A couple of days ago I wrote a post that argued, in essence, that the Brewers reputed “awful” pitching staff was merely mediocre. Instead, I argued, it was their defense that was truly awful and I further argued that they will never put together a competent pitching staff until they got smart and assembled position players who could field.
The response was, in a nutshell, “You’re wrong, it is the pitching that sucks… and besides defense doesn’t matter all that much anyway. Its overrated.”
I can’t let that kind of critique go unanswered. If defense doesn’t matter, what would happen if we removed a position player? Do you think that would make a difference in the defensive runs allowed? Or, conversely, what if we added one? Might that result in a few hits turning into valuable outs? In my mind, it might.
But anyway, my last post was just an argument in general terms. So today I went a bit farther into the issue, to see if my central argument had any merit. I think it did.
According to FanGraphs, while the Brewers ERA is fifth from the bottom, when it comes to outcomes that the Brewers pitching staff can itself control, as measured by Fielding Independent Statistics, the Brewers staff, as I argued, is merely mediocre. They are 14th from the bottom, or nearly dead middle of the Majors.
What kind of comparative effect does the Brewers shoddy defense have on that ERA? In other words, how badly does the Brewers staff fare — compared to every other staff in the Majors — when you compare the statistics that are directly in the pitchers’ control to the team’s actual overall ERA?
They don’t fare well. The team’s actual ERA compared to its FIP ERA declines further than any other pitching staff in the majors, and it isn’t even close.
But how much of an impact does this difference make? Well, just for shits and grins, I took the best defense in the Majors, the Tampa Bay Rays, and replaced them with the Bad News Brewers to see what would happen to the Tampa pitching staffs ERA. It rises. When considering the Rays FIP ERA plus the Brewers defense, the Rays actual ERA goes from a stellar 3.58, good for fourth in the Majors, to a much worse 4.67, good for 26th in the Majors… which would be one spot ahead of where the Brewers are right now.
Now lets put the Rays radar like defense behind the Brewers admittedly mediocre staff. If we do so, what looks like shit suddenly looks decidedly less like shit. The Brewers staff ERA, when considering its FIP + the Rays defense, would suddenly dip to 3.80, which would be good for seventh best in the Majors.
Now maybe the Brewers defense is just incredibly unlucky, maybe the breaks just aren’t with the boys. Oh, and at the same time the Rays defense is incredibly lucky. Not likely. For a game or two, maybe. For five months? Please.
And maybe the number of earned runs a pitching staff gives up doesn’t factor in wins produced. Well, that one you’ll have to decide for yourself. I was always led to believe it does.