Series Preview: Cardinals @ Brewers | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

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

It doesn’t feel like it yet, but the Brewers are in the midst of a brutal divisional stretch. Including the series victory against Pittsburgh at Miller Park, the Brewers play 23 of 32 games against their own division (including 10 against the 2013 Wild Card Pirates and six against 2013 Division Champions, St. Louis). If the Pirates series at Miller Park proved that our Milwaukee Nine can keep their streak of hot, opportune play alive within the division, the St. Louis series is a chance for that hot play to address demons of seasons past.

Cardinals: 48 runs scored, 48 runs allowed
Brewers:57 runs scored, 29 runs allowed

Last Series:
Cardinals: Series Victory vs.Cubs
Brewers: Series Sweep vs. Pirates

Previous Performances:
2013 Cardinals: 97-65 (783 RS / 596 RA)
2013 Brewers: 74-88 (640 RS / 687 RA)

2011-2013 Cardinals: 275-211 (2310 RS / 1936 RA)
2011-2013 Brewers: 253-233 (2137 RS / 2058 RA)

One wonders whether the Cardinals / Brewers rivalry is more important to Brewers fans than it is to St. Louis fans. Facing the keepers of the “right way to play” and “traditional standards” of the game, the Brewers are just another Bush League squad to the buttoned-down Redbird faithful. On the other hand, the Brewers were on the receiving end of those Bush League accusations, from bombastic celebrations to wrong-headed confrontations. Even if several of the main players of the heated 2011 rivalry are long gone from these squads, I can’t shake the desire for payback every time the Brewers face the Cardinals. Is this a typical Brewers fan feeling? Are we just proving our own baseball inferiority? It feels like this coming series is one of Milwaukee’s best chances to out-class St. Louis in a long time.

Lance Lynn (2-0, 11 IP, 8 R in 2014; 201.7 IP, -4 runs prevented in 2013) @ Matt Garza (0-1, 14 IP, 5 R in 2014; 155.3 IP, 2 runs prevented in 2013)
Did you notice that six of the Brewers’ victories thus far occurred in games that featured pitching mismatches in favor of the opponent? After losing two games in which Brewers pitchers had the upper hand over the Braves (although, Aaron Harang is a legitimate Brewers bogeyman), the Brewers swept the Red Sox in a series that featured a Boston advantage in arguably every pitching match-up (certainly the first and last). Granted, the first two wins in the Phillies series could count as games that the Brewers should reasonably be expected to win, but we all know that sometimes those games don’t go as they should (see Harang). Yet, the series finale featured a solid victory against the second best pitcher in the entire National League, and the Brewers carried that energy into their match-up against Francisco Liriano in Milwaukee.

Unfavorable Mismatches Brewers SP Opposing SP Outcome
March 31 Gallardo Teheran W
April 4 Estrada Peavy W
April 5 Peralta Buchholz W
April 6 Gallardo Lester W
April 10 Estrada Lee W
April 11 Peralta Liriano W
April 15 Estrada Miller ?
April 16 Kelly Peralta ?

I wonder if there is a type of baseball theory that could explain winning frequently in pitching mismatches. Of course, this type of phenomenon arguably flies in the face of Replacement Theory, which holds that the value of a player can be judged by his production above the base level of a minor league replacement. If this type of theory is true, we should reasonably expect that the better pitchers will win most times (and, I’m guessing over extremely long periods of time, they do).

However, pitching performances also frequently fluctuate. If one tracks pitching rotations over a series of several years, as many as 30% to 40% of teams can be expected to have top, middle, and bottom rotations over that timeframe, even when the personnel is largely the same. Maybe this is such a year for the Milwaukee Brewers; perhaps 2014 is the season where each of their pitchers fluctuate toward the better end of their pitching potential, which turns potential mismatches into even games.

Fluctuation and Dependable Starters

2011-2013 NL Rotation Rankings

Anyway, pairing Lance Lynn and Matt Garza is the definition of an evenly matched start. Both Lynn and Garza have produced moderate / average seasons over the last few years. This type of meeting is a perfect example of a “swing” game in the course of 162 games; much like a game where two aces face one another, either team could win, and there is not necessarily an advantage for either side. The Brewers have been lucky to have few ace-versus-ace match-ups thus far; winning the mismatches has been crucial, and now they need to translate that success to “swing” starts that could go either way.

