The Brewers Struggle Against Southpaws | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

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

On Wednesday night, Madison Bumgarner threw seven strong innings (2 H / 0 ER) before the floor fell out from under him. The Brewers broke through with three earned runs in the eighth inning and held on to win 6-1. Normally, it’s good to see the Crew get a win against a top-tier, left-handed pitcher but, this year, it’s lucky for them to get a win against any left-handed pitcher.

Wednesday night’s win was only the Brewers’ 10th against a left-handed pitcher – starting of relief. On the season, the Crew is 10-24 (.294) against southpaws. Other teams have also struggled against left-handers but not to the same degree. Here’s how the Brewers compare –

Team Record vs LHP WP%
Brewers 10-24 .294
Rockies 14-27 .341
Angels 10-19 .345
Astros 10-18 .357
White Sox 11-18 .379
Marlins 13-20 .394

For a little context, I looked at how Brewers teams stacked up against LHP over the last five years. Have they been struggling against southpaws on the regular or has this year been an anomaly?

Year Brewers vs LHP WP%
2013 10-24 .294
2012 26-21 .553
2011 18-18 .500
2010 25-25 .500
2009 21-18 .538
2008 33-20 .623

Turns out the Brewers are on pace to be under .500 against LHP for the first time since 2006 – when they went 19-20 (.487). They are also threatening the 2010 Seattle Mariners for worst season record against LHP over the last five years. Here’s how the 2013 Brewers compare to the teams with the worst record against LHP from 2012-2008.

Year Team Record vs LHP WP%
2013 Brewers 10-24 .294
2012 Rockies 15-35 .300
2011 Mariners 13-28 .317
2010 Mariners 14-36 .280
2009 Nationals 10-23 .303
2008 Giants 15-31 .326

So how did the Brewers get here? The loss and inconsistent play of some of their best right-handed power bats hasn’t helped. Corey Hart has been DLed all season, Ryan Braun battled a thumb injury and is now suspended, and Aramis Ramirez has only appeared in 54 games due to a wonky knee. Yet, the Brewers best and most consistent bats (Jonathan Lucroy, Carlos Gomez, and Jean Segura) are all right-handed. In fact, as a team, the Brewers’ bats have performed around or above league-average against LHP.

Brewers 1154 .261 .717 28 436
MLB Avg 1242 .249 .703 30 436

Even without the big boppers, the Brewers have hit LHP well this season. Only two numbers hint at a problem. The Brewers’ pinch hitters are batting .192 vs LHP compared to the league-average of .220. Also, the Crew has the highest ground ball to fly ball ratio (1.07 GB/FB) against southpaws. The MLB average is 0.87 GB/FB. So the Brewers may be rolling over into a few more double plays than normal, and their pinch hitters struggling to provide big hits later in the game. But, even combined, these two issues shouldn’t account for them mustering only 10 wins against left-handers.

Let’s start with relief pitchers. The Brewers have only managed three wins off left-handed relievers. Of course, most of the Brewers’ impact bats are right-handed. So the team is less likely to see a LOOGY out of the bullpen, which would also partially account for the Brewers PAs against LHP being below league average. Here are the three games in which the Crew has rallied against left-handed relievers —

  • June 7th vs Phillies – Jeremy Horst (0.2 IP / 3 H / 1 ER)
  • July 30th vs Cubs – James Russell (0.2 IP / 3 H / 2 ER / 1 BB / 1 HR)
  • August 4th vs Nationals – Fernando Abad (0.2 IP / 3 H / 2 ER)

Madison Bumgarner was the 34th left-hander to start against the Crew this year. Here’s how the Brewers fared against southpaws in those 34 starts –

  • 7 wins
  • 19 loses
  • 8 no decisions

From the Win/Loss record, it would seem that starting southpaws have dominated the Brewers. So I looked at each starting pitcher’s line. Here’s a composite of how they have fared against the Crew —

205.2 3.85 1.30 8.14 2.19 3.72 0.88

For a frame of reference, Kris Medlen has managed a 3.85 ERA / 1.33 WHIP this year. Again, southpaws have pitched well against the Brewers but haven’t been so lights out as to warrant a 19-7 record.

While dissecting the starting pitchers’ lines, I discovered something interesting. Check out how the Brewers played against starting southpaws when organized by month –

Month W L ND
April 3 3 3
May 1 10 3
June O 4 2
July 2 2 O
August 1 O O

In May, left-handed pitchers started exactly half of the games against the Brewers. This included a stretch from May 14-May 22 where southpaws started seven out of nine games. The Brewers where 2-7 during that stretch with the two wins coming on days that a left-hander didn’t start.

As a team the Brewers struggled mightily in May (6-22). I honestly don’t know if they struggled because they faced so many left-handed starting pitchers or if the pitchers just took advantage of a team in the midst of a massive slump. This question may be the Brewers equivalent of the chicken and the egg.

In the end, I don’t expect the Brewers struggles against left-handed pitchers to continue into next year. The return of a few power, right-handed bats will help. If you throw out May, the monthly splits and previous seasons show that this isn’t a common issue or one the organization needs to address. It appears to be an odd statistical occurrence bound to correct itself but, like many other things, a reality that Brewers fans must learn to live with for the rest of the year.

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