Is Rickie Weeks injury actually helping the Brewers?

What is driving the Milwaukee Brewers incredible post-All Star surge?  That is the question I wanted to answer.  Using ESPN’s “split” statistics I was able to do so.  The team is winning because of its pitching and, especially, its defense.

The statistic I use to measure offensive production in baseball is Bill James original Total Base Average, which is simply (Total Bases + Base on Balls / At Bats + Base on Balls).  Its very simple and does a good job of identifying how many bases a team or player is generating each time they/he appear at the plate, and bases produced translates directly into runs which translates into wins.

Milwaukee’s Offense is down; Defense is way, way up

The National League Total Base Average for 2011 is 0.441.  In the first half of the baseball season, the Milwaukee Brewers posted a TBA of 0.465.  The Milwaukee Brewers pitching and defense allowed their opponents to post a TBA of 0.445, meaning their pitching/defense was just slightly below average.

What has happened in the second half of the season?  Well, since the All-Star break, the Brewers offense has posted a TBA of 0.458, slightly down from their first half production. However, their pitching and defense has improved markedly.  The Brewers Opponent TBA for the second half is only 0.382.

Is it a mere coincidence that Brewers 2b Rickie Weeks has missed the majority of the games since the All Star break?  Has his absence fueled the Brewers defense surge?  Weeks has always been a weak defender, but you wouldn’t think one player could have such an impact on total defense, but the numbers are persuasive, especially if you isolate games that Weeks has not been in.

Rickie Weeks has not played at all in August. In August the Brewers Opponent TBA is even better than it has been over the entire post All Star term — 0.369.

Incredible Turnaround in Fielding

That’s not all.  If you look at the Brewers Opponent “BABIP”, meaning “Batting Average on Balls in Play”, which is an excellent measure of a team’s fielding defense because it essentially measures a team’s ability to turn balls hit into the field of play into outs, you will see that the Brewers numbers have improved dramatically in the second half, and even more with Weeks gone.

During the first half of the season, the Brewers Opponent BABIP was a substandard 0.302 (the NL average is 0.298).  During the post All-Star break, the Brewers Opponent BABIP has been a greatly improved 0.275.  During August, a month Weeks did not play, the Brewers BABIP is a sterling 0.266.

Better off with Weeks out?

Here are the facts.  The Brewers have won 22 out of their last 25 games.  The winning streak is being driven by a greatly improved defense.  Rickie Weeks has not played at all during the streak, and he has been a poor defender ever since he broke into the Major Leagues.

Is all of the above a mere coincidence?  Maybe. I don’t rule that out. But the numbers are so starkly different with and without Weeks, it raises the question whether or not the Brewers are better off with someone else at second base.

Again, I cannot see how that is possible.  He is one of their best offensive producers, and I am skeptical whether one person can wreak enough havoc to override the kind of offense he produces.

But the defensive numbers and the results on the field are definitely food for thought.

 

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6 Responses to “Is Rickie Weeks injury actually helping the Brewers?”

  1. pvasholz Says:

    I think it’s more of a coincidence than anything. Rickie Weeks defense has been better the past couple of years. I won’t pretend to understand advanced defensive stats too well, but the one I kind of know something about, UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating), has shown him to have a positive value the past three years. I would speculate that a good portion of the change in the Brewers fortunes recently is due to playing against the NL Central for much of this streak.

  2. dtmeyers Says:

    Its also worth noting that defensive statistics are highly variable in comparison to offensive statistics. The defense has been spectacular recently, but thats more likely a result of a small sample size than Weeks’ absence.

  3. Dan Says:

    I believe the improved numbers have nothing to do with Weeks’ absence and are almost entirely the result of incredible pitching, both by the starters and the relievers.

    Now, Weeks’ absence IS helping the Brewers because other guys are now getting more playing time, which will only help in the postseason. Plus, it looks like they found a solid super-sub in Hairston, which they wouldn’t have done had they not needed a replacement for Weeks. Of course, all this is only good because they are also winning like crazy, allowing these positives to actually be positives.

  4. BadgerBucco Says:

    So far this season, Rickey has added 1.2 runs to the team with his fielding, according to BaseballProspectus. Hairston and Lopez have been a bit above average defensively (according the BP) with the Brewers but quite a bit below average with their former teams.

    Since it takes about 10 runs to equal a win in baseball metrics, that number would have to be dramatically off to make much of a difference in the record, much less the type of impact you suggest.

  5. Dan Sinclair (@dan_sinclair) Says:

    Opponent BABIP isn’t a good way of measuring team defense. It’s due much more to luck than a team’s defense, and the drop in the Brewers’ opponents’ BABIP is likely due more to a small sample size in which an unusually high percentage of balls have been hit on the ground or right at guys. While the Brewers have definitely been pitching very well, but that low opponent BABIP is probably contributing to their winning ways quite a bit.

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