly gives both teams a chance to iron out their difficulties; should the Reds exploit the recently struggling Brewers pitchers, they will score a boatload of runs. Similarly, if the Brewers’ arms attack the troubled Reds bats, they can right ship in one quick series. Looking away from the obvious battles, this series gives both clubs a good chance to improve struggling areas.
Brewers: Swept at Toronto [2 game series]
Reds: Swept at San Diego
2013 Brewers: 74-88 (640 RS / 687 RA)
2013 Reds: 90-72 (698 RS / 589 RA)
2011-2013 Brewers: 253-233 (2137 RS / 2058 RA)
2011-2013 Reds: 266-220 (2102 RS / 1897 RA)
[REMATCH] Kyle Lohse (2-1, 31 IP, 17 R (14 K / 9 BB / 2 HR), 2 quality starts in last 5 GS) @ Alfredo Simon (3-0, 34.3 IP, 9 R (22 K / 5 BB / 3 HR), 5 quality starts in last 5 GS)
The Brewers will play their first series entirely comprised of rematches since they closed May and opened June against the Cubs. These games reprise one of the Brewers four May losses with an advantage (Kyle Lohse vs. Alfredo Simon), one of their June mismatch wins (Yovani Gallardo vs. Mat Latos), and one of their June mismatch losses (Matt Garza vs. Homer Bailey). Perhaps the most interesting aspect of these particular games is that not one starting pitcher registered a decision. The Reds won on May 4th in the 10th inning, giving decisions to Sam LeCure and Tyler Thornburg. On June 13, Francisco Rodriguez and Jonathan Broxton earned decisions, as the Reds edged out the Brewers 6-5. That slump didn’t last terribly long for Rodriguez, as he earned the save the following evening, closing out Will Smith’s win against J.J. Hoover.
Each of these cases demonstrate that one’s expectations do not always materialize in specific pitching match-ups throughout a 162-game season. Furthermore, even when a team does not have a pitching advantage (as in Garza/Bailey and Gallardo/Latos), employing steady starting pitchers can keep the game close enough to force the bullpens to decide those outings.
Alfredo Simon’s 2014 campaign offers one of the best challenges to Replacement Theory that one could conceive. Theoretically, Simon is a “replacement pitcher,” one who gained a job solely due to early season injury issues faced by Cincinnati. Indeed, the righty worked 99 outings with Cincinnati before the Reds employed him to start in 2014. Certainly, Simon does not fit the definition of either a dependable starting pitcher (2014 is his second 100+ IP season in his career), nor does he fit the definition of a “regular” starting pitcher (his previous 100% GS/G season occurred in 2009, when Simon pitched two games, both starts, for Baltimore). Yet, here we are: only Zack Greinke or Adam Wainwright have as many (or more) wins as Simon; he’s one of only 45 NL starters to work 16 or more starts in 2014; and, finally, among 33 NL SP with 100+ IP, Simon’s ERA is sixth best (with the worst K/9 IP!).
Simon is on pace to work a Top 10 NL season, which is an exceptional story for the 2014 campaign. Although Simon clearly has crossed over into regular-starter territory this year (I, for one, won’t count him as a replacement in my end-of-season rankings), one must ask, if he’s not considered a regular starter, does one include his pitching line to help create a “replacement pitching baseline”? Certainly, if this is the case, Simon’s 100+ innings with an exceptional ERA will unduly impact replacement level stats for 2014. In this way, Simon confounds replacement theory: he is either a completely unexpected regular starter who “stole” his role, or he is a replacement that raises the entire bar for WAR in 2014.
If this isn’t enough to convince you to like Simon, the righty throws an exceptionally slow splitter to batters. Unfortunately, Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco calls it an “eephus,” which continues the misappropriation of the word “eephus” in 2014. This is one of my least favorite terms of 2014: the eephus is a “nothing pitch.” It is a high-flying, exceptionally slow ball. It is NOT a slow curve, which is what Yu Darvish and Vincente Padilla throw. By comparison, THIS is an eephus pitch. The “Folly Floater” is an eephus. While it’s fun to see that pitchers like Darvish, Padilla, and even guys like Randy Wolf or Greinke throw super slow curves, they’re still not eephus pitches, which we should mourn. The slow curve is great, but perhaps MLB’s “all power” game is now entirely too serious to enjoy a pitcher stopping mid-motion and chucking a ball toward the heavens.
