Wednesday, September 8, 2010

You Have to Earn the "D": How the Brewers' Atrocious 'efense Affects Their Mediocre Pitching

In this week’s ESPN Power Rankings, SweetSpot and Fangraphs blogger Jack Moore (who’s a really nice guy, and is really too smart to be only 20 years old. It’s infuriating, actually) points out that the BrewCrew rank dead last in defensive efficiency in baseball. Throughout the year, fans and media types in Wisconsin have been concerned about the team’s pitching staff, and the team’s apparent failure to identify decent starters to staff the rotation. But, as Jack and TCM discussed in a Twitter exchange, the team’s horrendous defense has significantly altered the perception of how that staff is doing. Just how much? Let’s look deeper.

First and foremost, let’s look at the raw defensive data. Using data from Baseball, here’s what we find hitters have done against Brewers pitching and MLB pitching:


*These numbers differ from the’s BABIP figures, as their formula does not count Sacrifices for some reason. The Common Man chose not to use Fangraphs’ numbers because they disagree sharply with’s (the Brewers’ BABIP against is listed as .325 there) and they do not provide raw data on Sacrifices and SacFlies against.  Not helpful, guys.

As you can see, the Brewers’ give away 19 points of BABIP versus the league average. If they had a league average defense, the BrewCrew would have converted 68 of their hits allowed into outs. That’s more than two full games worth of outs that Milwaukee has essentially given away, and there’s still a month of games left to play.

Ryan Braun in his "ready position." Note,
he's not going to catch this ball.
The primary culprits have been the guys you’d probably expect to undermine the team’s defense. While the team’s rotating CFers have all been above average according to UZR, their corner outfielders (Ryan Braun (-11.0) and Corey Hart (-7.7) have been disasters. Prince Fielder is not exactly “rangey” either, and has given back 9.2 runs. Casey McGehee (-5.7) has also been pretty terrible. In fact, of all the positions, only CF and Alcides Escobar at SS have positive UZRs. Fangraphs doesn’t keep track of catcher defense, but according to every metric on, Brewer catchers have been below average, and have thrown out runners at just a 24% clip (versus the 28% MLB average).

Brewer pitchers have, of course, been the ones to suffer. Here are all the Milwaukee hurlers who have thrown more than 25 innings this year, their ERA, and their Fielding Independent Pitching (designed to look like ERA, FIP gives an approximation of a pitcher’s performance based on the factors the pitcher can control and in front of a normal defense; the scale for what constitutes a good FIP is the same as ERA):

John Axford2.372.39
Kameron Loe2.873.76
Zach Braddock2.903.07
Yovani Gallardo3.80
Chris Capuano4.623.99
Randy Wolf4.685.19
David Bush4.715.31
Todd Coffey4.754.28
Carlos Villanueva4.863.92
Chris Narveson5.334.48
Manny Parra5.354.75
Trevor Hoffman6.235.48
Doug Davis7.515.24
Jeff Suppan7.844.88

Yovani pitching as valiantly as he can,
knowing it's all in vain
As you can see, the defense’s inefficiency has especially hurt Yovani Gallardo, Chris Capuano, Carlos Villanueva, Chris Narveson, Manny Parra, Trevor Hoffman, Doug Davis, and Jeff Suppan, all of whom had more than a half run shaved off of their ERAs, a group who accounts for just over half of the team’s total innings pitched.

In 2010, the Brewers have allowed the third most runs in Major League Baseball. It has been ugly. But by FIP, they rank 24th. And by xFIP (which normalizes FIP further by accounting for how different ballparks affect home run totals), they rank 19th. The upshot? While Milwaukee does not have a good pitching staff, they’ve done far better than they appear. And with Gallardo and Narveson in place for next year, they look poised to have a decent enough staff in 2011. But if Hart (who just signed an extension) and Braun are in the corners next year, don’t expect them to look much better.

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