One of the standard knocks against fanbloggers comes from the practices of professional journalism: since we’re not in the corps, at events, working with players and managers and other reporters, we’re a step removed from the news. This causes some problems in getting quotes, for instance — and I’ll be drawing from Roenicke’s news quotes today — but it also allows us the freedom to comment, analyze, and interpret the news in ways that standard journalists cannot. Of course, this causes an interesting divide between facts and interpretation, which is why one should use news and blog sources together. The best part is, I’m a Brewers fan! I get to write like a Brewers fan, editorialize like a fan, and I am thankful for the opportunity to write in that capacity. A professional amateur, should I say?
2012 Brewers and Defense
Sorry for the disclaimer, but I realized that I’m going to use a couple of quotes from Adam McCalvy‘s and Jeremy Warnemuende‘s news round up from last night. The Brewers’ reporters wrote that Brewers manager Ron Roenicke can’t complain about the Brewers’ defense in 2012: in a season full of disappointments, the team’s fielding is being praised for their performance, a bright spot. Roenicke’s words:
“I think it’s been pretty good…I think there’s always cutoff men that you overthrow and a guy takes extra bases; we’re not going to be perfect. But overall I think we’ve done a pretty good job.”McCalvy and Warnemuende cite the Brewers’ errors and fielding percentage as evidence of the laudable defensive performance. To their credit, they note that these stats are imperfect fielding metrics. This is where they leave off and I pick up; for, I was surprised to read Roenicke’s quotations and the support for Brewers fielders that have been markedly inefficient.
The 2012 Brewers defense looks strong if you measure them according to Fielding Percentage and Errors. However, there’s an extreme disconnect between those measurements — which focus on narrow fielding elements — and the large picture of the Brewers’ defense. That disconnect is between putouts, assists, and errors, and actual rates of converting batted balls into outs. For example, against that .984 Fielding Percentage (against a .983 league average), the Brewers claim a .667 Defensive Efficiency mark (against a .690 league average). Those 70 errors look great — only Washington and Atlanta boast fewer errors — nevertheless, the Brewers’ team has allowed 48 more runs than their Fielding Independent Pitching performance suggests.
Clearly, there is a disconnect between (1) narrow elements of Brewers fielding, such as errors, putouts, and assists, and (2) narrow elements of Brewers pitching, such as K, BB, and HR. In fact, both the Fielding Percentage (mostly focused on defense first) and the Fielding Independent Pitching (mostly focused on pitching first) statistics look strong for the 2012 Brewers. The Brewers’ 0.68 FIPRatio is better than the 2012 NL average for K/BB/HR, especially if you consider the Brewers’ somewhat extreme park for K, BB, and HR.
While making the coffee this morning, even while eating my grapefruit, my mind spun so many confusing webs: how can a ballclub that does not make a lot of errors and has a very good ratio of K, BB, and HR allow so many more runs than expected? In simple terms, there is a disconnect between the Brewers’ Fielding Percentage and Defensive Efficiency, between their defensive performance, pitching performance, and runs allowed.
SPECULATION: I have absolutely no way of backing this up, because I do not have the means to track the Brewers’ fielding shifts and their performance when they utilize shifts. However, since the Brewers utilize specific defensive formations, I gather that they place their fielders in good situations to reduce errors. What I wonder is this: even though a defensive shift might put the fielders in situations to make more sure-handed plays, those shifts might also allow the fielders to miss other plays that they might otherwise make (from a standard position). Since these missed plays do not result in errors, they do not negatively certain fielding statistics (for instance, fielding percentage only considers putouts, assists, and errors; a missed ball due to a defensive shift does not fall into any of those categories, and therefore completely escapes fielding percentage).
One of the ways I think we might be able to find the disconnect is if we survey the Brewers’ ratios of batted balls in play, as well as their runs allowed on certain types of batted balls in play. While this type of survey is only a starting point, it might help us to determine how the fielders and pitchers interact. We need to look at their interaction because something is amiss when a team posts above average fielding independent ratios while allowing boatloads of runs.
