The Brewers and Mets were similar clubs in 2013, and now both clubs appear to be surpassing expectations in strange ways in 2014. First and foremost, the Brewers continue to baffle national baseball analysts — yesterday, for instance, MLB Network analysts spoke about the Brewers’ ability to stay in the race, but stumbled over their potential shortcomings in a playoffs series. What seemed more interesting than the arguments they made was their love for Marco Estrada — they continually noted that Estrada was guiding the low rotation, and perhaps giving the club a chance to continue competing with their low rotation. This, of course, was said of a pitcher (Estrada) that the Brewers recently replaced with their best prospect (Jimmy Nelson), and it unveils shadows of bias — or, at the very least, exposes honest blindspots — in the national media’s perception of our Milwaukee Nine. All year, many in the media have exaggerated the Brewers’ flukey season and noted their likely fall to earth; now, suddenly, the club followed a terrible start to July with a 4-2 stretch after the All-Star Break. Meanwhile, the club’s detractors cannot even get the Brewers’ rotation right — the most fitting commentary on the analysts’ expectations of the Brewers is their failure to consider a top prospect replacement move as a part of the Brewers’ playoff picture.
On the other hand, the Mets appear to be following the media’s “true trajectory” that was expected for the Brewers — one of a potentially .500 club that could come within shouting distance of the playoffs. The Mets are riding their balance between solid offense and average pitching to a respectable run differential, but their distribution of those runs in close games pulls down their actual winning percentage. However, after a solid start to July, the Mets are suddenly swimming between six and seven games out of the Wild Card. With a brand new rotation full of their young pitching studs, the Mets provide the “extreme” case of a club that could consider themselves buyers in the new MLB Wild Card era. Just two weeks ago, I dismissed the Mets:
“Ostensibly, there are nine teams within shouting distance of the playoffs (if one includes the Marlins, and I’m including them because I don’t want to look like an idiot if they go on a crazy run and make the playoffs. The Marlins are 5.5 out of the Wild Card, and the Mets are next at 9.5. So, if the Mets go on a crazy run to make the playoffs, well, I guess that’s the boundary I’m willing to gamble on)”
One doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that if the Mets can continue their torrid pace of picking up between two and three games a week, they can make noise in the National League playoff picture. It’s an outlier, sure, one that I laughed at two weeks ago, but in this season of unexpected playoff teams, perhaps it’s the Mets’ time to get hot and confuse the baseball pundits.
Mets (101 G): 397 R / 384 RA
Brewers (102 G): 448 R / 427 RA
Close games in June really hurt New York’s record. Despite scoring 105 runs, and allowing 103, the Mets went 11-17. During what must have been an excruciating month for Mets fans, New York’s Senior Circuit club lost three games on walk-off hits; another six losses were within two runs. The Mets simply could not turn close games into victories.
Although Milwaukee showed a fine ability to win close games against the Reds, before the sweep it appeared the Brewers would suffer a similar fate in July to that of the Mets’ June. One of the most frustrating elements of the recent Brewers slide is the number of close games they were unable to turn into victories:
|Date||Brewers WE%||Inning / Play Result||Score|
|July 2||79%||Bottom 3 / 2 outs (GIDP)||4-1 Brewers|
|July 6||45%||Top 8 / 2 outs (1 RBI 1B)||2-2 Brewers|
|July 7||46%||Bottom 8 / 0 out (2B)||2-3 Brewers|
|July 8||87%||Bottom 1 / 1 out (4 RBI HR)||5-1 Brewers|
|July 9||61%||Bottom 5 / 0 out (BB)||1-1 Brewers|
|July 10||73%||Top 8 / 2 out (GB Out)||1-0 Brewers|
|July 11||87%||Top 6 / 1 out (K)||6-3 Brewers|
|July 20||58%||Top 9 / 1 out (1 RBI 1B)||4-4 Brewers|
Of course, one can argue that it’s unreasonable to expect that the Brewers win every single close game. For obvious reasons, players simply will not be able to capitalize on each and every situation. Yet, the types of leads that the Brewers lost in Toronto and against the Phillies and Cardinals at Miller Park make the tie game losses appear even worse. A trade-off would be desirable, wouldn’t it? “Okay, if you’re not going to convert the tie games or one-run leads, at least win the games when you’re up by 3-or-more runs.” Unfortunately, the symptoms that explain the three-run implosions are the same symptoms that explain the club’s inability to convert close games to victories during that stretch. Everything was going wrong at once — if one aspect of the club was succeeding, two others failed; and so, the Brewers lost eight extremely tough games in July.
