Series Preview: Reds @ Brewers | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

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

Reds (65 G): 225 RS / 242 RA
Brewers (67 G): 287 RS / 261 RA

The Reds simply have not been able to jumpstart their offense in 2014. Granted, the club has weathered injuries to key bats, and otherwise, several regulars are not producing at an average level. Even with all his speed, centerfielder Billy Hamilton has not reached his expected Runs Created; Jay Bruce has yet to take off, and Ryan Ludwick and Zack Cozart are simply treading water. Not even Joey Votto’s bat can solve all these issues within the batting order; one might only wonder whether a trip to Miller Park will put a charge into the Reds.

Meanwhile, a relatively low-scoring series at CitiField helped the Brewers’ hurlers catch up to the bats once again. Our Milwaukee Nine have quite a balanced club — at their current rate, the Brewers’ run differential alone gets them between 86 and 88 wins, with both pitchers and bats at 31 runs better than average.

Last Series:
Reds: Series Split vs. Dodgers (4 games)
Brewers: Series Win @ New York Mets

After leaving Atlanta with a rough bullpen loss, the Brewers are on quite a tear. The club is 12-7 over six series, including five victories (@ Miami, vs. Orioles, vs. Cubs, @ Pirates, @ Mets) and a tie (home-and-home vs. Twins). By my count, the offense has dominated, scoring 105 runs in 19 games; this is rather beneficial, as the pitchers allowed 87 runs. However, since the blowout in Pittsburgh, the Milwaukee hurlers limited the damage — over their current 3-1 stretch, the Brewers are 11 RS / 8 RA. The beauty of this wonderful 12-7 stretch is that the club is morphing, winning games however those wins are needed — there are 8-5 slugfests, there are 1-0 and 3-1 close calls, and there are even some extra innings wins, as well as some relatively easy games.

Notably, this 12-7 stretch is not far from the blistering start the Brewers produced earlier in 2014: to open the season, the club went 14-5, with 81 RS / 63 RA from a streaking hot club — by run differential, they’re almost exactly as good. However, these May-and-June Brewers are cobbling together this current stretch without many streaks; their best streak in the last 19 games was three consecutive home victories against the Orioles and Cubs. One might not expect it, but from better offensive output and worse pitching, these Brewers are winning ballgames through consistency and a steady pace, rather than big streaks.

Previous Performances:
2013 Reds: 90-72 (698 RS / 589 RA)
2013 Brewers: 74-88 (640 RS / 687 RA)

2011-2013 Reds: 266-220 (2102 RS / 1897 RA)
2011-2013 Brewers: 253-233 (2137 RS / 2058 RA)

Homer Bailey (4-1, 30.7 IP, 15 R (26 K / 9 BB / 3 HR), 4 quality starts in last 5 GS) @ Matt Garza (2-1, 32.3 IP, 16 R (26 K / 13 BB / 3 HR), 3 quality starts in last 5 GS)

Homer Bailey is having a rough season thus far, although it would be difficult to tell based on his last four starts. The righty is in the midst of a stretch of four consecutive quality starts, and for quality start #5 he’ll take on a suddenly-improved Matt Garza, too. Over his last five starts, Bailey’s strike out rate improved, and he’s suddenly keeping the ball in the park: in his first eight starts, Bailey allowed eight home runs (compared to three over his last handful of starts). If Bailey continues to improve as Latos joins the rotation, the Reds could regain their extremely consistent, above-average rotational core that drove their 2012 and 2013 seasons.

While it appears that Matt Garza is below average for the season — probably around 8 runs below average, or so — the veteran righty is actually improving his pitching line of late. The fastball / slider hurler will work toward his third consecutive quality start against the struggling Reds bat. In that department, Miller Park has been rather kind to Garza this year. Garza has his chance at five home quality starts on Friday (in what will be his eighth Miller Park start), while the righty only has two quality starts in six road games. If Garza can continue his recent trends and work toward his career average in the National League, the Brewers will have gained a crucial piece in their attempt to climb out of their current starting pitching slump.

Mat Latos (210.7 IP, 14 runs prevented in 2013; 209.3 IP, 20 runs prevented in 2012) @ Yovani Gallardo (2-2, 28.3 IP, 16 R (27 K / 12 BB / 7 HR), 3 quality starts in last 5 GS)

Mat Latos returns to the Reds’ rotation, and coupled with Alfredo Simon’s excellent 2014 performance, Tony Cingrani is the odd man out of the Reds’ rotation. On Thursday, Simon performed a dominant outing against the Dodgers, helping his Cincinnati Club to salvage a series split. Simon’s 2014 performance makes the Reds’ decision somewhat easier — one would be tempted to suggest that Cingrani stays in the rotation, since he is the Reds’ youngest, easiest-controlled option (and he’s potentially better than Simon, in terms of ceiling). For 2014, however, Simon is 9-3 in 82.3 innings with 28 runs allowed (which is between 8 and 10 runs prevented). Cingrani, on the other hand, is 2-7 in 59.7 innings with 32 runs allowed (approximately 5 runs below average). Even if one would also be inclined to argue that Simon is not likely to continue his excellent performance, the immediacy of a pennant race cannot be denied: the Reds do not want to throw away a good season by Simon while they’re fighting their way back into the National League race. There are always structural, organizational, or circumstantial elements that obscure the plain and clear logic of Replacement Theory.

