Series Preview: Rockies @ Brewers | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

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

Welcome to the halfway point! Today’s series-opening game against the Colorado Rockies marks the Brewers’ mathematical midpoint of the season. Now, the official second half won’t begin until the All Star Break in a couple of weeks, but one can still use this mathematical midpoint to make some intriguing estimates about the 2014 National League. Specifically, the Brewers have an offense that is suddenly notably above average, which could give the club between eight and nine wins over 2013 if they continue at their current pace. On the other hand, the average pitching staff is emerging unscathed from a period of rough outings, and even the series loss to the Washington Nationals does not feel as bad thanks to three quality outings. In some ways, seeing the starting pitchers work consecutive quality outings against a contending club yields a sigh of relief.

So, our beloved Milwaukee bats: with 82 left to play, the Brewers’ bats are approximately 36 runs better than average. For fun, let’s compare the Milwaukee balance between R and RBI with the National League balance, in order to see who is benefiting the most from this robust offense. By taking the harmonic mean between R and RBI ((2*R*RBI)/(R+RBI)), one can balance each position’s production according to their batting order spot, and estimate their run production for the year:

RRBI (PA) NL Brewers Difference (%)
C (350) 35 43 8 (123%)
1B (328) 41 32 -9 (78%)
2B (346) 34 38 4 (112%)
3B (340) 37 41 4 (111%)
SS (344) 35 31 -4 (89%)
LF (336) 37 46 9 (124%)
CF (363) 37 48 11 (130%)
RF (354) 41 44 3 (107%)

These numbers should be relatively intuitive — the Brewers have excellent production from their CF and C, a LF who is tearing the cover off the ball, and above average contributions from RF, 2B, and 3B, too. Their SS and 1B are the best positions for a midseason improvement.

What’s particularly interesting is the relative inefficiencies at some of the Brewers’ positions. While these R and RBI numbers agree with our intuition about who is good and bad on the 2014 Brewers, these numbers do not agree with each position’s OPS:

R vs. OPS production RRBI% OPS+ Inefficient / Efficient
C 123 159 “inefficient”
1B 78 77 even
2B 112 132 inefficient
3B 111 109 even
SS 89 73 efficient
LF 124 103 efficient
CF 130 139 “inefficient”
RF 107 111 inefficient/even

One of the reasons that the Brewers have such a good offense, it seems, is that the six good bats are able to carry the two below average bats. Even though the Brewers could use more production from 1B and SS, in fact, they’re getting “more” from those positions’ base AVG/OBP/SLG than one might reasonably expect. Meanwhile, it’s not really fair to call Carlos Gomez and Jonathan Lucroy inefficient — there’s a certain threshold of runs scored in baseball, but one’s OPS does not have a ceiling; therefore, elite OPS+ (like that of Gomez and Lucroy) will not result in equivalent run production. If one glances at most elite players’ OPS and R+RBI, their actual runs produced will look “inefficient” compared to their AVG / OBP / SLG.

Meanwhile, Khris Davis is not only one of the hottest bats on the club, but he is arguably in the most efficient position in the batting order. Since Runnin’ Ron Roenicke employs Davis to “clean up” the middle of the order, Davis is primed for exceptional run production in such a solid batting order. Indeed, the Brewers can bat an average LF in that spot and produce 20% beyond NL R and RBI for LF. That’s the definition of efficiency. On the other hand, Scooter Gennett and Rickie Weeks form a fine platoon at 2B, but their position at the top of the order eats into their overall run production. This is to be expected; the most important part of the Brewers’ 2B production is that the duo of Weeks and Gennett are scoring runs. Even if both Gennett and Weeks come back to earth in the second half, lead off is probably the best place for their production. A team does not necessarily want their best OBP leading off, but rather, a batter that is most likely to score runs without losing out on other key areas of production. Weeks and Gennett perfectly fit this role on the stacked Brewers offense.

2014:
Rockies (78 G): 395 RS / 408 RA
Brewers (80 G): 362 RS / 323 RA

The Rockies have had a rough stretch of twelve games, which includes their last NL Central home stand and their roadtrip to Los Angeles. On their homestand against the Brewers and Cardinals, the Rockies went 1-5 while scoring 35 runs and allowing 50. Entering this stretch of nine games, the Rockies were far off pace the division leading San Francisco Giants, but remaining a trio of games behind Wild Card-leading St. Louis. If you’re ever looking for a snapshot of how quickly a season can change, the Rockies are now approximately eight games off pace from the Wild Card. One might argue that in the expanded Wild Card era, such an occurrence can be a blessing in disguise that keeps some front offices from making poor decisions. Yet, one can almost always bet that it’s better to be in the thick of the race than watching from the outside.

