Series Preview: Meet the Champions | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

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

One of the things I love about the baseball season is its length. Over 162 games, certain parts of the season seem to blur together, and at times, it feels like the games are continuous (or constant). I learned to become a baseball fan this way, as the ballgame would be on the yard radio while doing chores and while cooking out, working and relaxing, around town and at home. It’s quite a wonderful thing — there’s a constant reference point, no matter what you’re doing, regardless of your locale.

Adam effectively captured the feeling that the Brewers finally had a bounce go their way during Sunday’s improbable comeback against the Cardinals, and I had a similar experience on Sunday. My wife and I were visiting our home towns throughout the weekend, finally meeting a couple of friends on Sunday as our last stop before Western Wisconsin. A basic change in location made all the difference — we were in the car when we heard the Brewers break the franchise record for consecutive scoreless innings. I was happy to hear that the Brewers hadn’t been this inept for four decades, because I certainly could not remember experiencing such a consecutive streak; I was concerned my memory was failing. Changing over to a pub, the Brewers almost immediately went on the offensive. Tom Gorzelanny worked into a jam, and then yielded a groundball double play.

Upon explaining my excitement for Jean Segura at shortstop, the young, disciplined contact hitter batted a ball into play, almost on cue. I hollered, “Home Run Ryan Braun” at the TV, and he immediately obliged with an excellent opposite field long ball. And I immediately felt the shift of fortunes, and the wonders of the baseball season; it’s amazing to interact with the game and feel the fortunes change as your chore, your location, your activity shifts. I suppose occurrences like this help to explain why baseball fans are superstitious, but I like to think of these coincidences as evidence of the power of baseball. I felt this power during difficult personal trials offset by the Brewers’ 2008 and 2011 playoff runs, and I felt this power on Sunday, at the very moment it felt like the season was slipping out of reach. It might feel like baseball comes through when you need it most, but really, it’s always there; it’s only your vantage point that changes.

Baseball is constant. The beauty of that constant game is the ability to change locations, change perspective, and change mindset while never losing the ability to refer to that game. Sunday’s game, and my experience of the game, was yet another reminder of the beauty of that constant pastime.

A Perfect Win?
The Brewers win on Sunday was their first victory while scoring four runs. This might seem like a strange piece of trivia, but it’s actually quite an important marker. First, it’s great to know that baseball teams are still allowed to win one-run games without scoring more than the National League’s average R/G. Secondly, although a run differential allows us to form an expectation of the number of games a team might win, it is the distribution of those runs scored and allowed that can impact a team’s record beyond their basic differential between runs scored and allowed. In this regard, it is games with three or four runs scored that can define a club’s season, specifically because an offense is likely to score three or four runs rather frequently, even when that club has a strong batting order.

While it might feel that the Brewers’ replacement roster scratched together four runs in a difficult manner, the most important impact is that the team finally put together a win without surpassing the average number of NL R/G. This Brewers team has the capability (once healthy) to score a lot of runs frequently, but the fate of the ballclub will likely rest, in some percentage, on their ability to scratch out wins with three or four runs scored (for, even the excellent 2012 Brewers offense scored three or four runs in more than 40 games; the 2011 Brewers did so more than 45 times). It’s as though three or four runs is the shifting point between “obvious losses” (0-2 RS) and “obvious wins” (6+ RS). This isn’t to say that teams cannot win when they only score two runs, or cannot lose when they score seven runs, but rather that those types of runs scored outputs have more obvious outcomes. It’s performances in the middle of the pack, from three, to four, to five runs scored that can define a team, and help them to win as many games as possible.

Series Preview: San Francisco Giants @ Milwaukee Brewers
It matters not that the 2013 Giants scored 61 runs against 54 runs allowed thus far; their 3-1 mark in one-run games, and general ability to win even when they don’t score many runs, places them at 9-4 for the season. Yet, we should praise their pitching less than their hitting, or praise their timing more than anything else, since their offensive once again appears to be the driving force of their club. Their offense is already 11 runs above average, which easily erases their pitchers’ generally below average performance thus far (although, in fairness, nearly half of their runs belong to only two pitchers, Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum). Our Milwaukee Nine will have their hands full, facing a batting order that knocks the ball into play in 73% of plate appearances.

April 16: Barry Zito @ Wily Peralta
Zito 2013: 2-0, 14 IP, 0 R, 8 K / 4 BB / 0 HR
Zito 2012: 184.3 IP, 91 R (78 NL/park), -13 runs prevented

Peralta 2013: 0-1, 12 IP, 7 R, 9 K / 5 BB / 1 HR
Peralta 2012: 2-1, 29 IP, 8 R, 23 K / 11 BB / 0 HR

It’s a good thing that the Brewers overcame the Cardinals on Sunday, or else we’d be hyping a high stakes game of chicken between Scoreless Barry Zito and the Brewers’ consecutive scoreless inning streak. No such luck. Thus far, Zito is hammering batters with three separate fastball selections, all slower than 84 MPH, for a total of 65% of his overall offerings.

