Following the brawl at PNC Park, the Pirates bottomed-out, losing eight of 10 contests when the dust settled (including the remainder / outcome of the brawl game). After bottoming out in rain-soaked Baltimore, the Pirates regrouped to win three consecutive series by reclaiming some of that close-game magic from 2013. The Pirates scored 47 runs over their last three series, and they are 6-3 despite allowing 46 runs over those series (thanks to four one-run victories). Given that the Pirates were able to turn close games into a playoff appearance in 2013, the NL Central ought to hold their breath as Pittsburgh climbs back into the race despite an ugly run differential.
Pirates (37 G): 149 runs scored, 161 runs allowed
Brewers (38 G): 153 runs scored, 140 runs allowed
The Brewers bats came alive against the Yankees, or, alive-enough to win a couple of close games against the Bronx Bombers. Our Milwaukee Nine especially received timely performances from Rickie Weeks, once again potentially raising the issue of when the second baseman should start. Cheers to a potential Weeks hotstreak, and here’s hoping that Ron Roenicke places Weeks in the order until he stays off base.
Pirates: Series Victory vs. Cardinals
Brewers: Series Victory vs. Yankees
2013 Pirates: 94-68 (634 RS / 577 RA)
2013 Brewers: 74-88 (640 RS / 687 RA)
2011-2013 Pirates: 245-241 (1895 RS / 1963 RA)
2011-2013 Brewers: 253-233 (2137 RS / 2058 RA)
If the schedule for this series remains in place, the Brewers and Pirates will have had only six pitching match-ups in ten games:
(1) Charlie Morton vs. Kyle Lohse
(2) Edinson Volquez vs. Yovani Gallardo
(3) Francisco Liriano vs. Wily Peralta
(4) Gerrit Cole vs. Marco Estrada
(5) Wandy Rodriguez vs. Matt Garza
(6) Wandy Rodriguez vs. Yovani Gallardo
[REMATCH] Gerrit Cole (1-2, 34 IP, 14 R (26 K / 9 BB / 5 HR), 3 quality starts in last 5 GS) @ Marco Estrada (1-1, 31.7 IP, 14 R (26 K / 7 BB / 7 HR), 4 quality starts in last 5 GS)
I know there are good, logical arguments that Gerrit Cole did not deserve to be suspended for his actions in the Brewers/Pirates brawl in Pittsburgh, but the young pitcher is still a punk for starting the fight and failing to jump in to assist his teammates. Everyone seems so quick to call Gomez “hot-headed,” “nutty,” or even worse. Yet, Gomez at least fights his own fights; with all the talk of “codes” lately, where is the love for that code? I will forever remember Gomez as the guy who stands up and fights his fights; I will forever remember Cole standing off to the side, watching his teammates fight his fight.
What is Cole? He turns 24 during this coming pennant race, and he cannot even boast 30 starts to his name. How is a 23-year old with 26 starts under his belt a relevant spokesperson on how the game should be played? As opposed to a veteran like Gomez? Gomez may be a “hot-head,” if you’re a Gomez detractor, but he’s at least paid his dues in the league. Gomez has played a passionate, showy brand of baseball in the big leagues longer than Cole has even been a professional farmhand or big league ace-in-training.
We’re firmly entrenched in an era of professionalization, and Cole’s ability to mouth-off, start a fight, not back up his words with actions, and not get suspended, is an outgrowth of that culture of “professional behavior.” This era in baseball has arguably grown with the MLBPA’s labor movement, which is not an argument against unionization in baseball — the players of the 1960s and 1970s definitely needed improved working conditions, reserve rights reform, and improved compensation for an increasingly profitable industry. Over the course of a generation, of course, labor gains can be turned into a status quo, and baseball is no exception. The necessary labor gains of the 1970s are taken for granted by younger players. As the game becomes more lucrative, players work harder throughout their life, begin traveling ball earlier, and receive professional-grade coaching advice earlier in their lives. This is the new way the game is played; the code is carried by teenagers in training for the bigs.
At Miller Park on Friday, the BaseballProspectus group addressed some of the issues facing these younger, traveling, one-sport specialists in America; the days of multi-sport stars may be dwindling as younger kids prepare for the pros, and there are consequences for these practices. Another outgrowth of this professional era is early injuries and specialist surgeries — would any kid in the 1970s and 1980s elect Tommy John surgery as youngsters do today? With these types of professional concerns heaped on youngsters, of course, they also have the chance to work on “professional demeanor” earlier in their lives, too.
