Series Preview: Cubs @ Brewers | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

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

What do we, as citizens, owe our beloved for-profit sports franchises?

With the Chicago Cubs headed to Milwaukee, Milwaukeeans ought to look south to a brutal dogfight between the Cubs, Wrigley Rooftop owners, and the City of Chicago. The Cubs recently upped the ante in their Wrigley renovation battles, foregoing previous agreements to push for their largest plan yet. Each party brings a distinct interest to a potential Wrigley Field expansion, ranging from historic district concerns to revenue production to arguments about previous contractual agreements:

If you thought the Cubs’ rebuilding effort was controversial, their stadium issues easily outpace that controversy (and, by extension, impact the club’s operating revenue and, ostensibly, their ability to buy a competitor). Even though some of the variables are different, however, the Wrigley controversy is instructive to the debate about how Milwaukee will build their arena-at-gunpoint to satisfy the NBA.

In case you missed it, Senator Herb Kohl recently sold the Milwaukee Bucks to billionaire financial types. The sale included a provision that allows the NBA to purchase the team from these new owners if they fail to build a new arena to replace the Bradley Center. In case you really missed it, the sales tax to finance Miller Park was extended beyond its original deadline, and, is purportedly short of revenue. Given the perpetual nature of the stadium tax — and the general law of continuing a tax once it’s in existence — some have suggested extending the Miller Park tax to pay for a new arena (this is not a new idea). Here, the shortcomings or inefficiency of the Miller Park deal directly encounters the issue of financing another arena in Milwaukee.

Of course, there are several differences between the Wrigley Field and Bucks arena situations. The most important difference is that the Cubs’ renovations are purportedly privately financed, while the Milwaukee debate almost categorically precludes a demand for ownership to fund their own arena (why, I haven’t a clue). Yet, the stadium debate enters the public sphere even when completely private enterprises seek to finance renovations or new buildings; the Wrigley fight is instructive in this regard: even if the Bucks privately fund a new arena, it is worth questioning the hold that they deserve over the city to accomplish such a feat.

The reaction of the Ricketts family to City of Chicago restrictions exemplifies the position of sports owners within society, as well as their assumptions about operating. Specifically, sports owners lean on their extremely lucrative, for-profit enterprises in order to justify operating their clubs however they like. Frequently, cities lie down for every desire of these owners, for the assumption about operating a sports franchise is that the club is somehow for the public good. Every debate about building or renovating sports venues exists where owners’ freedom of “private enterprise” and the assumption of “Civic Duties” meet.

The Ricketts’ threat to leave Chicago is a perfect example of how private enterprise trumps any claim for Civic Duty in operating a sports club in the 21st Century. Therefore, citizens must question their own obligation to sports clubs: why do we follow these teams? Why do we love them so? Does our love for their sports clubs justify endless debt arrangements to line the pockets of their owners? In the case of Miller Park, Mark Attanasio’s pouring of money into the club and development of a consistently competitive ball club blinds us to the Miller Park tax arrangement. In the best cases, sports fans consistently show that they will throw aside their own fiscal responsibilities as citizens’ in order to embrace the “Civic Duty” of sports partisanship; when the product on the field is fun to watch, tax problems vanish. Headlines about Division Championships are easier to ingest than headlines about extending the stadium tax; the Cubs’ situation especially demonstrates the difficulty of making public demands during a rebuilding season.

I fully embrace the Cubs leaving Chicago. Go to Schaumburg. Go to Rosemont. If the suburbs want to suddenly incur the costs of subsidizing sports venues, that would be a welcome shift from the prevalent practice in recent decades. Maybe the suburbs will do a better job of ensuring that sports owners pay property taxes or negotiate fair rent and land prices. For the same reason, I absolutely welcome the idea of the Bucks moving to Waukesha or any other suburb that is willing to toss money at the owners. For, one can argue that cities can only become solvent — and remain solvent — while facing difficult fiscal problems by curbing subsidies to private businesses that divert tax resources. As fans and citizens, we ought to ask how owners’ “private enterprise” meets our perception of “Civic Duty” as fans. As citizens, we absolutely ought to weigh our own wallets and our own civic interests against the profits sports owners stand to earn from their franchises.