GB (.317 NL, .235 BABIP): .301 Brewers, .260 BABIP, 138 runs allowed (110 expected)
FB (.241 NL, .138 BABIP): .231 Brewers, .137 BABIP, 254 runs allowed (241 expected)
LD (.134 NL, .715 BABIP): .144 Brewers, .729 BABIP, 150 runs allowed (155 expected)
BT (.020 NL, .351 BABIP): .016 Brewers, .267 BABIP, 3 runs allowed (3 expected)
In-Play (.687 NL, .299 BABIP): .666 Brewers, .323 BABIP, 358 runs allowed (316 expected)
Not-In-Play (.313 NL): .334 Brewers, 208 runs allowed (221 expected)
First and foremost, even though the Brewers allow fewer batted balls in play than the NL average, they allow more line drives, which eats into their groundball / flyball ratio. Furthermore, although their flyball ratio is better than average, it still approaches the league average, which is not necessarily a good thing in homer-friendly Miller Park. As a result, despite strong overall ratios, it’s possible that, all-around, the Brewers’ fielders and pitchers simply are not gaining the best possible outcome from their combination of batted balls in play and Fielding Independent Pitching elements.
The Brewers’ performance on groundballs particularly interests me. While rummaging through FanGraphs, I noticed that not only does Rickie Weeks have below average defensive statistics, but so do Alex Gonzalez, Jean Segura, and Corey Hart. I wonder whether the Brewers’ infield shifts are exaggerating specific weaknesses in their fielders, overriding benefits from those shifts. Another interesting case is Aramis Ramirez, who boasts a robust UZR/150 alongside a slightly below average Defensive Runs Saved metric. Again, depending on what you look at, you’ll get a different picture of how the Brewers’ fielders perform in 2012.
One last thing: earlier this summer, I wrote about the defensive performance for the Brewers’ relievers. In particular, I noted that although the Brewers’ relievers had good Fielding Independent statistics, they allowed significantly more runs than expected. Well, since then, the Brewers relievers’ Fielding Independent statistics took a turn for the worse, but the team’s overall efficiency is awful once the starters leaves the game:
NL SP: 0.81 FIPratio, 4.41 runs average
NL RP: 0.63 FIPratio, 4.25 runs average
MIL SP: 0.66 FIPratio, 4.34 runs average (7 R more than expected)
MIL RP: 0.71 FIPratio, 5.34 runs average (42 R more than expected)
*note, these numbers are basic, and not park-adjusted.
While the starters pitch, the combination of fielding and pitching yields a moderate 7 more runs than expected (note that the pitchers are much better than average; those numbers look even stronger when adjusted for Miller Park). The defensive and pitching performances while the relievers work is poor all around; despite a notably below average FIP, the Brewers fielders have helped to allow more than 42 runs than expected while the relievers work. Perhaps the Brewers’ efficiency problem is limited to the late innings? Do the Brewers employ different defensive arrangements late in the game?
The Journey of Mark Rogers’s Fastball Velocity
Mark Rogers’s overall fastball velocity is rather strong thus far, but I noticed last night that he seems to work his primary pitch in different ranges. Thanks to TexasLeaguers, we can attempt to verify shifts in his velocity for his “four seam” and “two seam” fastballs (also included is the percentage he selected each pitch):
7/29/12: 94.9 MPH FF (.592), 96.2 MPH FT (.010)
8/4/12: 94.0 MPH FF (.236), 93.3 MPH FT (.236)
8/10/12: 94.3 MPH FF (.657), 94.5 MPH FT (.046)
8/15/12: 92.9 MPH FF (.685), 95.4 MPH FT (.022)
8/20/12: 94.0 MPH FF (.433), 94.8 MPH FT (.133)
I suppose my suspicion was off base; Rogers’s fastball velocity has remained consistent throughout the year. It’s interesting to note that although pitch f/x classifications note that Rogers throws a “two seam” fastball, as well as his primary pitch, his “two seamer” does not necessarily function as a sinker. In fact, the vertical movement of his two-seamer is nearly identical to his four-seamer in 2012, the difference occurring in the pitch’s horizontal movement (one breaks in against righties at a more extreme rate). Has anyone noticed specific types of fastballs from Rogers? It seems to me that he’s a type of pitcher that is relying on an old-school “rising fastball,” a standard four-seamer, and instead of complementing that pitch with a true sinker, he simply uses a second fastball to provide more movement (without shifting velocity).
Poor Zack Greinke is not doing much to disprove Brewers fans that (rightly or wrongly) believe he can’t pitch under pressure. Oddly enough, Ron Roenicke provided a unique quote on the matter. Here’s what Roenicke said about Greinke’s struggles with the Angels:
“You take a guy like him, and he’s real structured in everything he does…He got real comfortable here with how things were going, and now you put him with a whole new coaching staff, a whole new team and that’s not easy to do. … It’s not easy to just be yourself and go through the same routine you usually do when your surroundings are so different.”