A young, professional demeanor leads to the problem with Gerrit Cole: the MLB will allow Cole to prance and storm around the mound, moaning and groaning and yelling and cussing about the “right way to play the game” because he’s the face of young baseball. He’s living the dream — drafted as a star, jumping to the majors quickly, inserted directly into a pennant race, and of course, every bit as good as advertised. No wonder the kid doesn’t fight his own fights — he doesn’t need to. He has an infrastructure of professional privilege in place of his spine. This is baseball to come, too: MLB analysts, professional journalists, professional owners, etc., love this “right way to play” garbage, which apparently allows one to be polished enough to issue a PR-friendly apology after the brawl without applying that comportment to the field.
This new code is fake. In earlier eras of baseball, the “code” was arguably a matter of actual pride, enacted by guys who were actually fighting for their living because they might have to drive a truck in the offseason or work on a car lot if they were cut (without guaranteed money). Amateur owners would tolerate this, of course, because even those wealthy enough to own teams might wind up being eccentric local businessmen or straight-up hustlers. Amateurism is the baseball code worth fighting for, and this is what Gerrit Cole gets wrong in attacking Carlos Gomez: Cole is a lifetime professional, an entertainer, with absolutely no claim to a legitimate baseball code. Carlos Gomez got the code right — when someone challenges your actions on the field, you fight.
Unfortunately, MLB sent a loud-and-clear message to their growing classes of privileged professionals: it doesn’t matter how many games you’ve played, it doesn’t matter how you actually comport yourself on the field, you can still go around moaning about “the right way to play.” Perhaps the most unfortunate part about all of this is that I actually liked Cole last year; it was exciting to see him succeed. Fortunately, though, he showed his true colors early in his career, and we can add another stat to his record: 1.0 Fight Started that he Didn’t Finish.
Oh, Estrada and that long ball. You read that right: the Brewers’ change up specialist has allowed seven home runs in his last five starts. Of course, thanks to his ability to limit the damage, Estrada still managed to work four quality starts in those five games. In May, thus far, Estrada is throwing his 88-to-90 MPH fastball, as well as his slow curve, more frequently than usual, which takes away from his bigtime change. I still think back to Estrada’s start in Boston as an indication of the ceiling for his change up, which makes him one of the most simultaneously exciting-and-frustrating players on the Brewers’ roster. Even if we just take Estrada as he is, however, the Brewers are in very good shape in the middle of their rotation.
If both Estrada and Cole continue their current home run rates, fans will see at least two home runs by the end of the sixth inning.
[REMATCH] Francisco Liriano (0-1, 24.7 IP, 16 R (21 K / 14 BB / 2 HR), 1 quality start in last 5 GS) @ Wily Peralta (3-2, 33.7 IP, 9 R (25 K / 5 BB / 4 HR), 5 quality starts in last 5 GS)
The Pirates are 4-1 in Liriano’s last five starts. Over that period of time,. Liriano has selected his 86-87 MPH slider nearly as frequently as his 93-94 MPH sinker. With those offerings sitting between 33% and 37% of his total pitches, Liriano still had time to throw his change of pace more than a quarter of his deliveries. Liriano is throwing slightly harder during these last five starts, which is something to watch going forward: the southpaw has yet to match his quality efforts of 2013, but his 2013 performance also featured harder sinkers and sliders than in 2014 thus far. It remains to be seen if an improvement in velocity indicates improvement on the bump for Liriano. Anyway, fans might have to wait a bit for this development, as one might expect Liriano to throw at least 6 of 10 off-speed deliveries to the Brewers at Miller Park.
Wily Peralta entered his April 11 start against the Pirates after allowing five runs in five innings at Boston. The young righty turned to his sinker and primary fastball, sending 74 pitches between 96 and 97 MPH to Pirates bats while on his way to his first quality outing of the season. Peralta has worked six consecutive quality starts, but he has eased off the fastballs since that turnaround start. Specifically, Peralta threw nearly 3 sliders for every 10 pitches over his last five starts, while basically pocketing his change up. One should watch the balance between sliders and fastballs during Peralta’s second start against the Pirates; since he loaded up on fastballs last time around, one wonders whether he’ll give more work to his rare change up, or double down on his slider.