Mets: Series Victory @ Seattle
Brewers: Series Sweep vs. Reds
With both New York and Milwaukee coming off of series victories (and a sweep at that, for Milwaukee), their playoff positioning has improved (judging their distance to 90 wins):
|After July 6||After July 23|
|Distance to 90||G||WPCT||WPCT Improvement||Pythag Improvement||G||WPCT||WPCT Improvement||Pythag Improvement||Trend|
|Brewers||73||.521||-5||-1||60||.550||-1||+2||Down 4 G|
|Dodgers||71||.549||-1||-2||59||.576||+2||+2||Down 3 G|
|Giants||74||.554||-||+1||61||.541||-1||-1||Up 1 G|
|Braves||74||.554||-||+3||61||.574||+2||+3||Down 2 G|
|Nationals||75||.560||+1||-2||63||.556||-||-2||Up 1 G|
|Cardinals||73||.589||+4||+4||61||.590||+3||+5||Up 1 G|
|Reds||75||.600||+6||+6||61||.639||+8||+5||Down 2 G|
|Marlins||74||.635||+11||+10||62||.694||+16||+16||Down 5 G|
|Mets||74||.689||+18||+14||61||.689||+13||+11||Up 5 G|
Although Brewers fans’ general mood might suggest a scuffling club, the major competition for the NL Central and Wild Card has not exactly run away with things during the Milwaukee slide. While the Brewers had the easiest path to 90 W after July 6, they are still tied for the best position among NL contenders.
MLB.com and Press Pass Probable Pitchers:
Dillon Gee (64.7 IP, 45 K / 16 BB / 8 HR, 6 runs prevented in 2014) @ Matt Garza (124.7 IP, 94 K / 40 BB / 8 HR, -9 runs prevented in 2014)
Zack Wheeler (114.3 IP, 112 K / 47 BB / 8 HR, -4 runs prevented in 2014) @ Yovani Gallardo (121 IP, 92 K / 34 BB / 15 HR, 1 runs prevented in 2014)
Jon Niese (109.3 IP, 80 K / 30 BB / 9 HR, 4 runs prevented in 2014) @ Wily Peralta (125.7 IP, 94 K /33 BB / 16 HR, -1 runs prevented in 2014)
Jacob deGrom (80.7 IP, 79 K / 29 BB / 5 HR, 7 runs prevented in 2014) @ Jimmy Nelson (1-1, 16 IP, 11 R, 16 K / 6 BB / 1 HR thus far in 2014)
During this series, the Brewers face a gang of young or up-and-coming righties on the Mets. From the first game onward, you will probably notice a very specific trend: while the Brewers righties basically focus on two pitches, all three of the Mets righties will throw three off-speed pitches. While it is true that Matt Garza and Yovani Gallardo throw sliders and curves, and Wily Peralta and Jimmy Nelson throw change ups, not one of these Brewers hurlers evenly distribute their off-speed pitches in the same manner as the Mets righties:
|Pitcher||Primary FB||Secondary FB||Cut FB||Slider||Change||Curve||Other|
For the purposes of this table, a “primary fastball” is either a “rising” or “riding / moving” fastball, and a “secondary fastball” is either a “riding / moving” or “sinking” fastball. This is simply to recognize that not everyone on this list throws either a true rising fastball, or a true sinker. It is understandable that Brooks Baseball simplifies things with a “Four Seam” and “Sinker” dichotomy, but some pitchers simply do not throw true sinkers or four-seam fastballs.
What is most striking about these hurlers is the extent to which the Brewers rely on their fastballs. In every case except Peralta vs. Jonathon Niese, Milwaukee’s starter will throw fastballs more frequently than New York’s arm. It’s not for lack of strategy that the Brewers fail to throw multiple off-speed pitches; rather, one gets the sense that the Brewers simply focus on their strengths: if each pitcher features a slider as their best, most comfortable, or most reliable off-speed pitch, each pitcher should arguably focus on that strength.
Furthermore, one wonders whether the youthful exuberance of Wheeler and deGrom explains their approaches. Remember Yovani Gallardo in 2007? If you saw him today, you’d hardly recognize that righty who selected his curveball more frequently than his slider, threw his fastballs more than 66% of his offerings, and went to his change up 5% of the time. The same can be said for Matt Garza: he threw both his change up and curveball 9% (respectively) during his first campaign, and his slider did not crack 18% of his deliveries. One gets the sense that deGrom and Wheeler are looking for their best pitches, or giving batters several different looks. It will be interesting to see how their arsenals change as their careers develop.
Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC., 2000-2014.
BaseballProspectus. Prospectus Entertainment Ventures, LLC., 1996-2014.
MLB Advanced Media, LP., 2014.