Thursday Lunch: Power/Speed, Changing Speeds | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

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

I’m tempted to say that it’s miracle time in Milwaukee, but y’all already knew that. In a sudden playoff race that required the Brewers to keep winning, well, now the Milwaukee nine simply need to win out. Last night, the Brewers beat the Reds in Cincinnati, their 6th win on this road-trip with one game remaining. Shaun Marcum out-dueled Bronson Arroyo, and the Brewers offense never stopped their assault on Reds pitching. Beyond the playoff race, the Brewers are now fighting for a probable winning season (not bad after they were on pace to win less than 80 not too long ago). Furthermore, the Brewers put together another good stretch of games on the road; while this roadtrip is their third consecutive winning roadtrip during the hot-streak, the Brewers don’t have more than a handful of winning roadtrips for the season (currently 5-8-0 in 2012 roadtrips).

Power/Speed Madness
The 2012 Brewers are special for a lot of reasons; their August and September run; their performances by young replacement pitchers; the extra base assaults by Aramis Ramirez; the repeat MVP campaign by Ryan Braun. You might have noticed by now that the Brewers sure do steal a lot of bases, and they also hit a boatload of home runs. When you measure those two aspects of the 2012 Brewers together, these Milwaukee nine are one of the best power/speed teams from the National League in the last 25 years.

Over the last 25 years, the National League power/speed number has fluctuated as teams relied more (or less) on the home run to drive their offense. This shouldn’t really be surprising; there’s a tipping point in baseball strategy where the risk of a stolen base is not worthwhile, if the likelihood of a home run is significant. Of course, what great power/speed teams like the 2012 Brewers reduce, in part, is that basic risk involving the stolen base. If a club can attempt 188 steals, and wind up with a successful stolen base 150 times, that high success rate minimizes the risk involved in such a play. Predictably, this allows a club to run wild and swing for the fences.

Power/speed number is a basic measurement that takes the harmonic mean between home runs and stolen bases. Instead of taking a simple aggregate of the numbers, power/speed number weights stolen bases and home runs to favor those players and teams that are balanced (or great) at hitting homers and swiping bases (the harmonic mean for “Power/Speed Number” is [(2*HR*SB)/(HR+SB)]). Here’s how the balance between home runs and stolen bases progressed over the last 25 years in the National League, looking specifically at the top power/speed team for each season:

2012 NL: 168.8 (and counting)
2011 NL: 150.0
2010 NL: 130.9
2009 NL: 155.4
2008 NL: 166.3
2007 NL: 187.8
2006 NL: 168.8

2005 NL: 163.3
2004 NL: 146.2
2003 NL: 153.4
2002 NL: 160.0
2001 NL: 163.0
2000 NL: 163.9
1999 NL: 183.8
1998 NL: 166.6
1997 NL: 174.2
1996 NL: 210.5
1995 NL: 174.3

1993 NL: 158.9
1992 NL: 134.2
1991 NL: 152.1
1990 NL: 153.5
1989 NL: 152.3
1988 NL: 153.5
1987 NL: 179.8

As you can see, the 2012 Brewers are easily among the best power/speed teams in the last 25 years of the NL. In the last seven games, if the Brewers’ season-long ratios keep up (and they have a good chance at accomplishing that, finishing their year at Miller Park), the 2012 Brewers have a chance at cracking the Top 5 in Power/Speed since 1987 NL. Beyond the basic number, the Brewers are also among the most balanced power/speed teams in the last quarter century, and they are the first team to simultaneously lead the NL in stolen bases and home runs since the phenomenal 1996 Rockies. Here are some of the very best power/speed teams in the last 25 years of the NL (ranked by HR, the more valuable of the two plays):

2000 Astros (156.4): 249 HR / 114 SB
1997 Rockies (174.2): 239 HR / 137 SB
2008 Phillies (155.4): 224 HR / 119 SB
1998 Cards (166.6): 223 HR / 133 SB
1996 Rockies (210.5): 221 HR / 201 SB
2006 Reds (157.8): 217 HR / 124 SB
1999 DBacks (167.7): 216 HR / 137 SB
2008 Phillies (166.3): 214 HR / 136 SB
2001 Rockies (162.9): 213 HR / 132 SB
2007 Phillies (167.5): 213 HR / 138 SB
1999 Reds (183.8): 209 HR / 164 SB
1987 Giants (156.1): 205 HR / 126 SB
2006 Mets (168.8): 200 HR / 146 SB
1995 Rockies (153.8): 200 HR / 125 SB
2012 Brewers (168.8): 193 HR / 150 SB
1987 Reds (174.9): 192 HR / 169 SB
1987 Mets (173.9): 192 HR / 159 SB
1996 Reds (180.4): 191 HR / 171 SB
2007 Mets (187.8): 177 HR / 200 SB