As a native Milwaukeean, I think that the City of Milwaukee ought to watch the City of Chicago take on the Cubs during their recent renovation plans. Even where one might argue that the Cubs are receiving too many concessions from the City, the City is using their codes and ordinances to impact the renovation plans. There is a line beyond which sports ownership and private enterprise are not worth the potential infringements to the order of city life. We ought to keep this in mind as the Stadium Tax extends and our city is also held hostage by the NBA; while ownership will appeal to “Civic Duty” in their arguments about sports venues, those appeals will justifiably mask their own “private enterprise” and potential gains from such venues. We can stand to benefit from using our own financial motivations — and judging owners by their own motives, rather than the pleasant feel of our Civic Duty to sports — when we judge such civic proposals.

2014:
Cubs (51 G): 194 RS / 205 RA
Brewers (54 G): 220 RS / 203 RA

With their series victory against Baltimore, the Brewers officially doubled their win total from May 2013. Even if our Milwaukee Nine hit a rough stretch during the current month, we can stop holding our breath in the hopes that the Brewers avoid a May 2013 disaster. Thus far, the Brewers have avoided that disaster. This is a crucial element of a baseball season, as well as improving from last season’s club. While it’s great to have 19-8 months in order to improve, it’s also crucial to simply not bottom out. Over the course of a 162 game season, biding time during rough stretches is a perfectly acceptable goal. The Brewers have met this goal in May.

Last Series:
Cubs: Series loss @ San Francisco
Brewers: Series victory vs. Orioles

Entering the Brewers / Cubs series at Wrigley Field, the Cubs were 2-8 in their previous ten games. After beating the Brewers in their three game set, the Cubs have held somewhat steady, going 4-5 since. Overall, including that Brewers series, the Cubs are 6-6 in their last 12, going 38 RS / 42 RA.

Meanwhile, the Brewers bats are adroitly crossing the plate. This offensive explosion could not have come at a better time, for the pitching is also allowing runs at a healthy pace. Since leaving Chicago, the Brewers have produced a 51 RS / 44 RA run differential while going 5-5. Unfortunately, the pitching issues cost the Brewers three one-run losses over this stretch, including 4-5 and 6-7 losses — that is, losses when the bats produced a healthy amount of runs. If you’re suddenly feeling nostalgic, that’s probably because the Brewers’ 38 RS and 4-2 mark over the last six games is somewhat reminiscent of their 42 RS and 6-0 dominating road trip to Boston and Philadelphia.

In fact, our beloved Brewers love facing Eastern Division teams, and they haven’t discriminated against the AL or NL East:

Geography Brewers W-L Brewers RS / RA
East 14-8 111 / 82
Central 15-11 84 / 101
West 3-3 25 / 20

In case you’re wondering about the Central run differential versus W-L record, the Brewers have an 8-2 record against the Pirates despite outscoring them by two runs. Now THAT is efficiency!

This is the first Brewers series all year comprised entirely of rematches. The Brewers and Cubs tied the four games started by these pitchers, although the Cubs have a 14 RS / 11 RA advantage (thanks to their 4-0 victory in the first Jason Hammel / Wily Peralta game). Otherwise, every game has been within two runs.

Previous Performances
2013 Cubs: 66-96 (602 RS / 689 R)
2013 Brewers: 74-88 (640 RS / 687 RA)

2011-2013 Cubs: 198-288 (1869 RS / 2204 RA)
2011-2013 Brewers: 253-233 (2137 RS / 2058 RA)

[REMATCH #2] Travis Wood (4-1, 31.3 IP, 20 R (23 K / 13 BB / 3 HR), 3 quality starts in last 5 GS) @ Marco Estrada (2-1, 29.7 IP, 17 R (29 K / 10 BB / 11 HR), 2 quality starts in last 5 GS)
While the Brewers have had other rematches against other teams, Marco Estrada and Travis Wood provide the first “three time” match-up for the season. If you love slow pitches, this is a most wonderful turn of events for the season. MLB analysts so frequently cover those big-time elite fastballs that it’s easy to forget about Wood and Estrada, and these guys are quite serviceable rotation options — even without cracking 90 MPH.

