Series Preview: Marlins @ Brewers | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

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

Following this team on a game-by-game level is tough enough during this recent stretch, but diving into a series-by-series picture to write these previews has been absolutely soul-crushing. Luckily, working on these previews will allow Brewers fans and analysts to answer key questions about the club throughout the offseason, and raise other questions about how to build the most successful Brewers club possibly. But we’ll be thankful for that later. Right now, it’s time to writhe and squirm within the horrors of recent Brewers ball.

The Brewers simply stopped. My Dad sent me an email during the Brewers’ losing streak, asking a simple question: is there one stat that explains the Brewers losing streak? I answered, “No;” for, all facets of the club were failing. There was no semblance of average (or better) pitching, batting, or fielding. This was not a streak driven by a poor pitching staff that was failing a high-scoring offense; this was not a streak driven by a failing offense that could not support an excellent pitching staff. In fact, we’ve seen both of those teams already in 2014, from April into May for the great pitchers (carrying the bats), and May into June for the great bats (carrying the arms). When one aspect of the club was struggling, the 2014 Brewers have been quite good, pulling off a 55-45 record. The trouble is these sets of play where the Brewers are almost entirely below average, for the Brewers have had 30 “fully below average” sets of games, against only 10 “fully above average” sets:

Above Average Sets 50 RS / 26 RA 8-2
(1) March 31-April 11 50 RS / 26 RA 8-2
Above Average Pitching 178 RS / 165 RA 27-23
(2) April 12-April 21 35 RS / 38 RA 6-4
(3) April 22-May 2 34 RS / 37 RA 6-4
(5) May 15-May 24 33 RS / 40 RA 4-6
(11) July 22-August 1 39 RS / 23 RA 6-4
(12) August 2-August 12 37 RS / 27 RA 5-5
Above Average Offense 258 RS / 239 RA 28-22
(6) May 25-June 4 62 RS / 44 RA 6-4
(7) June 5-June 15 46 RS / 52 RA 6-4
(8) June 16-June 25 62 RS / 41 RA 7-3
(10) July 8-July 21 44 RS / 58 RA 3-7
(13) August 13-August 24 44 RS / 44 RA 6-4
Below Average Sets 100 RS / 144 RA 9-21
(4) May 3-May 14 40 RS / 43 RA 4-6
(9) June 26- July 7 33 RS / 42 RA 4-6
(14) August 25-September 4 27 RS / 59 RA 1-9

This most recent, dreadful losing streak was terrible because it (obviously) came at the worst possible time in the season. While this might seem trivially true, there is a deeper importance to this losing streak: the Brewers’ inability to play four consecutive sets of .500 (or better) baseball. Follow me throughout the first 140 games of the season:

  • 29-21: The March 31 through May 2 Brewers go 8-2, 7-3 and 6-4 in their first 30 games; they followed that streak with an injury-driven 4-6 stretch that reflected the first roster turmoil of the season. Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez, and Jim Henderson each hit the disabled list within 11 days. Another 4-6 streak followed between May 15 and 24.
  • 26-24: Never fear, as the May 25 through June 25 Brewers were scorching hot, going 6-4, 6-4, and 7-3 during a crucial month of baseball. This was perhaps my favorite Brewers team of the season, for the bats capitalized on facing below average pitching staffs just as their own pitchers were struggling (4.57 RA/G during those 30 games). Unfortunately, the club hit their first skid during a wicked July losing streak capped by a terrible Phillies series. The Brewers promptly went 4-6 and 3-7.
  • 18-22: After the All-Star Break, the Brewers showed life again, this time with a great pitching staff carrying a struggling offense. The Brewers managed 6-4, 5-5, and 6-4 series before entering their worst losing stretch of the season (the recent 1-9 stretch to close August).

