Monday, September 19, 2011

The Brewers Are a Pitching Team

When you think of the Milwaukee Brewers, you think of the punishing Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder combination. You think offense. And at times, that offense can really pile up the runs. They are third in the National League in batting average and first in that league in slugging percentage. But taken as a whole, the offense is sort of mundane. They are only sixth out of fourteen National League teams in on base percentage and seventh in runs scored. There are three holes in the line up at catcher, shortstop and third base. The Brewers are going to win the National League Central division (locking up the division will happen any day now) and the surprising thing about it is that they will do so as a pitching team.

The Brewers are fourth in all of baseball in WHIP behind only the Phillies, Bay Rays and the Giants. They are third in the majors in the least amounts of walks allowed behind only the Phillies and White Sox. The Brewers are fifth in the majors in strikeouts. They have hit the fewest batters in the majors. And they are tied for fifth in the majors in ERA+. And it really starts in the starting rotation.

The five guys in the starting rotation, Zack Greinke, Yovani Gallardo, Shaun Marcum, Chris Narveson and Randy Wolf have made all but seven of the Brewers' starts. Marco Estrada made those seven starts and though Estrada's overall season is mostly negative, he was effective as a starter. The six pitchers that have started for the Brewers all have positive (Fangraphs) WPAs for the season as starters, even Estrada. This writer went through all the contenders and all other good pitching teams and could not find a single team that did not have at least one starter with a negative WPA. has a statistic called Game Score. The average game score for starters is listed as 52. The Brewers' starters have an average game score of 54. Of the six starters that started for the Brewers, only Chris Narveson has an average game score under 53. Narveson is sitting at 50. The Brewers have a winning record in games when every pitcher starts with the exception of Shaun Marcum. And the Brewers have a 15-16 record when Marcum starts. 

This is all remarkable when compared to last year's Milwaukee Brewers. Last year, ten different pitchers started games for the Brewers. Their average game score was 48.  Only 46 percent of their starts last year were quality starts. That figure has improved to 61 percent this season. The brilliant additions of Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum have solidified the rotation and have given the Brewers an excellent chance to win every series they play.

The addition at the trade deadline of Francisco Rodriguez (despite his whining) is probably the best trade deadline deal this side of Hunter Pence. After early bullpen struggles, K-Rod has really helped settle this bullpen down and put the relievers in their proper slots. John Axford has been superb as the team's closer, a position he solidified after taking over for Trevor Hoffman last season. 

Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder might be in the top five in line up duos in the majors. Both have killed the ball this season. The Brewers are an average fielding team with a fielding efficiency just a slight tick above average. But the NL Central crown has come on the arms of the pitchers. It's hard to believe, but the Brewers are more than anything else, a pitchers' team.

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