Series Preview

Strange Brew(ers)

Do not believe the hype. I will say it again: Do not believe the hype. All year, I’ve been looking at this Brewers team from afar and thinking, “That just doesn’t seem real.” I hadn’t looked really closely at them because, well, I haven’t had to and it didn’t matter that much to me.  But now that I’m writing a series preview, it’s time to look into the matter.

I did. This team is a mirage.

Yes, they have an excellent record. Yes, they have built a substantial lead such that it maybe hard to catch them, but let me drop some numerical knowledge on you.

Brewers hitters (non-pitcher division) have a .310 BABIP.

Reds hitters (non-pitcher division) have a .288 BABIP.

League average BABIP (non-pitchers) is .299.

Hmmmmmmm……

Good ‘Ol Pythagoras already tells us that the Brewers have won a few more games than we’d expect. Add in the BABIP variation and it’s hard to see this as the juggernaut they’ve seemed to be so far.

Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t a terrible team. Their pitching seems legit (much to my surprise), but a lot of what has happened this year is luck.

Projected Lineup

The Brewers are healthy right now, here’s the lineup you can expect to see from them:

1. Scooter Gennett (L, 23) 2B
2. Ryan Braun (R, 30) RF
3. Jonathan Lucroy (R, 27) C
4. Carlos Gomez  (R, 28) CF
5. Aramis Ramirez (R, 35) 3B
6. Khris Davis (R, 26) LF
7. Mark Reynolds (R,30) 1B
8. Jean Segura (R, 24) SS
The Brewers’ lineup, as it stands right now, is oddly reminiscent of what the Reds are sending out. Some very good hitters and a bottom of the order that doesn’t do much of anything. Aramis Ramirez is having an oddly bad year (90 wRC+), but he is also one of the few Brewers with a lower than expected BABIP (.252), so he should be feared as much as always.
Given that, the Brewers have an outstanding lineup 2-5 with Gennett not exactly a slouch leading off.

Run Prevention

The Brewers, like the Reds, have gotten a lot of help from their defense. Correspondingly, their pitchers are maybe not as good as they look. However, and this is a common mistake, that doesn’t mean we should expect different results. Teams with good defenses should have pitchers whose ERAs are lower than their peripherals predict.

PROBABLE STARTING PITCHERS

The key, which includes the current NL average for starting pitchers, for the stats in the charts:

  • ERA (average number of earned runs given up over nine innings, NL: 3.66);
  • xFIP (expected fielding independent pitching, assumes normal BABIP and home runs based on fly ball rates, scaled to ERA, NL: 3.68);
  • SIERA (skill-interactive ERA; further refinement of xFIP taking into account hit-ball percentages, weights strike outs, NL: 3.63);
  • K% and BB% (percentage of strikeouts and walks per plate appearance, NL: 20.8% and 7.9%);
  • SwStr% (percentage of total pitches the batter swings and misses, NL: 9.5%)

Friday, 8:10pm

PITCHER ERA xFIP SIERA K% BB% SwStr%
  Matt Garza 4.42 4.12 4.23 18.9% 9.0% 9.3%
 Homer Bailey 4.60 3.48 3.55 20.6% 7.4% 10.7%

Homer Bailey is better than Matt Garza in every way. This should come as a surprise to no one. Garza is a fine, but in no way scary pitcher.

Saturday, 7:15pm

PITCHER ERA xFIP SIERA K% BB% SwStr%
Yovani Gallardo 2.71 3.85 3.93 18.2% 7.9% 6.1%
Mat Latos* 3.16 3.56 3.59 21.2% 6.6% 10.3%

Gallardo showed a lot of early promise in his career and I have a habit of thinking of him as better than he is. This year, he’s been lucky in terms of ERA, but otherwise, he’s been the same kind of middling-pitcher he’s been for several years. Latos will be making his season debut, as you are well aware, and his numbers are from the 2013 season.

Sunday, 2:10pm

PITCHER ERA xFIP SIERA K% BB% SwStr%
Marco Estrada 4.56 4.20 3.92 21.8% 8.3% 5.2%
Mike Leake 3.61 3.32 3.30 17.7% 4.8% 7.0%

Again, nothing special here. The Reds have lucked out in that they are missing the two pitchers who are probably the best starters on the Brewer staff (Lohse and Peralta). The end message is that the Reds have the upper-hand in every matchup this weekend.