Wandy Rodriguez (0-2, 4 GS, 20 IP, 17 R in 2014 thus far; 62.7 IP, 0 runs prevented in 2013) @ Yovani Gallardo (0-2, 30.7 IP, 14 R (20 K / 11 BB / 4 HR), 3 quality starts in last 5 GS)
If a change-up first pitcher is a junkballer, what is a curveball-first starter? Wandy Rodriguez heavily favors his bender throughout his career, offering more of his 76-to-77 MPH curve to batters than his primary fastball, secondary fastball, or change. This year, as Rodriguez’s fastballs slow just a touch, the lefty is turning more to his change of pace (14%) while still using his curveball a ton (31%). During this broadcast, one ought to listen to the number of times that Bob Uecker calls a “change up” from Rodriguez. If you’ve ever watched a Brewers television broadcast with the sound down, you know that Uecker calls slow curveballs “change ups.” This might be confusing to contemporary listeners, but it’s a brilliant throwback call that we should enjoy. For, back when there were hard curves and soft curves, a pitcher would be said to change speeds off of his curve — hence, the “change up curve” (if you’re really lucky, you’ll hear Uecker give that full call. Heck, the Brewers ought to re-sign Dave Bush just for that reason). Whenever Rodriguez throws a “change of pace” this series, just think about that blooping mid-70s curveball, and cherish the time that Uecker has remaining in the booth. The poor man may not give the score as frequently as we may like, but we love Uecker for calling “change up curveballs,” not for giving the score.
Yovani Gallardo is currently on pace to start 34 games with 209.7 IP and 68 runs allowed. Compared to his 2013 performance, this is already a 24 run improvement for the Brewers’ Franchise Pitcher — and that’s before one considers the benefit of working nearly 30 more innings. However, the Brewers are struggling to win ballgames in his starts — the .632 Brewers have only won half of Gallardo’s starts, even though he produced quality starts in 75% of his outings. In eight starts, that already leaves Gallardo and the Brewers one win shy of where they should be during his starts (in 34 games, that’s a decrease of four wins, more than enough to decide a pennant race). Which leads me to ask, does good starting pitching matter? Or, is good support more important?
Of course, everyone loves good starting pitching, and I’m not about to make an argument against starting pitchers in general. What is important to note, however, is that the timing of 162 games can offset potential benefits that good players offer to their clubs. This is one issue with WAR; WAR is an abstract stat that cannot possibly account for unequal distribution of team support (one might argue that this is one of the stat’s benefits, that it is abstracted from mere “luck,” but I find that unappealing — a baseball season is ALL circumstance; one cannot simply abstract their way out of the circumstances faced during a pennant race). Gallardo’s lack of support is rather extreme, compared to his other rotation mates:
|2014 Brewers||GS||RS||Bullpen RA||QS%||Team W-L (%)|
Certainly, if one had a choice, one would pick Gallardo’s performance thus far over Matt Garza’s current performance. Yet, the Brewers have won more games during Garza’s starts, and they have supported Garza as well as they have supported Kyle Lohse. Lohse’s performance is the ultimate argument in favor of good starting pitching — if you acquire a really good starting pitcher, and he receives a lot of support, your team will win a lot of games (which is why the Brewers earned a quarter of their 2014 wins during Lohse’s starts). If you’ve ever questioned the importance of support, this chart clearly shows the benefit — with Lohse’s support, a pitcher could allow four runs per start and have a chance at going .500 with 39 RS / 39 RA; Gallardo essentially needed to average one run allowed per start in order to potentially break even at 22 RS / 22 RA. In other words, the advantage of Lohse and Garza is the Brewers bats saying, “Here’s two extra runs per start to work with. Have fun!” Gallardo? No runs for you!
One should keep Gallardo’s lack of support in mind when pondering potential problems that the Brewers will face over the next 124 games: if you’re worried that the Brewers might not keep up their current pace, just remember that every area of the team is not optimal. The best part of the 24-14 Brewers is that their results are not ideal; the Brewers are 24-14 despite failing to support one of their very best pitchers this year. Keep the issue of Gallardo’s support in your back pocket the next time you feel anxiety about the Brewers’ potential performance; as some things get worse for the club, others must get better. Unless Gallardo is doomed to bad luck for the entire year, which will make for an interesting round of postseason analysis.
BaseballProspectus. Prospectus Entertainment Ventures, LLC., 1996-2014.
Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC., 2000-2013.
Brewers Radio Network. WTMJ 620. WTMJ / Journal Broadcasting Gorup, 2014.
MLB Advanced Media, LP. 2014.
TexasLeaguers. Trip Somers, 2009-2014.