Brewers woeful defenders exposed

June 22, 2012

The 2012 Milwaukee Brewers are above average on offense, and in fact are a better run producing team than the 2011 Brewers team that featured Prince Fielder.  The Brewers are a slightly worse pitching team, but not by much.  The Brewers record is much worse due to one factor:  the team’s inability to turn batted balls into outs.  The 2011 Brewers were well above average in the field, the 2012 Brewers are the worst fielding team in the National League.

To expose which Brewers are to blame, I looked up each player’s “Defensive Runs Saved/Year” on  Defensive Runs Saved calculates the number of runs a player prevented the opposition from scoring based upon the number of “chances” that he converted into “outs” (and other factors).   Here is the list, from best Brewer fielder to worst:

1. Braun…..+13 runs
2. Morgan….+13 runs
3. Lucroy…. +7 runs
4. Gamel…. +0 runs
5. Kottaras…. +0 runs
6. Gomez…. -5 runs
7. Ishikawa…. -8 runs
8. Maldonado…. -8 runs
9. Ramirez…. -9 runs
10. Weeks…. -15 runs
11. Gonzalez…. -18 runs
12. Aoki…. -21 runs
13. Hart…. -33 runs

Gamel injury caused chain reaction

As you can see, the worst two defenders this season per chance (remember, I’m only considering DRS/year, so its prorated) have been 1st basemen Corey Hart and RF Aoki.  The only reason those two are playing the positions they are playing is because of the knee injury suffered by Mat Gamel.  The injury (along with Aoki’s hot bat) forced Hart to 1st and Aoki to right. Hart is actually a good RFer, but he is a terrible 1st baseman.  Aoki is a terrible defensive player with no range.  He deceives people with diving catches, but those were balls the average RFer could have played on his feet.

Beyond those two, the infield continues to be a defensive mess.  Ramirez is a substandard 3ber, and Rickie Weeks has never been a good defender at any point in his career, save for last season (wasn’t it his contract season??).  Scooter Gannet, we may be calling your name.

The irony of this whole thing is that the best defender on the Brewers is MVP Ryan Braun.  Wow, has he stepped up his game in the field.  At 3rd, he was brutal.  In LF, however, he has just gotten better and better.  He flags balls with the best of them, and he really puts accurate throws on every base.

Braun is having a magnificent season, at the plate and in the field.  Let’s hope some others can match him.


Either PEDs don’t work, or the Braun Scandal makes no sense

June 20, 2012

Last offseason, baseball star Ryan Braun was reported to have tested positive for grossly elevated levels of testosterone. The results made no sense to me, because Braun’s performance numbers for 2011, though slightly elevated, were right in line with his career numbers.

This season Braun is putting up even better numbers.  He has produced for the Brewers 194 bases on only 174 outs made.  Those are Stan Musial numbers.  Those are GOAT numbers. Those are the numbers Braun is producing in a season where he must be the must scrutinized and drug tested player in baseball.

Bill James, the father of Sabermetrics, has long argued that the effect PEDs have on performance numbers is minimal at worst.  He may be right.  If he is not right, then the whole Braun Scandal makes no sense.

I suppose there is a third potential explanation.  Maybe PEDs do not enhance performance, but they do expedite injury recovery.  That would make sense in the Braun case, because Braun was battling nagging injuries all last season, and he may have taken testosterone to insure his health during the Brewers second postseason in over a quarter century.

But if that is the case, why should anyone be against PEDs?  If PEDs don’t “EP” but rather allow players to recover quicker from injury, shouldn’t they merely be considered one more technological advancement?  I mean, players of today are able to recover from ACLs that would have ended many careers yesterday.

Food for thought, I guess.  But one thing is clear — the Federal Government should get the hell out of the sports prosecution business.  What a glory-seeking bunch of morons those federal prosecutors are anyway.

