Sunday, September 14, 2014

Flyover: Milwaukee Brewers

This continues a series of looks at each team over the past month. I was doing these alphabetically--got through Detroit--but I'm going to jump around now, for three reasons. First, I haven't been able to post as frequently as I wanted. Second, at this point in the season, I think the interest in non-contenders (the Florida Marlins are next alphabetically) is pretty limited. Finally, in September, with all the minor league callups, the mix of players for teams not in the pennant race can get pretty diluted. So I'm going to pick these based on my interest.

Let's start with a tale of woe: The Milwaukee Brewers.

How Are They Doing Lately? Thirty days ago, the Brew Crew was in first place in the National League Central (as they'd been every day since April 5), two games ahead of St. Louis and two and a half ahead of Pittsburgh. They had the third-best record in the league, just half a game behind Washington. Since then, they're 10-17, second-worst in the league, and they've fallen not only out of first place but also out of a playoff spot, as they're a game and a half behind the Pirates for the second wild card spot entering play today. What happened?

What's Going Right? This is going to be a short list, since over the last 30 days, the Brewers have scored 3.4 runs per game, the third fewest in the league, while giving up 5.0, the most (by a quarter of a run). The offense has put up mediocre but not terrible raw statistics (ninth in batting, eighth in on base percentage, tenth in slugging) but they haven't bunched their hits together in order to score runs. 

What's Going Wrong? I keep repeating this in these reviews, but it's because it comes up as such an important factor: The On The Field Of Play pitching mantra is It's good to throw strikes, but it's better to get strikes. Over the past 30 days, Brewers pitchers have been third worst in the league at throwing strikes (47% of pitches in the strike zone compared to a league average of 49%) and last in getting batters to swing at pitches outside the strike zone (29% compared to a league average of 31%). In other words, the pitchers aren't getting pitches in the strike zone, and when they don't, they're not fooling batters. They've probably been a bit unlucky, as they're allowing a .324 batting average on balls in play, compared to a league average of .298. A large deviation from the league average is usually indicative of luck. Nonetheless, the starters' ERA of 4.68 is the league's worst, and the relievers' 4.36 is the fifth worst.

The offense hasn't been standout terrible, just overall not very good.

Who's Hot? Catcher Jonathan Lucroy, a fringe MVP candidate, has been OK over the last 30 days, batting .288 with a .362 on base percentage and a .442 slugging percentage. The team's other standout this year, center fielder Carlos Gomez, has a .274/.379/.479 slash line. Every one of those figures I listed, other than Gomez's on base percentage, is equal to or worse than the player's season-long average, but it's not easy coming up with happy stories here. The best pitcher over the past 30 days, easily, has been starter Mike Fiers, who is 4-1 with a 2.20 ERA.

Who's Not? Three starters have ERAs over 5.50 over the past 30 days: Wily Peralta (5.74), Kyle Lohse (6.04), and Matt Garza (9.00). Closer Francisco Rodriguez has blown only one save but he's compiled a 5.40 ERA, giving up five walks and five homers over his past 10 innings. (Frame of reference: Cardinals starter Lance Lynn has given up three more homers, for a total of eight, over 184.2 innings this year). 

All-or-nothing first baseman Mark Reynolds has been nothing over the last 30 days, batting .091 with a .114 slugging percentage. That's three singles, one double, and eleven strikeouts over 44 at bats. Second baseman Scooter Gennett is batting .244 with only a .262 on base percentage. 

What's the Outlook? At this point, the Brewers need help to make the postseason, though they've picked things up of late, winning three of their last four entering today's game against the Reds. After today, they have three games in St. Louis, three in Pittsburgh, three in Cincinnati, and then three at home against the Cubs. Their closest rival, the Pirates, have an easier schedule, but not by much: six games at home (three for the Brewers), remaining games against teams with a weighted won-lost percentage of .486 (.498 for the Brewers). If the Brewers are going to make the postseason, it seems, they'll have to continue their mastery of the Pirates, against whom they're 11-5 this year. I wouldn't rule them out yet.

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