This 18-22 stretch is the most important of the season, for the Brewers once again showed that they couldn’t follow a hot streak with a basic 5-5 series, or even a 6-4 stretch of games. No one was asking the Brewers to follow their July-and-August 17-13 hot streak with another 7-3 or 8-2 series; while it would have been ideal for the Brewers to play their best baseball going into September, even a moderate 5-5 record would keep the Brewers afloat in the division.

Perhaps the most puzzling aspect of the Brewers’ inability to play 5-5 baseball after a 17-13 streak is that their roster is deep, and better-than-average in most ways. The pitching is not spectacular, but it is good enough to keep the team in just about any ballgame (although this trait fully disappeared during the recent losing stretch). The bats have served as one of the National League’s highest scoring offenses until relatively recently. The bullpen’s changes throughout the season are significant, as the righteous relievers that helped turn a 69 RS / 75 RA April sequence into a 12-8 record are nowhere to be found on the current roster. The fielders have been among the most efficient in the NL, until recently. This was a club that succeeded in every aspect of the game, maybe not to an exceptional level, but a level that was good enough to not deter the team. All those benefits are gone.

2014:
Marlins (141 G): 580 RS / 596 RA
Brewers (143 G): 597 RS / 601 RA

One of the important aspects of baseball analysis is that one can question whether a team’s performance is “true,” or whether they received undue luck in their results. During the Brewers 3-14 stretch, the team went 52 RS / 105 RA. In case you were wondering if the Brewers were simply experiencing bad luck. The worst part about this stretch was Sunday’s stinker against the Cardinals; if you felt that the series was close, well, it was: the Brewers outscored the Cardinals 11 RS / 10 RA during the first three games. The thumping on Sunday is particularly tough because it seemed that the Brewers were playing better and throwing aside the ways of their bad streak.

PRESENTED WITHOUT COMMENT

After August 21 PACE 162 G RS / RA Average
NL East 93-69 (Nationals) 96-66 (Nationals) 94
NL Central 91-71 (Brewers) 87-75 (Brewers) 89
NL West 90-72 (Dodgers) 89-73 (Dodgers) 89.5
Wild Card Home 89-73 (Cardinals) 86-76 (Giants) 87.5
Wild Card Road 86-76 (Giants) 83-79 (Tie–Atl & Cin) 84.5
Spot #6 84-78 (Braves) 83-79 (Tie–Atl & Cin) 83.5
Spot #7 83-79 (Pirates) 81-81 (Cardinals) 82
Spot #8 81-81 (Marlins) 80-82 (Pirates) 80.5
Spot #9 78-84 (Reds) 79-83 (Padres) 78.5
Spot #10 76-86 (Padres) 77-85 (Marlins) 76.5
After September 7 PACE 162 G RS/RA Average
NL East 92-70 (Nationals) 95-67 (Nationals) 94
NL West 92-70 (Dodgers) 90-72 (Giants) 91
NL Central 89-77 (Cardinals) 82-80 (Cardinals) 85.5
Wild Card Home 88-74 (Giants) 90-72 (Dodgers) 89
Wild Card Road 84-78 (Pirates) 83-79 (Pirates) 83.5
Spot #6 84-78 (Braves) 82-80 (Braves) 83
Spot #7 84-78 (Brewers) 80-82 (Brewers) 82
Spot #8 79-83 (Marlins) 80-82 (Mets) 79.5
Spot #9 77-85 (Mets) 79-83 (Marlins) 78
Spot #10 76-86 (Reds) 79-83 (Reds) 77.5

Last Series:
Marlins: Series Victory vs. Braves
Brewers: Series Loss vs. Cardinals [four game series]

Brad Penny (1-1, 16.3 IP, 13 R (9 K / 10 BB / 1 HR), 0 quality starts in 5 G thus far in 2014) @ Yovani Gallardo (2-2, 31 IP, 15 R (17 K / 9 BB / 2 HR), 3 quality starts in last 5 GS)