Last Series:
Rockies: Series Loss vs. Cardinals
Brewers: Series Loss vs. Nationals

Previous Performance:
2013 Rockies: 74-88 (706 RS / 760 RA)
2013 Brewers: 74-88 (640 RS / 687 RA)

2011-2013 Rockies: 211-275 (2199 RS / 2424 RA)
2011-2013 Brewers: 253-233 (2137 RS / 2058 RA)

For fun, since the season is at its halfway point, I included each pitcher’s runs prevented for the season, instead of their last 5 GS performance. This is a good way to see who is on track for a very good season. While the NL runs average is 4.02, the Coors Field and Miller Park environments both increase that number. Rockies pitchers might be expected to allow 4.66 runs per 9 IP, while Brewers pitchers might be expected to allow between 4.06 and 4.10 runs per 9 IP.

[Rematch] Christian Friedrich (6 IP, 9 R, 3 expected, -6 runs prevented) @ Wily Peralta (95.3 IP, 39 R, 43 expected, 4 runs prevented)
[Rematch] Tyler Matzek (17.3 IP, 10 R, 9 expected, -1 runs prevented) @ Kyle Lohse (107 IP, 44 R, 48 expected, 4 runs prevented)

By my count, these games are the first rematches since Kyle Lohse faced Jeff Samardzija on June 1. Given the interleague series and games against new NL East and West foes, this should not necessarily be surprising. However, 11 of 24 June games have occurred against “repeat opponents” for the Brewers, which shows how injury shuffles, replacement efforts, and scheduling quirks can throw rotations off-track.

A lot can be said about Christian Friedrich’s 2014 debut against the Milwaukee Brewers. Beyond the defensive miscues, beyond the runs allowed, Friedrich absolutely brought it against Milwaukee. By this, I mean that the lefty went hard against Brewers bats, selecting 56 fastballs, 26 sinkers, and only 12 offspeed pitches. This means that 87% of Friedrich’s pitches sat between 88 and 92. With so little velocity variation, the Brewers effectively timed Friedrich. One can almost certainly expect more offspeed from Friedrich. Friedrich has two breaking balls in his arsenal, and both of those pitches could get a workout at Miller Park. By contrast, Tyler Matzek went fastball/slider 87 times against Brewers bats. If 20% slider usage is not his absolute threshold, one might also expect Matzek to follow Friedrich’s lead and pitch even more breaking balls against the Brewers.

Knock on wood: one of the major similarities between the 2011 and 2014 Brewers is their lack of replacement starters. Thus far, the 2014 Brewers have hardly needed a true replacement; they claim one emergency start from Jimmy Nelson. Otherwise, it’s all 1-through-5 for the 2014 rotation. In 2011, the Brewers had similar luck, employing swingman Marco Estrada for the handful of outings that could not be made by the five-man rotation. The similarities arguably end there:

Runs Prevented 2011 2014 (half)
#1 11 (Marcum) 9 (Gallardo)
#2 6 (Gallardo) 4 (Peralta)
#3 5 (Wolf) 4 (Lohse)
#4 -1 (Greinke) -9 (Garza)
#5 -6 (Narveson) -12 (Estrada)
Total 15 -4

Technically, the 2014 rotation is below average, despite three strong Brewers starters. How can the club perform so well, then? Well, thankfully the rotation health is not based on aggregate runs prevented, but on those top three starters taking their turn regularly. Granted, a lot can happen in the second half of the season, but it is worth noting that the Brewers already have three starters that are on pace to be as good as, if not better than, the #1 and/or #2/#3 spots on the 2011 Brewers. While the 2011 rotational strength was balance without an ace, the 2014 strength may be the claim to three “aces” that can offset the bottom rotation.

(There is also arguably a disjoint between quality starts and runs prevented: while a quality start is technically a below-average outing, if such a start is followed by a strong bullpen outing, it gives the Brewers an excellent chance to win with 4 RS.)