Much worse fielding is the difference between the 2011 and 2012 Brewers

June 8, 2012

Last season the Brewers finished with a 0.592 winning percentage.  This season their winning percentage is down to 0.456.  The difference is almost purely attributable to a drastic reduction in fielding efficiency.

I measure the three main baseball categories (batting, pitching, and fielding) by comparing the number of bases gained or allowed in each category to the number of outs produced by that category.  Base to Out ratio is highly correlated with the number of runs produced.

For batting, the number of bases gained includes bases gained by walks and hit batsmen, as well as bases stolen.  The number of outs produced excludes outs produced by sacrifice bunts.  For pitching, the number of bases allowed includes 4 bases for each home run and one base for every walk or hit batsmen.  No other bases are charged to the pitcher, because he has minimal control over every other kind of base production.  Similarly, the pitcher is only credited with producing outs that come from strikeouts.  Every other kind of base allowed by the defense and out produced by the defense is attributed to fielding.

In 2011, the Brewers offense produced 0.718 bases for every out they made.  That was outstanding.  This season the offense is only producing 0.696 bases per out, but that’s pretty close and still pretty good.

In 2011, the Brewers defense (pitching plus fielding)allowed only 0.637 bases for every out produced.  That was very good.  In 2012 the Brewers are allowing 0.715 bases for every out, which is very bad, and which explains their diminished winning percentage.  The extra bases allowed by the defense translates into extra runs for the opposition.

It’s the Fielding

The increase in bases allowed per outs made can be attributed entirely to the Brewers poor fielding.   Believe it or not, by my standards the Brewer pitching is actually improved.  In 2011 the pitchers were giving up 0.844 bases for every strikeout, this season they are only giving up 0.828 bases per strikeout.  But the fielding has been TERRIBLE.  In 2011, the fielding was a very good 0.504 bases allowed to outs produced whereas in 2012 the average has increased to 0.661.  That’s awful.  In fact, it is the worst in the National League.  And it is the reason why the Brewers are losing so many games despite their decent run production.

Who is to blame? A: Rickie Weeks (and others)

The problem with my fielding statistic is I cannot isolate blame.  However, if we look at the defensive metrics provided by Fan Graphs, we get some insight.

The biggest defensive liability, per play, is Aoki.  He is an incompetent outfielder.  In gross terms, however, the problem is 2nd baseman Rickie Weeks.  He just doesn’t make enough outs in the field.   He hasn’t done so since he came up, and he is not getting better.

Other bad defenders include some surprising names:  Corey Hart, Carlos Gomez, and Alex Gonzalez.  Each of those players have produced strong defensive numbers in the past.

The great irony is Ryan Braun.  At the beginning of his career, his defense was putrid.  He is now one of the more solid defensive players in the Brewers starting 9.

Room for optimism

Here’s why I’m optimistic.  Most of the “extra bases” have come from much poorer play in the outfield (if Weeks misses a play, its usually a single;  when Aoki doesn’t catch the ball it usually means extra bases).  If the team can shore up their outfield defense, they could turn this season around.  And they have the talent.  They just need some health.

Should the Mets defense get credit for Santana’s No-No?

June 2, 2012

On Friday night Johan Santana faced 32 St Louis Cardinal batters.  He struck out 8 of those batters and he walked 5 of them.  The other 19 Cardinal batters put the ball in play, but none of them reached base safely.  Who should get the credit for that fact?  Most every sane person would say Santana, but I would disagree.

Pitchers cannot control whether or not balls hit in the field of play become outs.  All pitchers can do is record outs by strikes, prevent walks by balls, and try to prevent batters from making contact with their bats that is square enough and forceful enough to make the baseball leave the field of play.

Against St Louis, Santana did the last thing well, but he was merely average on the other two.  National League pitchers record 29% of all outs made through strike outs, and that’s exactly the percentage Santana hit on Friday night.  Meaning,  Santana didn’t make the job of his defense any easier than it would normally be.  Thus he did not make a no-hitter more likely by reducing the number of batted balls that the defense had to successfully turn into outs (most multiple no-hit pitchers are power pitchers who make the odds of getting a hit lower by drastically reducing the number of outs the fielders have to make — see, Nolan Ryan).

