By: Joe Botana
Introducing the “Season Innings” Series
Throughout the season, we’ll be taking periodic looks at the overall performance of the team. Just as a baseball game is divided into nine innings, a season can be divided into nine frames of eighteen games each. In this article, we look at the first inning of the Milwaukee Brewer’s 2016 Season.
Where we stand after the “first inning”
Actually, we are at the first inning plus one game. As of Sunday April 24th, the Brewers’ record stands at 8 wins and 11 losses. This is a .421 winning percentage and puts the Crew in last place in the NLCD. Performance has been a bit better at home (5-6) than on the road (3-5).
The Brewer’s winning percentage through the “first inning” of the season would project to a total of 68 wins. That’s not totally unexpected, since the Crew is in the middle of a well-publicized rebuilding process. Still, fans are probably disappointed after a respectable showing in Cactus League play and a 3-3 start in the opening series. We are dealing with a small sample size – this is just the first of nine “innings” – and as such this may not be an accurate prediction of the full game.
The weighted average winning percentage of the Brewers’ opponents in this stretch was only .421. In other words, the Brewers’ struggled during a frame of the season played against teams with an overall losing record. This is undoubtedly cause for concern.
Comparison to the Consensus Model Prediction
The Model projects the Brewers to win 70.5 games and to finish fourth in the NLCD. After the first inning, they are sitting in last place, trailing the fourth place Reds by one game. They currently just slightly underperform their projected wins to date of 8.26. Interestingly, the model only has one of the five NLCD teams correctly placed, with the Cubs in first, as projected. St. Louis and Pittsburgh have also switched the second and third places.
At the end of the first inning of the 2016 season, the Brewers trail all or most of the NL in most of the main pitching categories. This includes next to last in ERA (5.65), and last in Batting Average Against (.304), WHIP (1.64), OBP (.373) and OPS (.912). In most of these categories, they trail the rest of the NL by a wide margin.
The Brewers unimpressive performance overall thus far has not been helped by their offense either, as they rank near the bottom of the NL in most offensive categories. They rank 13th in Team Batting Average (.235), 11th in OBP (.315) and OPS (.708), 10th in runs scored (76), and 12th in RBIs (70). They do a bit better in both Home Runs (20) where they are 8th, and actually do quite well in Walks (72) where they rank 4th. . Unfortunately, in a category where it is good to be near the bottom, they rank 1st in strikeouts (178) by a wide margin.
Glass Half-Full or Half-Empty
Good News and Surprises
- Key returning position players. Ryan Braun, the Brewers’ LF and franchise player, is having a great start at the plate, batting .364 with a 432/636/1.069 slash line to comfortably lead the team. Jonathan Lucroy is batting .297 with a 348/359/707 line. He also leads the NL with 8 Caught Stealing putouts. (Interestingly, backup catcher Martin Maldonado is second in the NL with 5 CS, perhaps indicative of how very many base runners Brewers pitching is allowing to get on base.) Both have been key contributors inside a sub-par overall offense, and both seem to have returned to nearly their All-Star year performance levels. Scooter Gennett and Domingo Santana have been solid at the plate as well.
- Key Position Player Acquisitions. Chris Carter and Jonathan Villar, both acquired from Houston, have both been solid additions. Carter is batting .295 with a slash line of 361/689/1.050 and is tied with Ryan Braun for the club lead in HRs (5) and RBIs (15). Villar has the second OBP in the lineup at .368.
- The back end of the bullpen. The star of the group has been Jeremy Jeffress, who was cast into the closer’s role by the departure of Francisco Rodriguez in trade during the offseason and the freak knee injury to LHP Will Smith. Jeffress has 6 saves in 6 save opportunities. Michael Blazek, Blaine Boyer, and Tyler Thornburg have been effective in late inning setup roles.
Bad News and Challenges
- The starting Rotation. One reason why many Brewer fans thought that the rebuilding process might be shorter, and a return to competitiveness quicker, was because of a belief that the young starting rotation might be “ready for prime time.” Thus far, it has not been. Not even close. Ace Wily Peralta sports an unsightly 7.40 ERA, a 1.81 WHIP, and a 1-3 record. Second year pitcher Taylor Jungmann has so far followed a successful rookie season with a 1-2 record, an 8.47 ERA, and a 1.82 WHIP. Fifth starter Zach Davis, called up to temporarily replace injured veteran Matt Garza, is 0-2 with a 9.72 ERA and a 2.52 WHIP. Jimmy Nelson has been solid and newcomer Chase Anderson has been respectable, but when three of your five starters have an average ERA of 8.53, you are going to lose a lot of baseball games.
- The middle of the bullpen. This part of the Brewers pitching situation stands out as singularly abysmal in an otherwise awful scenario. With the exception of veteran Chris Capuano, the Crew’s middle relief, personified by since sent down Ariel Pena and recent acquisition Sam Freeman, have often left the Miller Park mound to a chorus of boos. Freeman’s ERA stands at 15.88 and Pena’s at 27.00. Those numbers would be high in a recreational slow pitch soft ball league.
- The number of extremely light hitting semi–regular players. Names like Hill (.185) Flores (.139) Walsh (.053) Broxton (0.00) and Maldonado (0.00) make it difficult to string together rallies and drive in runs. They are not just below the Mendoza line, they cannot see the Mendoza line from the deep hole in which they are mired. This is, of course, par for the course on a rebuilding team, but the results are what they must be.
- The negative run differential. As of the end of the first “frame” of the 2016 season, the Brewers have a -37 run differential, second only to the Reds, who are at -40. This is primarily due to being totally blown out in most of their losses. In their worst four losses the Brewers have lost by -11, -9, -7, and -7 for a total of -34. On the opposite side of the ledger, their biggest margins of victory have been +5, +4, +2. and +2 for a total + 13 differential. Fortunately for the Crew, there are no “pins” or “superior victories” in the baseball scoring system like there is in collegiate wrestling, and no concern with “goal differential” as there is in pro soccer. A loss is still just one loss, no matter how ugly and one sided. But it does affect the morale of a fan base which is trying very hard to be philosophical and patient.
What Comes Next
The first part of the next inning of the season starts with three away games against the red hot divisional rival Chicago Cubs. This includes a game two matchup of 8.47 ERA Taylor Jungmann against .054 ERA Jake Arrieta, 15-0 in his last 16 starts and fresh off his most recent no hitter. To say it is hard for all but the most Pollyannaish Brewers fans to be optimistic about that one would be an epic understatement. The following 15 games are against Miami, the LA Angels, the Reds, and the Padres, all of whom match up better against this rebuilding Brewers team still trying to find its way in the young season. The overall winning percentage of the second inning opponents is a weighted .410 average, slightly below the Brewers’ own .421. The second inning should thus be competitive and a good measuring rod for what this team can do.
If the starting rotation steadies itself, and the offense improves marginally, the next inning might point the Crew in the direction of a low to mid-seventies win total. If this does not happen, the third inning might be filled with talk of further trades of top performers like Lucroy, Braun, and Carter for even more prospects.