Given the reports about Greinke’s strange break with the Brewers (purportedly to recharge his batteries), Roenicke’s quote begs the question of Greinke’s pitching approach. Why are there so many comments about his preparation or routine? Certainly, the folly of the “3 consecutive starts” bit with Milwaukee could have exposed Greinke to undue warm-up pitches, off-day routines, and other notable shifts in preparation. However, all but one of Greinke’s Angels starts occurred on the standard four days’ rest. Is environment really a significant factor for preparing to pitch?
Furthermore, it seems strange that this type of press occurs during Greinke’s contract year. Given that Greinke will likely enter the free agent pitching market in the offseason, what are teams to make of this press about his preparation and different environments? Analysts and fans alike frequently point to Greinke’s social anxiety when they are pressed to explain on-field (or off-field) anomalies, but I think that’s sloppy at best and irresponsible or prejudicial at worst; certainly there is no reason to expect social anxiety disorder to influence off-day pitching preparation, throwing routines, and game planning. However, if members of the Brewers organization continually speak of Greinke’s preparation in public, a legitimate battery of questions might emerge about the ace-in-hiding.
(On the field, if Greinke continues to underperform with the Angels, the trade compensation Milwaukee received from Los Angeles of Anaheim looks even better. Of course, that’s disingenuous on my part — the Angels traded for a pitcher poised to finish within the NL Top 20 (and probably Top 10) in 2012. So, there’s certainly a disjoint between Greinke’s current and previous performance levels, and while that does not affect the initial expectations and projections that lead to the trade in the first place, it will affect our hindsight analysis of the trade (this seems no different than a club trading for a projected Top Prospect that never materializes at the big league level; that doesn’t change the fact that the team thought they traded for a Top Prospect, but it does change the value of the trade).)
One of my friends once asked me, while trying to analyze the particularly vexing question of Greinke’s FIP versus actual pitching results, “does Greinke throw pitches that move too much?” Since moving to Anaheim, Greinke is throwing his fastballs significantly less frequently, in favor of his curveballs; furthermore, his pitches are faster and moving at different rates:
FF: 92.7 MPH, 10.10 vertical, -3.72 horizontal in LAA (92.3 MPH, 9.19 vertical, -3.24 horizontal in MIL. This means that Greinke’s Anaheim fastball is harder, does not drop against gravity as much, and also moves in on righties at a stronger rate).
FT: 92.6 MPH, 6.91 vertical, -8.62 horizontal in LAA (92.6, 6.59 vertical, -8.24 horizontal in MIL. This effectively means that Greinke’s “secondary” fastball is not sinking as much, although it moves in on righties at a stronger rate).
CU: 74.2 MPH, -6.59 vertical, 7.07 horizontal in LAA (73.6 MPH, -7.62 vertical, 7.53 horizontal in MIL. Interestingly enough, Greinke’s average curve is slightly faster in Anaheim, does not “drop” as much, and it also does not break away from righties as much).
SL: 84.7 MPH, 0.26 vertical, 4.15 horizontal in LAA (84.2 MPH, -1.55 vertical, 4.49 in MIL. Same story as the curve: slightly faster, not dropping as much, not breaking away from righties as much).
FC: 89.1 MPH, 3.11 vertical, 1.88 horizontal in LAA (90.4, 5.44 vertical, 1.04 horizontal in MIL. Interestingly, Greinke’s cutter is completely different in Anaheim. He is throwing the pitch much less frequently, it’s more of a “sweeping” pitch — it drops a bit more than his Milwaukee cutter, and it also moves in on lefties more).
CH: 85.9 MPH, 3.30 vertical, -8.84 horizontal in LAA (85.5 MPH, 3.18 vertical, -8.69 horizontal in LAA. Much like Greinke’s “secondary fastball,” his Anaheim change up does not “drop” as much, although it breaks in on righties more).
Perhaps the biggest change is the most straightforward: not only is Greinke throwing his fastballs less frequently with the Angels, but he is also throwing them in the strike zone at a lower rate. On the flipside, he is selecting his curveball more frequently, and also throwing it for strikes much more frequently.
According to TexasLeaguers, here are Greinke’s Top 5 batting outcomes in Milwaukee:
Add to those outcomes a home run rate that more-than-doubled since leaving Milwaukee, and you’ve got a strong recipe for a 6.19 runs average.
Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC., 2000-2012.
TexasLeaguers. Trip Somers, 2009-2012.
Segura: Bob Levey / Getty: http://www.zimbio.com/photos/Jean+Segura/Milwaukee+Brewers+v+Houston+Astros/f6d0ey4q5G2
Hart: Barry Gutierrez / AP: http://www.mysanantonio.com/sports/article/Brewers-stumble-against-Rockies-7-6-3791478.php#photo-3333465