Brad Penny is still dealing in 2014. Thus far, the results have not matched his career-opening performance in Florida, but no one would mistake these Marlins for the ‘03 Marlins, either (yet, anyway). It’s just plain fun to see a team tap into one of its previous heroes to cobble together a stretch run — 11 years ago, Penny went undefeated in two World Series starts against the Yankees. Now, Penny is going to throw more splitters and curveballs than he did in his younger days, even though his fastballs still rush up between 91 and 93 MPH. Everything moves from Penny — even his harder “primary fastball” busts in on righties, and his sinker still has some armside run. Penny may be a replacement starter now, but it’s a good time to remember that this righty once worked nine consecutive 100+ IP campaigns to open his career.

Will Yovani Gallardo be the best MLB pitcher that was born in Mexico? Obviously, Gallardo does not have the national star-power and rookie explosion that Fernando Valenzuela can boast. In that regard, one can say that no one will ever match Valenzuela in the MLB. Yet, of MLB pitchers from Mexico with more than 1,000 innings, Teddy Higuera has the next best ERA (3.61) to Valenzuela (3.54), and Higuera didn’t pitch at Chavez Ravine (117 ERA+ to 104 ERA+, in favor of Higuera). Coming up on Higuera’s ERA is Yovani Gallardo, who is at 3.68 for his career (109 ERA+).

Pitcher W-L (%) IP ERA+ K / BB / HR
Valenzuela 173-153 (.531) 2930.0 104 2074 K / 1151 BB / 226 HR
Higuera 94-64 (.595) 1380.0 117 1081 K / 431 BB / 131 HR
Gallardo 89-61 (.593) 1267.7 109 1206 K / 468 BB / 132 HR

Now that Gallardo is posting some franchise records thanks to his time in Milwaukee, I thought it would be worth posing this question about pitchers born in Mexico.

Categories Gallardo’s Brewers Rank
W 5th
WPCT 2nd
ERA 3rd
K 1st
K/BB 3rd
IP 7th
bWAR 15th

Gallardo needs fewer than 120 IP to catch Higuera, and one wonders whether he can use his career resurgence in 2014 to produce more solid seasons in his future. The 2015-onward Gallardo looks more promising with his moving fastball / slider combination than his future looked a year ago. So, I ask, with a few more seasons, can Gallardo catch Valenzuela, in terms of quality innings? Can Gallardo catch Higuera in terms of value?

Tom Koehler (2-0, 31 IP, 12 R (32 K / 11 BB / 4 HR), 4 quality starts in last 5 GS) @ Matt Garza (0-1, 3 IP, 6 R (3 K / 1 BB / 1 HR) in return from DL)

Believe it or not, but the 2013 Marlins only had one 100+ IP starter that was below average. Tom Koehler was that pitcher, at six runs below average for the season. Now, Koehler hovers around-or-above average for the 2014 Marlins, serving as a crucial, consistent turn in their rotation. One of the most interesting elements of Koehler’s current season is his strike out rate, which has jumped significantly from 2013. Koehler has already struck out 28 more batters than one would expect (given last year’s rate), but none of his pitches feature shockingly different whiff rates. Instead, BrooksBaseball hints that Koehler is throwing his pitches more strikes more frequently, and he’s also getting more foul balls from those pitches. As a result, batters are failing to get the ball into play more frequently, and therefore the accumulation of extra fouls, extra strikes, and those whiffs is earning Koehler more strike outs. Although Koehler favors his curve to his slider in 2014, one might expect him to reverse his preference against curve-friendly Brewers bats.

The “Big Inning” will be Garza’s narrative for his 2014 season, and he could not escape that troubled inning in his return to the rotation at Wrigley. The veteran righty was attempting to limit the damage at 2-1 when he ran into Cubs rookie sensation Jorge Soler, who promptly opened the scoring gates for the Cubs. The bottom of the Cubs’ batting order continued to squeeze runs out of Garza, and when the dust settled, the Brewers faced a five-run deficit when they took their turn in the fourth. Garza absolutely loves his fastball — he threw his hardest pitches for at least 3 of 4 deliveries, which allowed the Cubs (and perhaps Garza) to basically forget about his off-speed offerings. One wonders if a correction will be in order against the Marlins, or if Garza will double down on his fastballs to retire Fish batters.