Shelby Miller (0-2, 11.3 IP, 8 R in 2014; 173.3 IP, 10 runs prevented in 2013) @ Marco Estrada (1-0, 11.7 IP, 4 R in 2014; 128 IP, 4 runs prevented in 2013)

Aside from Adam Wainwright’s return to prominence in 2013, Shelby Miller was the Cardinals’ most important pitcher. The prospect worked an excellent campaign in his first full season, which makes his early woes a head-scratcher. While baseball fans debate the merits of a sophomore slump for the righty, they can chew on his cutter and curve. Miller is throwing both pitches more frequently in 2014, at the expense of his big, primary fastball. That cut fastball comes in slower than his primary fastball, which makes it appear more like a slider (which is always a good debate about a pitcher’s cutter: is it really a slider, a cut fastball, or something in-between? According to Bill James and Rob Neyer, some even called the pitch a “sailing slider-fastball kind of pitch.” Pg. 13).

I used a “specialist” term last Series Preview without explaining it, and that was a mistake on my part. Anyway, Bill James uses this excellent term to describe change-up first pitchers; if a pitcher goes to his change of pace before other pitches, he’s a junk ball pitcher. Now, I think people usually consider slow-fastball pitchers, curveballers, etc., as junkballers — Brian Lawrence, Jamie Moyer, Livan Hernandez, etc. But, if we think of junkball pitchers as pitchers who throw their change ups first, hard-throwers could also potentially be junkballers. Edinson Volquez was a junkballer during his best season in 2008, even though he threw his fastball at 94. He still went to his change of pace more than his primary or secondary fastball. Marco Estrada was also a junkballer during his April 10 start, as he threw his fantastic change up 40 times. At 78-79 MPH, the pitch was a full 10 MPH behind his fastballs, which enters him into Bugs Bunny territory. While Estrada is not entirely escaping the long-ball during his 2014 starts, he is limiting the damage; this “limiting the damage” trend is generally an interesting sign among Brewers starters in 2014, but specifically interesting for Estrada.

Joe Kelly (1-0, 11.3 IP, 2 R in 2014; 124 IP, 12 runs prevented in 2013) @ Wily Peralta (1-0, 12 IP, 7 R in 2014; 183.3 IP, -21 runs prevented in 2013)

This game could have nearly 100 fastballs at or above 95 MPH by the 5th inning alone.

Joe Kelly is my favorite Cardinals pitcher, because (a) he started as a swingman, (b) he throws a mid-90s sinker, and (c) he throws that mid-90s sinker more than 50% of the time. You know what you’re getting, here it is, hit it — and they do, but not for much damage. In fact, in his full career, Kelly has allowed approximately 20 fewer runs than expected via his Fielding Independent Pitching stats.

Peralta is the Brewers’ best match for Kelly, given that his fastball is currently notched above 96 and he’s throwing it so frequently. In fact, according to Brooks Baseball, Peralta threw 46 sinkers and 28 primary fastballs during his last outing (of 100 total pitches). Interestingly enough, Peralta is currently throwing his pitches at nearly the same rate as he did in 2013. I always wonder how closely teams watch that — it’s obvious that teams keep binders full of information on their players, and it’s also obvious that they plan specific game approaches for their pitchers, but it’s not always clear how they implement these plans. Does Ron Roenicke still call pitches from the bench? Is it Rick Kranitz or Jerry Narron? Peralta, Martin Maldonado and Jonathan Lucroy? Or some combination of the above?

BaseballProspectus. Prospectus Entertainment Ventures, LLC., 1996-2014.
Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC., 2000-2013.
Brewers Radio Network. WTMJ 620. WTMJ / Journal Broadcasting Gorup, 2014.
James, Bill and Rob Neyer. The Neyer / James Guide to Pitchers. New York: Fireside, 2004.

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