Don’t get me wrong.  Santana had a nice night.  He only gave up 5 bases to the Cardinals.  That’s above average.  I am not criticizing his performance.  I am using the occasion of his no-hitter to make the general complaint that most no-hitters are a function of dumb luck and superior field defense, not pitching.  Unless a the no-hit pitcher recorded an inordinately high number of strikeouts, he didn’t really do anything to make the no-hitter more likely.   He either got lucky because every ball the opposition hit went close enough to a fielder that it could be turned into a routine out, or he was backed by a defense that turned a bunch of “normal hits” into “spectacular outs”.  (That’s why, generally speaking, you will have at least one or more really spectacular “he robbed him of a sure hit” outs recorded by the team’s field defense in every no-hitter.)

And I think a little of both happened last night.  An unusual number of balls hit in play were of the “playable” variety, and the Mets defense played the other balls superbly.

But who will get the credit in the history books?  Of course, that’s a rhetorical question.  Today, tomorrow, and 50 years from now (when we can’t even remember who played on the 2012 Mets) the credit will belong solely to Santana.   That’s baseball.

I tried the same lie Lucroy is trying… and my doctor called bulls#*t on me!!!

June 1, 2012

Jonathan Lucroy of the Milwaukee Brewers is trying to float the cockamamie story that he broke his hand when his wife dropped a suitcase on it.  It sounded fishy from the jump.  Then we came to find out he has a “boxer’s fracture”.  I know firsthand that he could not have gotten it without balling his fist and slamming it into a solid object.  In other words, his story is a baldfaced lie.

How do I know?  Oh… my doctor sort of told me.  No wait, he sort of told my parents in front of me, let’s put it that way.  Suffice to say I never forgot what a “boxer’s fracture” was and how you can and cannot get one.

Here’s the story.   In middle school we used to play touch football in the school yard before school.  Sometimes things got a little heated.  One day, for whatever reason, me and one of my friends got in a small tiff.  It wasn’t really even a fight.  But it was very cold and I landed a punch right on the side of his hard head.  My hand hurt so bad I couldn’t even grip a pen to write with.

But, being the 7th grade genius I was, I knew I couldn’t say I broke it fighting or I would have to endure six weeks of “What a stupid thing to do!” and “It serves you right for fighting!”  I mean, it was bad enough not being able to do anything at all with my main hand… who wants to add insult to such an annoying injury??

So I made up a really lame lie.  I claimed I somehow hurt it at “football practice”.  Who cares right?  The problem was I never sorted out how it actually happened.  I was real vague about that.  As Brad Pitt says in Inglorious Basterds “We have a word for that in English… it’s called ‘suspicious’!

But, I still don’t think it was necessary for my doctor to embarrass the living shit out of me in front of my parents.  But that’s exactly what he did.

First he has me recount my lameass story.  “Now, how did you say you broke your hand, Ty?”  When I finished he puts the X-Ray on one of those light deals and points out that the fracture was in an area and of a type that is called a “boxer’s fracture”.  The next words are burned into my brain

“Now, Ty.  You can’t possibly have gotten such a fracture in the manner you described.  You had to have punched something or someone.  Now, why don’t you explain how you really hurt your hand.”

After the cold sweat running down my face drained out of my eyes, I finally came clean.  And just as I suspected, everyone insulted my injury.

The question now is, when will Jonathan Lucroy do the same?



Zack Grienke is camped out due North of Spectacular

April 19, 2012

In 3 starts this season, two of which came against the two top offenses in the National League (St Louis and Los Angeles), Brewers starter Zack Grienke has allowed a mere 3 pitcher bases while personally accounting for 38% of the defensive outs recorded via strikeouts.  His ERA stands at an unimpressive 5.08, but that just goes to show what Dave Berri pointed out in Stumbling on Wins — Earned Run Average is largely dependent upon the defense behind the pitcher, not the pitcher.