Latos joins a Reds rotation lead by Johnny Cueto, who is apparently returning Latos’s favor of serving as the Cincinnati staff ace during Cueto’s 2013 injuries. Now, Cueto and Latos have a chance to work 100+ IP seasons together for the first time since 2012, when the duo was nearly 60 runs better than average in 426.3 innings. While the Reds’ arms are already notably above average this season, they could use the extra boost from Latos, given their offensive struggles. Latos can help the club steal back some of those low-scoring wins, but his return basically marks the first time the Reds will have their desired roster together in 2014. With the club scratching their way back into the pennant race, Latos could not return during a more symbolic series.

Yovani Gallardo worked a pure guts outing during his last start, helping the Brewers beat the Pirates with 121 pitches in seven scoreless innings. I immediately wondered, “how has Gallardo worked in games following inefficient pitch counts?” Using a typical average of approximately 16 NP / IP, I looked at Gallardo’s 2012, 2013, and 2014 (thus far) campaigns for “efficient” and “inefficient” outings. Brewers fans will not be surprised to learn that Gallardo worked 43 starts after inefficient outings from 2012-to-present — the righty insists on throwing his pitch to beat batters, which is how he remained successful and serviceable while transitioning into a “slider-first pitcher.”

Gallardo After Inefficient Starts
2012 116.7 IP / 46 R
2013 86 IP / 58 R
2014 35.3 IP / 17 R
‘12-’14 After Inefficient Starts 238 IP / 121 R
‘12-’14 All Other Starts 224.3 IP / 89 R

Gallardo is ultimately better when he is efficient over the last three seasons, but the righty’s general trends in inefficient starts mimic his overall performances during those seasons:

Gallardo “Other”   After Inefficient  
Year IP R IP R
2012 87.3 IP 40 R 116.7 IP 46 R
2013 94.7 IP 34 R 86 IP 58 R
2014 42.3 IP 15 R 35.3 IP 17 R

In 2012, Gallardo was an excellent, effective starter, and he followed inefficient outings with quality starts (and, worked many inefficient quality starts). In 2013, Gallardo struggled consistently with inefficient outings, and was not able to recover after inefficient outings. This year, Gallardo is better during both his efficient and inefficient outings, and he has worked at a serviceable level following inefficient outings.

If Gallardo’s average holds true, on Saturday he’ll work between 5.7 IP and 6.0 IP, and allow three runs.

Mike Leake (1-3, 29 IP, 17 R (29 K / 6 BB / 2 HR), 2 quality starts in last 5 GS) @ Marco Estrada (2-2, 29.7 IP, 22 R (25 K / 13 BB / 10 HR), 1 quality start in last 5 GS)

Batters are producing runs off of Mike Leake over his last three starts, so look for the righty to go off-speed against the Brewers. In his three tough starts, Leake threw his sinker and cutter approximately 70% of his offerings. These hard pitches came at the expense of his change up, which has basically been non-existent over his last few outings. At any rate, Brewers bats should not simply expect the slider as Leake’s main offspeed pitch — he will throw his curve more than his slider, and his change typically serves a more prominent role in his arsenal. If Leake reaches 100 pitches against the Brewers, one might expect to see as many as 40 curves, change ups, and sliders.

In his recent post on the matter, Ryan correctly stated that every win matters for the 2014 Brewers — therefore, every replacement move matters. Since our beloved Brewers are contending, replacement moves can be placed under a microscope — what do the Brewers do with Wei-Chung Wang? How should playing time be divided at second base? When should the Brewers place Jimmy Nelson in the rotation? These types of questions are not academic when a ball club has the chance at a division title. The Estrada question is particularly difficult because the righty is such a good low-rotation starter; even though Estrada is slotted fourth in the Milwaukee rotation, his ability to prevent runs ranked him among fringe-#2 starters in the 2012-2013 NL. Yet, his current performance is nowhere near that level — although, it is worth noting that even with his recent homer encounters, Estrada remains only a handful of runs below average for the season.

While previewing the Orioles series, I noted that the Brewers’ decision to start Gallardo during that series-closing Wednesday game gave the front office a chance to slide Nelson into the rotation. This basic fact amplifies the potential replacement issue with Estrada — in the three starts following that potential move, the Brewers are 1-2 (17 RS / 17 RA) and Estrada has allowed 13 runs in 18 innings. One of the issues with the Nelson / Estrada replacement issue is which Estrada one judged Nelson against: if one questions whether Nelson can top 2012-2013 Estrada, replacing Estrada seems counterproductive; however, if one questions whether Nelson can pitch better than 13 R in 18 IP, the replacement issue seems relevant (and, necessary).

This is why General Managers like Doug Melvin are paid the big money — these decisions cannot be easy, especially when one adds in the factors of managing 40 personalities (and salaries) on the Protected Roster. How does Melvin weigh Estrada’s potential future with the organization against Nelson’s? Estrada will likely be a reasonable, cost-effective pitcher on his next contract, and the Brewers could benefit from keeping him; will a replacement move affect those chances at a future starting pitching deal with Estrada? On the other hand, the Brewers must see Nelson in their future rotation at some point, and his exceptional performance at AAA in 2014 is forcing the issue about a year earlier than one would have expected. Marco Estrada is one of my favorite MLB pitchers, with his high-release point and change up mastery, so I especially want to see him succeed. But, that replacement issue is looming for the Brewers rotation, and the club could truly benefit from a midseason transaction that improves the rotation without a trade. Nelson-for-Estrada is that move, and now, it’s only a question of “when.”

Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC., 2000-2014.
BaseballAmerica. Enthusiast Network, 2014.
BaseballProspectus. Prospectus Entertainment Ventures, LLC., 1996-2014.
MLB Advanced Media, LP., 2014.
Reds news from Gannett, 2014.

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