It is interesting to note that while Estrada changed his approach notably in his second start versus Wood, Wood has pretty much stayed true to shifting between his fastballs.

ESTRADA April 26 May 18
Fastball 1 58 52
Fastball 2 3 2
Change 33 22
Curve 13 23

Estrada absolutely loves his change up, but he selected his curve frequently at Wrigley Field. The next move for Estrada will be to establish his fastball against the Cubs, since he had an issue with his off-speed pitches during his last start. Working his fastball could help get Estrada back on track.

WOOD April 26 May 18
Riding Fastball 32 46
Rising Fastball 36 20
Cutter 26 16
Slider 9 10
Curve 2 9
Change 1 2

I don’t like calling Wood’s secondary fastball a “sinker.” Really, the pitch does not drop like a true sinker, but it absolutely is a moving fastball of some sort. There must be a better name for this type of pitch; I like the idea of a riding fastball, since it gives the image of busting in on same-handed hitters without necessarily serving as a sinker.

[REMATCH] Jason Hammel (1-2, 29.7 IP, 14 R (27 K / 8 BB / 0 HR), 2 quality starts in last 5 GS) @ Wily Peralta (1-3, 32 IP, 7 R (24 K / 9 BB / 2 HR), 4 quality starts in last 5 GS)
In their April 27 meeting at Miller Park, both Wily Peralta and Jason Hammel went all-in on their sliders. These righties selected more than 70 hard breaking pitches, both averaging between 85 and 86 MPH. Hammel selected his slider more than any other pitch, including his primary or secondary fastball. Peralta used his start to begin a strong sinker / slider stretch. Since throwing 42 sinkers and 39 sliders against the Cubs, Peralta has favored both of these pitches. Interestingly enough, Peralta is really pocketing the change up; he’s thrown the pitch 28 times since his Cubs start. While one might clamor for the righty to literally change things up against the Cubs, it would be imprudent to bet against Peralta going to the sinker / slider well for this start.

[REMATCH] Jeff Samardzija (1-1, 34 IP, 9 R (33 K / 8 BB / 1 HR), 3 quality starts in last 5 GS) @ Kyle Lohse (2-0, 34 IP, 13 R (19 K / 2 BB / 5 HR), 4 quality starts in last 5 GS)
On May 16, the Brewers scored four runs early against Jeff Samardzija, and then held on in nail-biter fashion to win 4-3. That was one of my favorite games of the season, especially given the Brewers’ bats ability to drive up Samardzija’s pitch count. Since then, the Cubs’ unlucky righty finally won his first game, which probably does little to change his trade deadline suitors’ interest in his arm. In his first start against the Brewers, Samardzija leaned heavily on his sinker and slider, using those pitches nearly 68% of his offerings. Now, compared to Wood, Samardzija’s sinker looks like a sinker — and, in terms of pitch f/x stats, Samardzija’s sinker breaks 10” in on righties, and drops more than 2” from primary fastball (compared to a spinless pitch at the same velocity).

“Slider” must be the book against the Cubs. At Wrigley Field, Kyle Lohse selected 31 sliders, far more than any other pitch in his arsenal. Along with 19 curves and six changes, those offerings outlined a heavy shift to off-speed pitching by Lohse. In May, Lohse has turned to his slider, curve, and change nearly 60% of the time, which is nearly a 5% increase over his April tendencies. Most notably, between the two months, Lohse swapped his curve and change, as the righty is favoring his curve in recent starts.

Follow Nicholas Zettel @spectivewax on Twitter for sage advice.

Resources
BaseballProspectus. Prospectus Entertainment Ventures, LLC., 1996-2014.
Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC., 2000-2013.
MLB Advanced Media, LP, 2014.
News articles cited as linked.

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