22 of the 25 bases earned by the opposition while Grienke has been on the mound in 2012 have been earned on balls hit within the field of play and thus largely outside of Grienke’s control.  The only “allowed bases”  a Pitcher fully controls are bases allowed through walks, hit batsmen, and home runs.  Of those 3 subtypes, Grienke has not given up any home runs, has not hit any batsmen, and has allowed only 3 bases on balls.  So, Grienke is responsible for only 12% of the bases allowed on his watch.  The National League average for pitchers is 44%.

Meanwhile Grienke has personally recorded 39% of the outs made on his watch, which is far better than the National League pitcher average of 29%. Taken together, Grienke has personally denied the opposition around 5 runs for the season.

He has been spectacular.




Brewers are missing good defense and pitching, not Prince Fielder

April 17, 2012

Like a lot of people, I assumed the 2012 Milwaukee Brewers would be a good team if the players they added could combine to replace the offense of the departed Prince Fielder.  I also assumed the pitching would be just as good as last year and the defense would be better without the defensively challenged Fielder at first base.  That has not been the case at all.

So far, the offense is about where it was with Fielder, but the pitching has been terrible, and the defense has been the worst in the National League. 

I judge these matters by simply comparing bases to outs.  On offense the higher the average number of bases earned per out made, the more runs the team produces.  On defense, the fewer bases yielded per out made, the fewer runs the opposition can be expected to score.  But the defense has two components: “isolated pitching” and “isolated defense”. 

Isolated pitching is the bases given up solely by the pitcher (home runs, walks, and hit batsmen) compared with the outs made solely by the pitcher (strikeouts).  Isolated defense is the bases yielded mostly by the defense (bases earned on balls in play, plus steals) compared with the outs made in the field.

The National League offensive Bases Earned to Outs Made average is 0.642.  The Brewers offense is above average with a BEOM or “Cricket Average” of 0.691, which ranks fifth in the NL.  The National League Isolated Pitching BEOM average is 0.933.  The Brewers Isolated Pitching is well below average at 1.134 “pitcher bases” per “pitcher outs”.  That ranks 14th in the 16 team NL.  The National League Isolated Defense BEOM average is 0.538.  The Brewers are well below average in this category as well, as their defense gives up 0.671 bases for every out it records.  That ranks 16th in the NL, or rock bottom.

The 2011 Brewers were better in all three categories.  Here is the comparison chart:

BREWERS Offense Is Pitching Is Defense
2012 0.691 1.134 0.669
2011 0.704 0.844 0.549

As you can see, the Brewers were only a little better on offense, but substantially better in both defensive categories.  I cannot explain why the Brewers have declined.  It could actually be a reason for optimism.  The Brewers almost HAVE to be better on defense over the long haul.  A team cannot do much worse than the infield combination of Casey McGahee, Yuni Bettencourt and Prince Fielder.  That said, however, the aging replacments at 3rd (Aramis Ramirez) and Short (Alex Gonzalez) have not been impressive, and Mat Gamel is still feeling his way around at First.

But, watching the Brewers, it seems to me the biggest problems have been at the corner outfield spots.  Corey Hart is generally an above average fielder, but he is hampered by a leg problem and while he has been tremendous at the plate, he cannot cut a ball off in the alley to save his life.  On the other side you have Ryan Braun, a player who has never been confused with Willie Mays in the outfield.  But, last season Braun’s defense seemed to improve.  This season, so far, it has gone back to mediocre.  The poor play on the corners is causing the team to yield too many extra bases.

But what about the pitching?  Why has it declined.  Three big reasons: Randy Wolf, Yovani Gallardo, and Frankie Rodriquez.  Gallardo was beyond brutal in the home opener, giving up an astounding 21 pitcher bases (4 home runs and 5 walks).  His numbers have yet to recover, though his performance has improved.  It could hardly have gotten worse.   Gallardo is a good pitcher, and I am not worried about him.   At the moment he is sporting a gargantuan Isolated Pitching average of 2.555, but for his career he is an above average 0.712 and he should return to that norm.