Jarred Cosart (4-0, 35.3 IP, 5 R (20 K / 6 BB / 1 HR), 5 quality starts in last 5 GS) @ Wily Peralta (1-4, 26.3 IP, 20 R (21 K / 12 BB / 4 HR), 3 quality starts in last 5 GS)

Sometimes, there are interesting little “nothing” stats in a pitcher’s line. Specifically, Cosart is currently pitching out of his mind, but he’s also allowed line drives on 29% of his plate appearances in his last five starts. By keeping the ball in the park, and limiting his walks, those line drives don’t seem to hurt Cosart very much — he’s allowed as many runs as games started since heading to Miami from Houston. If Penny is the feel-good acquisition for the Marlins rotation, Cosart is the bread-and-butter, a crucial replacement link during their chase for the Wild Card.

Since the Brewers bats dried up recently, Wily Peralta just is not the same. Through his first 23 starts, Brewers bats average 4.65 RS/G for the organizational righty, and the relievers average 1.00 RA/G for Peralta. Not only have the relievers allowed 11 runs during Peralta’s last five starts, but the bats have scored only 13 runs. Not even Jarred Cosart could average a .500 record with that type of support, and Peralta certainly did not earn any favors by allowing 20 runs. With a run differential of 13 RS / 31 RA during Peralta’s last five, it is wondrous that the Brewers managed one win.

Nathan Eovaldi (0-4, 27.3 IP, 19 R (25 K / 5 BB / 1 HR), 1 quality start in last 5 GS) @ Mike Fiers (4-1, 33.7 IP, 8 R (41 K / 6 BB / 2 HR), 5 quality starts in last 5 GS)

Call up the FIP Vultures: Nathan Eovaldi has apparently allowed approximately 20 more runs than one would expect given his K / BB / HR. One can point to Eovaldi’s BABIP (.322) as one area where the Marlins have failed the young righty, and he alone claims 16% of the club’s runners reached on error. Yet, Eovaldi is also allowing line drives at quite an impressive rate compared to his fellow Marlins hurlers.

Recently, I wrote that Tyson Ross would be a good fit for the Brewers in a trade, given his delivery and preference for his slider. Eovaldi looks like another potential Brewers hurler with his love of the slider (25% of 2014 deliveries), although his delivery is much closer to three-quarters than over-the-top. If I had to guess, I’d be willing to bet that Eovaldi would be quite low on Doug Melvin’s “Pitchers List” for that reason.

Fastballer Mike Fiers continued his reinvention against the Cardinals, beating the John Lackey in his latest battle of replacement starters. In September, Fiers has continued a performance that leads one to believe his primary fastball / cutter combo is now a clear fastball / slider set. While Fiers’s fastball is averaging better than 91 MPH, his cutter remains around 87-88 MPH. It is a completely different pitch than his 2012 offering, however, for it breaks less than his classic 2012 cutter. In fact, his current cutter not only breaks away from righties less harshly, it also does not drop down as much. So, this evidence seems to favor “cutter” over “slider,” in contrast to the velocity differential. Perhaps Fiers is throwing an extremely tight breaking pitch. Whatever he is throwing is working, as his fastballs are breaking more (in general), his cutter/slider experiences more distance from his primary fastball velocity, and his curve and change add yet another layer of off-speed offerings.

Resources
Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC., 2000-2014.
BaseballProspectus. Prospectus Entertainment Ventures, 1996-2014.
MLB Advanced Media, LP., 2014.
TexasLeaguers. Trip Somers, 2009-2014.

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