Peralta’s last outing, a tough-luck no decision on April 9, seemed better than his overall line suggests. The young righty pounded the Cubs with fastballs, selecting his primary and secondary fastballs for 81 of 94 selections.

We should keep track of these sort of match-ups; between Zito and Peralta, we might see (a) two pitchers that select fastballs at least 2/3 of their pitches, and (b) two pitchers with average fastball velocity a full 10 MPH apart.

April 17: Ryan Vogelsong @ Kyle Lohse
Vogelsong 2013: 1-1, 11.3 IP, 10 R, 11 K / 3 BB / 1 HR
Vogelsong 2012: 189.7 IP, 76 R (80 NL/park), 4 runs prevented

Lohse 2013: 0-1, 13 IP, 3 R, 7 K / 0 BB / 1 HR
Lohse 2012: 211 IP, 74 R (98 NL/park), 24 runs prevented

Apparently Vogelsong is attending the “put a little on, take a little off” club in 2013. While the righty is throwing three separate off-speed pitches (which really isn’t that odd), he is selecting them at almost equal rates. Expect Vogelsong to toss his fastball around 89, with a slider (cutter?) at 86, a change at 84, and a — as Bob Uecker would say, “change of pace” — curveball in the mid-70s. (There is a book full off baseball oddities to be written about 1950s-1960s lexicon; one of my personal favorites is that curveballs are called change-ups, a holdover from an era when pitchers probably threw two curves, and took speed off of their faster curveball in order to change the batter’s timing. Such a catch-all term is perfect for broadcasting baseball, and even in the era of precise data about pitching, it’s great to see pitch f/x and GameDay show a “curve” while Ueck calls it a “change.” That’s the type of natural, counterintuitive baseball jargon that we cannot invent, and they certainly don’t teach that at broadcasting school; as sports and journalism become more professionalized, we should hang on to oddities such as Ueck’s “change up” call and cherish them).

Thus far, the Brewers have scored exactly one run for Kyle Lohse. File this under “Circumstances That Make Replacement Value Difficult to Calculate.” There is a theory of Brewers roster construction, one in which management saw injuries taking out some of the bats from the potent Brewers order, which caused ownership to gamble on the Lohse signing. A catch-all replacement theorist might argue that improving the pitching is a way to hedge against a team’s potential offensive shortcomings. This is a great theory, in some regard, when you consider that Lohse’s potential performance (even a bearish projection) is probably 20 runs better than a typical low rotation gang of replacement starters. Conceivably, Lohse is just the kind of guy that could (1) improve the Brewers pitching staff, (2) stabilize the Brewers roster, and (3) offset offensive damages. Of course, this theory requires the Brewers to score some runs. Lohse’s performance, and his run support, must be one of the most frustrating elements of this early 2013 season. No matter how much you calculate contingency plans and potential value, if your team doesn’t score runs for a certain pitcher, or your fielders don’t show up for a certain pitcher, you can throw all that analysis to the dogs.

April 18: Matt Cain @ Yovani Gallardo
Cain 2013: 0-1, 16.7 IP, 11 R, 16 K / 5 BB / 2 HR
Cain 2012: 219.3 IP, 73 R (92 NL/park), 19 runs prevented

Gallardo 2013: 0-1, 16.3 IP, 13 R, 9 K / 3 BB / 2 HR
Gallardo 2012: 204 IP, 86 R (102 NL/park), 16 runs prevented

Matt Cain presents an interesting case study in the importance of velocity. Specifically, the right hander is one of the very best pitchers in the NL over the last five years. Cain not only produces above average seasons, he consistently ranks among the Top 20 pitchers in terms of runs prevented against his league and park. Yet, one might note that his velocity on his fastball consistently dropped over the same time frame. This year, thus far, it’s even lower, although it’s difficult to determine the relevance of early season pitch f/x data (there are typically park corrections or other changes that might occur as the season progresses, so one certainly wouldn’t judge Cain’s velocity by a few starts). Cain arguably compensates for his recent radar gun shortcomings with his slider, which emerged as his most valuable pitch over the last two years.

Cain’s case is instructive, because there are some rumblings in the media over Franchise Starter Yovani Gallardo‘s performance on the gun. Gallardo’s case is particularly intriguing, because where his fastball velocity drops over the last few years, (a) his slider velocity increases, and (b) his slider selections increase. One wonders if Gallardo’s mechanics shifted slightly to enhance his slider, which is now effectively as fast as a cutter (and, Joe Block has called a “cutter” during Gallardo’s starts). Anyway, if you’re concerned about Gallardo’s velocity, consider changing your focus from his fastball to his slider. Our very own Steve and Ryan addressed Gallardo’s mechanics while analyzing Brewers pitchers, noting that the righty has some inefficiencies and inconsistencies in his delivery. This is a different story than Hardball Times’ previous analysis of Gallardo’s mechanics. One might make a case to study Gallardo’s mechanics as his slider selection evolved; there must be some reason his slider increased in velocity, while his fastball decreased in velocity.

Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC. 2000-2013.
MLB Advanced Media, L.P. 2001-2013.
TexasLeaguers. Trip Somers, 2009-2013.


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