Another key difference: I don’t believe the 2011 Brewers had pitchers like Wily Peralta or Kyle Lohse on their squad. Sure, Shaun Marcum threw slow, but he was a change-up first pitcher. Lohse is a sinker/slider guy, as is Peralta. Arguably no sinker on the 2011 staff compared to Peralta’s heavy, hard sinker. Oddly enough, this heavy sinker was developed within the organization, which is another feather in Doug Melvin’s hat (he’s collecting a lot of them this year): his 2014 Brewers rotation features more homegrown talent, and his two main homegrown pitchers are already 13 runs better than the league.

Jhoulys Chacin (57.7 IP, 31 R, 30 expected, -1 run prevented) @ Matt Garza (101 IP, 55 R, 46 expected, -9 runs prevented)

Jhoulys Chacin claims 46 runs prevented from 2011 through 2013. If the righty could stay healthy for the Rockies, he would have quite a resume for the Mile High club. One gets the impression that no one can work in Coors Field, but the moving fastball expert would disagree. The righty swaps between riding and sinking fastballs, and he’ll also throw three off-speed pitches. In 2014, his fastballs are notably slower than in his career, but this does not seem to be as big of a deal for a sinking pitcher (although one might disagree, given Chacin’s results thus far). Although his 2014 campaign is slightly below average thus far, this match-up does not necessarily feel like a mismatch; Chacin could be the type of starter perfectly suited for a second-half comeback, once he gets his gang of moving fastballs going again.

Matt Garza pitched relatively well during Monday night’s nationally televised loss. Certainly, facing one of the best lefties on the Senior Circuit, one can say that Garza did not necessarily pitch poorly enough to “deserve” a loss. Interestingly enough, Garza worked with extreme balance between his pitches. According to Brooks Baseball, Garza threw a sinker 35 times, which is double his 2014 rate to date. Really, that sinker is more like a “riding/rising fastball;” I am not convinced that a pitch with 9.39” of Vertical pitch f/x movement (compared with a spinless ball) truly “sinks.” Anyway, Garza threw his rising fastball 28 times, and a slider and curve 23 and 18 times, respectively. This balance is good to see from Garza, as he’s worked back and forth between “robust” and “stripped down” pitching approaches; some games, he’ll work fastball / slider, others he’ll throw everything he’s got. Hopefully this chameleon can continue his quality outings.

Jorge de la Rosa (84.7 IP, 49 R, 44 expected, -5 runs prevented) @ Yovani Gallardo (97.7 IP, 35 R, 44 expected, 9 runs prevented)

It’s hard to believe that we’re in the eighth season since Jorge de la Rosa last worked in Milwaukee. While the trade that brought de la Rosa to Milwaukee was one of Melvin’s signature rebuilding moves, I will forever remember his 2006 trade as one of the first signs that the Brewers were entering contending territory. Tony Graffanino provided welcome infield help to a club that really needed roster depth at that time, and the cost of a 25-year old lefty showed that the organization would be willing to part ways with young talent in order to improve the big league squad. For his first 300 innings (or so) outside of Milwaukee, it did not look like de la Rosa was a supreme loss for the organization. However, the southpaw came into his own during 2009 and 2010, which was tough to see given the Brewers’ rotational struggles during those seasons. Now, here we are in 2014, as the 33-year old lefty will complete a multi-year, $40 million contract, and has even worked some near-ace level campaigns (such as his excellent 2013 season in Colorado).

Franchise Pitcher Yovani Gallardo was approximately 16 runs above average in 2012, and he’s already on pace to beat that level of production in 2014. Of course, no one will complain if Gallardo holds steady and stays around 10 runs prevented for the full season; even that would be a 17 run improvement. While the Velocity Vultures have been after Gallardo for a couple of years now, the righty is throwing faster than in 2013, which makes his “velocity drop” from 2012 look more manageable and less alarming.

For all the talk about Gallardo’s switch to his sinker, Gallardo is throwing his sinker almost as frequently in 2014 as he did in 2012. The biggest change, of course, is that the franchise righty has basically thrown away his change up, which leaves more room for more curves and sliders. The slider is almost Gallardo’s favorite pitch — he’s throwing the slider nearly 20% more frequently in 2014 than in 2012. Perhaps most importantly, Gallardo’s primary fastball moves more in 2014 than in 2012; Gallardo is basically throwing a “riding” fastball as his primary pitch, one that drops more and “breaks” in on righties more than in 2012. This movement also places Gallardo’s velocity shifts in perspective; if Gallardo is getting his pitches to move more, the dips on the radar gun are much less concerning.

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

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