2005 Mets (165.8): 175 HR / 153 SB
1997 Dodgers (149.5): 174 HR / 131 SB
2008 Mets (153.2): 172 HR / 138 SB
2011 DBacks (150.0): 172 HR / 133 SB
1997 Giants (142.1): 172 HR / 121 SB
1990 Mets (134.2): 172 HR / 110 SB
1993 Braves (143.7): 169 HR / 125 SB
1998 Astros (160.3): 166 HR / 155 SB
1991 Reds (141.2): 164 HR / 124 SB
2011 Rockies (136.7): 163 HR / 118 SB
1995 Reds (174.3): 161 HR / 190 SB
1991 Cubs (139.2): 159 HR / 123 SB
2003 Marlins (153.4): 157 HR / 150 SB
1988 Mets (145.8): 152 HR / 140 SB
1989 Mets (152.3): 147 HR / 158 SB
2002 Marlins (160.0): 146 HR / 177 SB
1991 Braves (152.1): 141 HR / 165 SB
1990 Cubs (143.1): 136 HR / 151 SB

It’s interesting to think about what this Brewers offense could accomplish in 2013, given that much of the core remains under contract. If Norichika Aoki and Carlos Gomez keep their everyday positions, allowing Corey Hart to start the season at first base, the Brewers have the potential for a larger percentage of their opening day roster to serve as power/speed threats. From Braun to Rickie Weeks and Ramirez to Jonathan Lucroy, the questions are either of health or continuing a strong performance (or both). Should the Brewers be able to escape the replacement troubles of 2012, their 2013 club could be one of the best challengers to the 1996 Rockies in the last decade.

Shaun Marcum’s Junkball Blues
The Brewers went 2-3 in Marcum’s first five starts returning from injury, and last year’s most-valuable starter for the Brewers looked like he might be pitching through pain or simply rusty; he allowed 19 runs in his first 23.7 IP after the Brewers reinstated him. Suddenly, Marcum worked two excellent outings for the Brewers, allowing 3 runs over his last 12 IP (10 K/3 BB/1 HR).

One of the interesting aspects of Marcum’s rough 2011 September and October was that he changed his approach to pitching. Marcum was a true junkball pitcher during his best months of 2011, selecting his change up ahead of any other pitch in his arsenal. After throwing his change up nearly 29% of his selections through August, Marcum switched to his cutter in September and October, pocketing his change up as the season progressed. Marcum relied on his cutter and primary fastball in 33% and 27% of his selections, respectively, during his tough September and October outings last year. It’s not necessarily that he hit a wall (though he might have), it’s that he switched up his approach, which also resulted in different arm angles (which I covered in detail during the old days at Bernie’s Crew).

One can ask, of course, if Marcum’s primary cutter usage changed his release point of his other pitches in September and October of 2011, how much of his troubles were due to mechanical adjustments?

This year, Marcum eased off his fastballs, but he didn’t return to his change up. Instead, he increased his slider selections, allowing him a change of pace from his cutter, while throwing his primary fastball and change up as well. From April through the middle of September, Marcum almost evenly distributed his selections between his primary fastball, cutter, change, curve, and slider; not one of those pitches saw 25% of his offerings, while none sunk below 14%, either. Marcum moved from a true junkabll pitcher to a kitchen-sink thrower; his cutter/slider and fastball/change selections suggest that he attempted working two different changes-of-speed from his two different fastballs (this, of course, allows coverage to all parts of the plate and against batters of both hands with fastballs and off-speed selections).

Marcum’s last two starts hardly find a different trend from the pitcher. In fact, in his last two starts, Marcum worked almost exclusively from his primary fastball/off-speed combos, dropping his curveball from prominence. The results were successful for the righty, but the look still seems odd; Marcum was known for his great change when the Brewers acquired him from Toronto, but now the righty seems to favor a different type of pitching approach.

For the future, one might ask, can we trust that Marcum’s season away from his change up means that his mechanics and release points are solidified? Presumably this issue, and his injury history, play into the Brewers’ decision to offer him arbitration. I gather that a pitcher may not be worth the arbitration gamble if (a) he has a notable injury history, and (b) his mechanics are shifting.

Strike zones: Texas Leaguers, Trip Somers, 2009-2012.

Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC., 2000-2012.

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