Randy Wolf, on the other hand, is not a good pitcher.  He had one outstanding outing in last season’s NL Championship Series, and I think it has brought him more respect than he deserves.  He is a +1.0 Isolated Pitcher, and will always be.

Frankie Rodriguez has had one problem this season: he cannot locate the strike zone.  As soon as he does, he will be okay.

One pitcher who has been particularly impressive, but extremely unlucky, has been Zack Grienke.  Grienke has given up one solitary Pitcher Base for 12 Pitcher Outs recorded, for an outstanding Isolated Pitching average of 0.083.  Yes, he gave up 8 runs or whatever it was against the Cubs, but that was either bad fortune or bad defense.  The inning that killed him featured something like seven singles in a row, and most of them were what baseball people call “bleeders” (softly hit balls).  Most of the time those will be outs.

Rock Talk Jayhawk!! Kansas saved my bacon, again

March 26, 2012

Due to picking Florida to get to the Elite Eight and Kansas to the Final Four, my bracket pulled a Lazarus in the last four days.  It went from the 37th percentile after the Round of 32 to the 90th percentile after the Elite Eight.  I got 5 of 8 in the Elite Eight and 3 of 4 in the Final Four.  Unfortunately, my winner was Michigan St.  Why why why…

I still have an outside shot to run down President Obama’s pool.  He’s got 860 points and is in the 96th percentile and has been holding there since the Opening Round I believe.  But, he’s only got one win out there, and it is the opposite of the one win I have.  So if OSU wins and KU loses, I’ll boat race him.  But that’s an outside shot at best, because both Kentucky and Kansas looked mighty tough this weekend.  Its setting up to be an epic Championship Monday match-up.

One celebrity participant who is in line to take a monster leap forward is the Boston Celtics Rajon Rondo.  At the moment, he is down in the 30th percentile, kind of where I was last weekend.  However, he has both Kansas and Kentucky in the Finals, and of course, he has Kentucky winning it (his alma).  I would say that is probably the likeliest scenario.  If it happens he would fly by me, Obama, and everyone.

Why do coaches sit players who are in foul trouble?

March 23, 2012

Last night the Wisconsin Badgers had a five point lead early in the first half when Jared Berggren, their most productive big man, picked up his second foul.  Coach Bo Ryan replaced him with his much less experienced substitute.  Coach Ryan did the same when Wisconsin’s other productive big man, Mike Bruesewitz likewise picked up his second foul.  Neither played for the rest of the first half, and Syracuse was able to open up a ten point bulge and maintain a six point halftime lead.  Both players finished the game with additional fouls available to them.  Berggren picked up only one more foul in the rest of his action.  The Badgers rallied to take the lead in the second half, but ultimately lost the game by one point.

My question is why on Earth didn’t Coach Ryan leave his best players on the floor?  By removing them for the greater part of the first half, he may have cost Wisconsin the game (Berggren is one of Wisconsin’s top MWS win producers).

I realize Coach Ryan was simply following conventional wisdom, but why is that strategy considered accepted wisdom?  It doesn’t make any sense to me.  There is no necessary reason to disqualify one of your best players from long stretches of a game when the rules do not require you to do so.  What you are doing is effectively taking out one of your more productive players and artificially limiting his minutes without good cause.

So why do coaches follow this practice so blindly?  Let’s examine and debunk the most oft-heard rationale:

1. We must have him available “for later”

Often coaches will justify removing a player who is in foul trouble on the grounds that doing insured that the player would be available to play the latter minutes of a game.  This rationale rests on the faulty premise that certain minutes in a game (the last ones) are more important than any other minutes.  They are not!  I can make a strong argument that Wisconsin would have won easily and would not have needed a last second heave by Jordan Taylor had Berggren remained in the game in the first half.  In order to “be in the game” late, you must put yourself in position.  No minute, and no possession, is more important than any other.