Bullpen

The Brewer pen has been very middling this year (and taken a bit of a tumble since the Reds last saw them). Their top relievers (Will Smith, Zach Duke, and Francisco Rodriguez) have been very, very good this year, however. Basically, if the bullpen is handed a lead, it’s not likely they’ll blow it if these three are ready to go.

Conclusion

Basically, the Brewers and the Reds represent opposite sides of the luck coin. The Reds, I think, are a bit better than they’ve shown and the Brewers are a bit worse. At this point in the season, it would be fairly surprising for the Brewers to not finish in front of the Reds, but I would also not be shocked to see both teams finish the year right around .500.

Despite the record, I am not convinced this is a team to really fear. The Brewers are solid, but they have weaknesses that can be exploited.

23 thoughts on “Strange Brew(ers)

  1. Interesting take Jason… I fall on the other end I think. Obviously the Brewers can’t be the team that started 22-8 or whatever it was close to that, but I think they’ll stay pretty solid.

    And, I would have thought if anything would fail them, it’d be their pitching… that Estrada might fade, but maybe he’s just coming into his own. Garza and Yovanni can be as bad as they are good at times. My real hope is that their bullpen continues to have a regression, because that’s been a big difference this year for them. Used to be the best strategy to beat them was to get to their bullpen as fast as you can. As you noted, they’ve got some solid stoppers going right now even if some of the other guys have come back to earth from the start of the season.

    Offensively, I’ll concede to the BABIP stats, but I do believe that overall the players they have out there on an everyday basis are better than the Reds. Khris Davis (.783 OPS) represents a more significant threat than anybody in the Reds LF and I guess we’ll be finding out if last year was a fluke for Segura… I believe he can hit and could turn it on. I applaud that they had the sense to drop Segura to the back of the order this year when he was so valuable at the front end last year… ahem, do that for Billy, ahem.

    Bruan trumps Jay, Gomez trumps Billy… across the whole outfield they’ve got us pretty good. Reds win at 1st and 3rd, and as good as Mes has been, Lucroy is a great hitter and red hot right now.

    I guess long and short… I’m more willing to buy the Brewers as pretty legit and a likely playoff team.

  2. The Brewers have a tough schedule after the All Star break. After this Reds series they have an easy break with ARI and COL. But they still have all their games to play with SF,LAD, and the Nats, 4 with Toronto, and their last 15 games of the season line up with 3 vs. CIN, 3@ StL, 3@PIT, 3@CIN, and end with 3 vs. CHI.
    Milwaukee will come back down to earth. The question is will it be a soft landing or with a crash? I am hopeful that it’ll be a big ole thud.
    This is not the year the Reds should stand pat. One more bat is all they need. Not just “a” bat, but the “right” bat needed for this lineup.

  3. I think you’re trying to explain away way too much with a pretty small variation in BABIP. .310 really isn’t that high for a team to finish a year. Also, WAR removes BABIP variation, and the Brewers already have accumulated 3 more WAR than the Reds position players.

    So you could say that the Brewers are a lot like the Reds, except for having an extra MVP caliber player on offense.

  4. The Brewers hit a higher percentage of line drives than the Reds, so it isn’t surprising their BABIP is higher. Don’t assume that’s all a luck thing because it isn’t.

      • You’re mixing up hitting and pitching. There are sustained differences in BABIP based on the skills of hitters. Batters like Joey Votto (or Carlos Gomez, Ryan Braun, Kris Davis, Jonathan Lucroy etc.) do sustain LD% because they are better hitters. That translates into higher OBP.

        Pitchers are assumed to face a normal distribution of line drive, fly ball and ground ball hitters over time so there BABIP converges to the league norm. But it doesn’t work that way for hitters.

