Thursday, May 26, 2011

You Can't Control Baseball

If there is one thing that has been pretty indicative of the first seven weeks of the Brewers season, it's been that there are simply some things out of the control of those involved with the game. Batters can hit the ball right on the screws and not find holes. Or, in Zack Greinke's case, pitches can make all the correct pitches and still end up with no so dominant results.

Obviously the Brewers weren't expecting Greinke to come in and have an ERA of 5.79 through his first five starts of the season. Surely, those are disappointing numbers for the former Cy Young award winner. However, how Greinke has gotten that ERA is much more important than the number itself.

Taking one glance at Greinke's numbers, it's pretty tough to understand why they are where they are. He has struck out 39 batters in just 28 innings. That's not the problem. Maybe he is walking batters. Well, again that can't be it as he has allowed just three free passes all season. If you really want to understand why Greinke has 'struggled' this season, one has to take into account things the pitcher just can't control.

Greinke has cruised through inning after inning this season, only to see one inning come back and bite him. Generally, the damage has come through the home run ball. Greinke's HR/FB ratio is currently at an astounding 17.9%, or 11.2% higher than his career average. Batters have also found hits with 34.8% of the balls put in play against him this season. Again, that is 4% higher than his career norm.

Obviously, those are numbers that will come back to earth and are contributing to Greinke's woes this season, but are not the most telling stat. Even though so few batters have been able to make contact against Greinke, and even fewer have reached base, those who have, have been scoring. In fact, 48% of the baserunners Greinke has allowed this season have come around to score. That's one of the most ridiculous statistics I have ever heard. For reference, in Jeff Suppan's worst season as a Brewer, just 29% of his runners were scoring. In fact, that number has little to do with talent and much more to do with luck. Simply put Zack Greinke has pitched incredibly this season. Take that in two ways: incredible and incredibly unlucky. If he continues this incredible pace he is on, his ERA is going to end of much closer to his current xFIP of 1.58 than his current ERA.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Return of John Axford

After a rough start to the season, Brewers fans had reasons to be concerned about John Axford. He seemed to struggle with his location and simply wasn't getting batters to chase the pitches that made him successful in 2010. Sure, it was only 6.1 innings, but some signs for regression were there.

I wrote an article depicting the struggles from Axford and blaming most of it on location. The velocity was still there, but Axford wasn't placing his pitches where he wanted them. Looking back, Axford has seemed to solve this issue and return to his 2010 form of a dominant arm at the back end of the Brewers bullpen.

Since those problematic 6.1 innings, Axford has been unhittable. Looking at his numbers before and after are a pretty good representation of Axford's turnaround.

Before April 19th

6.1 IP, 6 ER, 8 Hits, 6 BB, 6 K, 3 Saves, 2 Blown Saves

Since April 19th

15 IP, 4 ER, 15 Hits, 2 BB, 21 K, 9 Saves, 0 Blown Saves

The outcome looks even more promising for Axford. Thus far, batters who put the ball in play have had that ball land for a hit 38.6% of the time. While Axford has done a very good job of limiting the amount of contact being made against him (11.5 K/9), his has been unlucky thus far. If those numbers dip to the league average of 29-31%, Axford's late inning effectiveness will only increase.

He has also improved his ability to throw strikes during this span. Through those first seven outings, Axford was throwing strikes at a 60.4% clip. As that number has increased, so has his productivity. Since April 19th, Axford's pitches have gone for strikes 68% of the time. This obviously leads to the increased strikeout and reduced walk totals. Also leading to that positive turn has been Axford's ability to get hitters to swing and miss when he is throwing those strikes. Right now, Axford's getting swings and misses at 21.3% of the pitches inside the strike zone. For a reference, Axford recorded just 15.8 in that category last year.

However it's looked at, John Axford's production is on the rise. For a closer who is controlled very cheaply, this is great news for the Brewers. As long as Axford continues to throw strikes and use his plus arm, the Brewers have a very nice asset at the back end of their bullpen.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Offensive Offense

Let's be blunt, the Milwaukee Brewers are pretty tough to watch right now. The bullpen is struggling. The defense has been horrendous. Most important, they have lost seven in a row.

How they have looked in those seven games has been an even worse story. The offense has been just awful. The stats are very simple over the past week. In those seven games, they have scored just seven runs. They have just 34 hits over that same span. Even worse, they have struck out 62 in those games. That is pretty terrible, but even worse considering they have walked just nine times. What does that come out to? A near seven to one strikeout to walk ratio for opposing pitchers.

Looking at the numbers for the opposing pitchers during the streak is just incredible. One way to analyse how good someone pitched is by looking at their game score. The formula for game score is, start with 50 points. Add 1 point for each out recorded (3 points per inning). Add 2 points for each inning completed after the 4th. Add 1 point for each strikeout. Subtract 2 points for each hit allowed. Subtract 4 points for each earned run allowed. Subtract 2 points for each unearned run allowed. Subtract 1 point for each walk. While that may seem complicated, just remember the higher the score, the better the outing and the average score in baseball is 53.

Wandy Rodriguez 74

Bud Norris 81

Jair Jurrjens 61

Tommy Hanson 63

Tim Hudson 90

Brandon Beachy 70

Jaime Garcia 90

Sure the pitching isn't exactly doing it's job right now, but the responsibility of this losing streak lies with the offense. Drastic steps need to be taken. Carlos Gomez should never see the two hole again. Wil Nieves needs to be sent down. Yunieski Bentancourt needs to sit more. Until these steps are taken, the Brewers are not giving themselves the best chance of breaking out of their current slide. I'm not going to jump ship yet on this offense, but changes need to be explored.