Besides which, coaches cannot predict when a player will foul again.  How does the coach know that the player won’t commit another foul for forty minutes?  The problem is one of perception.  When a player commits fouls more rapidly than usual, the coach’s perception becomes skewed.   Suddenly the player appears “foul-proned” and the coach, believing this, will miscalculate the likelihood of the player committing another foul.

2.  “They’ll attack him for easy baskets”

This rationale is also based on a faulty premise — that a player cannot play aggressive defense without fouling, or alternatively, that a team can induce fouls on a player by “going at him”.  If the first premise were true, teams ought to shoot much higher percentages, and/or we ought to be seeing more players foul out.  If the second premise were true, why don’t teams simply target the other team’s star players immediately?  If fouls are so easy to induce, why not try to induce them?  Because, its not that easy, that’s why.

The simple fact is, the “2 foul rule” is another example of conventional wisdom that is not wise at all.  Its one of those unwritten rules that coaches are afraid to break for fear of looking “foolish” (like when Packers coach Mike Sherman cost the team a playoff game because he didn’t have the stones to go for it on 4th and a millimeter).  Following the “foul trouble” removal practice is actually foolish and detrimental to the teams whose coaches follow it.  Like the Badgers last night.  (Can you tell I’m bitter… read the preceding post).

FOOTNOTE — There’s one scenario I will accept for removing a player early in the game because of foul difficulty.  If the player in question is a primary ballhandler who is also one of the team’s best foul shooters, then I will accept the excuse that he was removed early because “we need him at the end”.  The reason I create this exception is because I recognize that there is one legitimate difference between the ending minutes of a game and every other minute in a game.

In the ending minutes of a close game, the trailing opponent will often deliberately foul members of the leading team in an attempt to regain possession of the basketball in a timely manner.  Rarely will teams employ such a strategy at any other point in the game.  So that’s a tangible difference.  That I will accept.  And I will also accept that if such a strategy were employed, then yes, you would want to insure that your best ballhandling foulshooter were eligible to play those minutes.  That was not the case last night with either Berggren or Bruesewitz.

The LeBron Edict killed the Wisconsin Badgers last night

March 23, 2012

With 13 seconds left and the Wisconsin Badgers down by one point, I and every member of the Syracuse Orangemen knew that Wisconsin’s Jordan Taylor would take the last shot, no matter what.  Knowing this, Syracuse ran two men at him and he nevertheless hoisted a 40 foot fadeaway three pointer that had next to no chance of splashing home.

Now remember, I said the possession started with 13 seconds on the clock and the Badgers down by one single point.  The Badgers, an outstanding foul shooting team who happened to be in the bonus, should have been in the driver’s seat.  The Badgers should have forced the issue, and at least made the Syracuse zone bend before taking a shot.

But, as Steve Martin used to say back when he was funny… “Nooooooooooo”.  Jordan Taylor, Wisconsin’s reputed (but not actual) best player, felt the burden was “upon him” to take the last second shot (I’m assuming this because he made no effort to involve his teammates).

Why did he think this?  Well, if he has basic cable, and if he watches ESPN at all, that’s all they ever talk about.  “Great players make great plays at big moments…” what’s that stupid ass canard they always spout?  It has no meaning, but it is meant to challenge the manhood of any player who doesn’t have the balls to throw up the last second shot.  Every time Lebron doesn’t take the last shot with the game on the line, no matter whether he is quadrupled teamed, the ESPN talking heads question whether he has the stones to take last second shots.  Never mind that one of his teammates might have a higher percentage shot than him.  If he passes off, he is deemed to be gutless.

And as a result of this, players who believe themselves to be the best player on their particular team, as Jordan Taylor must have felt last night, believe a special burden lies upon them to “win or lose” the game, to “put the game in their hands”.

NO!!  The object is to search for and take the best shot possible.  Not to damn the torpedoes and launch whatever you can get.  Last night it cost the Badgers.