[REMATCH] Matt Garza (2-1, 34.3 IP, 18 R (17 K / 8 BB / 1 HR), 3 quality starts in last 5 GS) @ Homer Bailey (2-1, 34.3 IP, 12 R (31 K / 10 BB / 2 HR), 2 quality starts in last 5 GS)
In case you hadn’t noticed, Matt Garza is not striking out terribly many batters, which is unfortunate because he’s also walking more batters in 2014. The culprit is Garza’s set of rising and riding fastballs, which are yielding whiffs at rates that are 1-percentage point and 1.7-percentage point below his career averages. This is particularly troubling because while Garza is maintaining a respectable and consistent level of fastball velocity, both his fastball;s appear to be moving more than his career norm. According to BrooksBaseball, Garza’s secondary fastball truly is approaching the level of a “sinker,” rather than a standard “riding / moving” fastball. If Brewers fans and analysts cite the success of Yovani Gallardo as a reason to favor the Brewers’ apparent pro-sinker movement in 2014, Garza’s performance provides a solid counterargument. Should Garza return to his standard fastball form? (Which begs the question of whether he actually changed anything. But, something is different because his fastballs move differently in 2014).
The first time that Homer Bailey faced the Brewers, things didn’t look so great for the righty, who had allowed 18 runs in his first handful of starts. However, Bailey worked eight solid innings against the Brewers, and has been a much better pitcher from that point forward. In fact, judging Bailey’s May and June against his total season pace, Bailey has already improved by five runs in his last two months. During the Reds’ dominant series at San Francisco, the righty worked his best start of the season, shutting out the San Francisco Giants in a complete game effort. Bailey threw his slider almost as frequently as his primary fastball, and he threw in 24 more off-speed pitches for fun. I know I keep writing about pitchers going off-speed against the Brewers, but if Bailey liked that slider-change-curve circuit on the Bay, he may expand on it against the righty-heavy Brewers.
[REMATCH] Yovani Gallardo (2-1, 32 IP, 11 R (28 K / 6 BB / 0 HR), 4 quality starts in last 5 GS) @ Mat Latos (1-1, 25.7 IP, 7 R thus far in 2014)
Yovani Gallardo is having quite a year, but not a lot went right against the Rockies against Miller Park. Still, on a rotation full of scuffling pitchers, Gallardo has recently served as the glue for his rotationmates. If not for Gallardo’s quality outings, the Brewers bats would need to carry the club even more than their current effort requires. One can hope that as the first half winds down, Gallardo gains his second win to succeed in the second half. While few Brewers fans or analysts would call Gallardo the best pitcher in the Brewers’ rotation, he may claim that title by default if Lohse and Wily Peralta continue to struggle. And if they don’t, the Brewers will once again have a solid top three to navigate the second half.
Does Mat Latos really throw a sinker? The righty’s so-called “sinker” rises nearly as much as his primary fastball, and it hardly breaks in on righties. Really, one might say that Latos simply throws two variations of a rising fastball to batters. Either way, the velocity vultures must love Latos, who is hardly cracking 91 MPH with his fastballs this season. However, the righty has also gone further off-speed with a change/split combo, and he still likes his slider and curve, too. Anyone complaining about Latos’s velocity drop must remember Yovani Gallardo’s trials, and note that Latos is also throwing his slider harder. One wonders if Latos is simply not repeating his mechanics, or if he’s consciously trying to create more range between his set of four off-speed offerings. If the latter is true, Latos could emerge into a completely different pitcher as he ages.
Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC., 2000-2014.
BaseballProspectus. Prospectus Entertainment Ventures, LLC., 1996-2014.
MLB Advanced Media, LP., 2014.
Other sources cited as linked.