Thursday, August 13, 2009

Are the Brewers Pitchers Unlucky?

When the Brewers pitching staff started out the year so effectively, many fans were talking about how good the pitching was. I said to many people I talked to that the pitching staff was overachieving and would probably not keep it up.

Since the great start, the pitching has been horrendous. It seems those same fans that were enthusiastic about the pitchers are now slamming the staff.

There is no way the Brewers pitchers were as good as they started. The important thing to remember is that they are not as bad as they have pitched over the last two months. The Brewers staff falls somewhere in the middle.

The whole season I have looked at how effective the bullpen has been. That has not been the case over the past couple of weeks. The starting pitching is to blame for this. It seemed for quite some time that the Brewers starters were only going five innings, or less, every game. That would leave the remaining four, or more innings, to the bullpen. After a couple of weeks of this, even the best of bullpens are going to get worn down. That shows just how important starting pitching in baseball is.

Injuries and ineffectiveness certainly haven't been prevalent this season. Nothing hurt the Brewers more than when Dave Bush went down over a month ago. Manny Parra was also demoted to the minor leagues after an inability to find the strike zone. The pitchers that replaced them in the rotation didn't get it done on two fronts. Not only did Mike Burns and Seth McClung struggle in the rotation, they just didn't pitch deep into games. As the season progresses, two inning starts don't only hurt your chances of winning that game, they kill your bullpen.

After mentioning Parra, I thought it would be fun to pass on something I just read about him (credit to Coming into today's start, Manny Parra had the 14th highest career BABIP (batting average of balls batted into play) with at least 200 IP in major league history. This season, when hitters make contact against Parra, they are hitting .365 (before todays start). The league average for pitchers is right around .300. Today, Parra went 5.2 innings and struck out seven. That means that Parra got ten of his 17 outs via his defense. Against Parra today, the Padres had 13 hits. This means that Parra BABIP today was .565 (13-23). With the start, Parra's BABIP raised to .377 (139-369). The next pitcher with the highest BABIP this season is Aaron Harang, who is .030 points lowers at .347. That's just plain bad luck, not only today, but all season.

There is no way that those kind of statistics can keep up. BABIP is essentially a stat that determines one's luck. If someones BABIP is too low, he is a very lucky pitcher. These averages will even out eventually. Parra is a good pitcher when he throws strikes. Maybe fans will understand when Parra is so reluctant to put the ball over the plate. He is in fact the 14th unluckiest pitcher in baseball history (pitchers with at least 200 IP), with a .350 BABIP in his career.

Many people like to discredit this stat. They argue that if a pitcher has better stuff, or is just a good pitcher, his BABIP would be lower than a bad pitcher. I will compare Jeff Suppan (a bad pitcher will bad stuff), to Tim Lincecum (an amazing pitcher with amazing stuff). It might strike you as odd that these two pitchers have identical BABIP averages this season (both .318). This is why I feel that if you are able to limit walks and strikeout many hitters, you will be a good pitcher in the major leagues. Lincecum is able to accomplish both those things, while Suppan is not. That is why Suppan is averaging more than three more earned runs per nine innings than Lincecum. Suppan's ERA sits at an embarrassing 5.27, while Lincecum leads the majors with a 2.19 ERA.

Another pitcher that has seen a big digression this season is Braden Looper. Although his BABIP is right near his career average, his ERA sky rocketed. What is the reasoning behind this?

Looper has a very respectable 4.06 career ERA. This season, it currently sits at 4.99. His ground ball to fly ratio this season is 1.35-1, as opposed to 1.56-1 for his career. That is a slight increase in fly balls, but not enough to warrant a full run higher in ERA. One stat that jumped out right away was that Looper is currently allowing 1.91 HR/9. That is opposed to a career HR/9 of 0.98. So how can someone's HR/9 jump nearly one per nine innings? I guess when warning track fly balls start going out. This season, when a pop up/fly ball is hit off Looper, 18% of the time it goes for a home run. That is up more than 6% from his career average. I know that Miller Park is considered a hitters park, but no where near that much.

The luck of the Brewers pitchers is going to have to start to change. They are not walking batters at a ridiculous rate. The strikeouts are also fine. They shouldn't have a team ERA of 4.9, they are just too talented.

1 comment:

Colin said...

I think that pitchers do have a little bit of control over BABIP, but not nearly as much as hitters do. I think its a little safter to compare pitchers' BABIP against to their own career averages than the league average. Still, even if you only look at Parra's prior career, you can clearly see that he's better than his ERA indicates.

But yes, walks and strikeouts are still the first thing I check when looking at a pitcher.