  5. Yeah, that lineup is very solid. I agree about the corner infielders, but everyplace else they outmatch us (Mes needs some more time for me, IMO). Ramirez will punish somebody soon, just hope it’s not this week. We have a better rotation, and we have a slight edge in bullpens. Our defense is better, but the Brewers are good in that area as well. I have felt that for the last few seasons the Brewers underacheived. I am hoping the long game last night in addition to the trip back home has some ill effects on them. We are fortunate not to get Peralta. And there is still some regression at hand for the Brewers. Here’s hoping for the perfect storm.

    • They have really gotten better on defense… and they are quite adept at shifting and positioning their guys. But that said… Reds took the series in Cincy, so let’s do it again.

  6. The important thing about the Brewers is that no matter how or why it happened, they put together that run of outstanding play which separated them from the division by about a week’s worth of games; and, now all they have to do is defend that lead which is made easier by the fact that the three teams behind are tightly aligned and looking around at each other as much or more than they are the Brewers,

    Unless the Brewers fall off a cliff or one of the other teams stages a monster run, the Brewers will be there in the mix, likely with favorable position, right to the end. The task of the other three teams at this point is for each to try and separate from the other two and get into “contact” with the Brewers; and, if in the process one of these teams puts together a run which matches or eclipses the run of the, let us hope it is the Reds.

  7. “if in the process one of these teams puts together a run which matches or eclipses the run of the, let us hope it is the Reds.”

    Preach says “Amen’.

  8. The crazy thing to me is how long the Reds have been treading water. We were 3 games below .500 after 5 games this season, and that’s right where we are again.

    The Reds need to get a sweep here. It would really shake up the whole season. We’d finally get back to .500, and we’d bring the Brewers back into striking distance at 5 games up. Plus as the post noted, missing their two best starters gives us the pitching edge in all three games assuming Latos is good to go.

  9. So when healthy, BP is probably the worst #4 hitter in baseball this year. Now he has an injured index finger that Price said caused paid when trying to swing a bat.. yet 24 hours later, here he is in the #4 yet again.

    I realize BP is a tough dude, but how many times are they going to let him continue to start and bat 3rd or 4th injured? I am afraid this will be like the forearm all over again. He isn’t helping the team by toughing out and injury if he can’t play at his normal level.(which so far this year is a 90 OPS+).

    Why don’t they just sit him for a day or two until he feels better rather than let him play with something lingering for an extended period?

      • Soon, Jay will get hot and there will come a day BP gets the day off against a RHP. Jay will bat 4th behind JV. He will hit well. The next day, BP will be back in the lineup, hitting 5th. If Mesoraco ever heats up again, the same thing will play out again, except BP will be batting 6th when he returns.

        • If Mesoraco ever heats up again…….
          *******************************************************

          Unfortunately that is starting to be a bigger “if” every day. It is as if Meso figured something over the winter but now the pitchers have countered what he figured out and so far he doesn’t have an answer.

        • That’s kind of the way I see it. I would like to see Bruce in the 4-hole (but he is so dang streaky) or Mes (but Mes, so far has regressed when he has been moved up in the batting order). I think Mes will adjust over time to hitting higher in the order and we can probably live with Bruce’s streaks. At this point in his career and with this team, I don’t see Phillips as a clean-up hitter, but I think he would be a good 6 hitter. In the past Phillips was put in the 4-hole by default and he made valiant attempts to rise to the challenge and produce there and at times did have some success.

  10. If this article was meant to give us hope that we’re actually going to take this series from the so-called lucky Brewers, I’m not buying it! Time to put up or shut up! This is Cincy’s chance to get back into this race!

    • You should have hope that we’ll take this series since we took the last series from the Brewers 3-1. And we should have the pitching advantage in all of the games.

  11. Eric I really wish I could have hope. If the series were at GABP I think I would feel alot better. The reds get so close to the .500 mark and then a top teams comes up on the calendar and poof we fall farther from the .500 mark again. I’m so happy that Latos is back but the fact is it’s his first start of the season. The brewers are a really good team and yes we did take the last series at GABP mind you. Cincinnati usually sucks in Brew City! Gosh I hate Miller Park I think it looks terrible and dark. Not a fan of the dome thing at all.

  12. Wonder if Votto had any Gomez nightmares last night? Darn Gomez!!! Wish he was in a red uni though!!

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