The Brewers have reached a tough stretch lately where it seems as though the pitching has hit a plateau. I am here to offer assurance that there is no need to “Freak Out”. Everything will be fine. As Travis Shaw would say C-H-I-L-L.
The Brewers don’t have the best pitching rotation in the league, but they are “Hanging in There”. Before you start making judgments about what’s wrong, let’s make sure you are looking at the right stats. There are a couple of stats out there that may give you the wrong idea. Let’s touch on the flaws in some common stats and replacement stats that will offer a more accurate account.
The first flawed stat is the pitching record. This idea of the flaws in pitcher records came to me watching Junior Guerra pitch Tuesday night (June 5th). He pitched a pretty good game, going six innings and giving up three ER. Obviously this is not the best game a pitcher has ever thrown. However, he did put together a good start.
Nonetheless, it did get me thinking. He still got charged with the loss. If the offense would have scored four runs he would have gotten the win. This brings up a huge red flag, a stat that is shown so often is based off of so many variables and unknowns. These variables vary from how many runs your offense scores, to defensive limitations behind the pitcher. Those variables, and more, will potentially impact the pitchers win/loss stat. It amazes me that so many people look at this stat and judge. In reality, there is so much that plays into the stat out of the pitchers control.
Now you may be thinking, how will I be able to see how a pitcher is really effective for his his team? A better representation that is more credible is WAR (Wins Above Replacement). WAR calculation requires only overall Runs Allowed (both earned and unearned) and Innings Pitched. Since we are trying to measure the value of the pitcher’s performance to his team, we start with his runs allowed and then adjust that number to put the runs into a more accurate context. That number is then compared to a league average pitcher in the same circumstances. As I said this eliminates all the unknown and gives you the real value of a particular pitcher.
This is where a pitcher like Junior Guerra thrives. He has the highest WAR on the starting rotation. His record sitting at 3-4, may not be the most glorious thing to look at, but when looking at his WAR of 1.5, he is very valuable to this team. This is not the highest WAR in the league but it works for the Brewers and how Counsell manages this pitching staff.
The other misleading stat is ERA (Earned Run Average). Although not majorly flawed, there still is a large element of uncertainty. If you think about it, a pitcher doesn’t have control once the bat makes contact with the ball. Therefore, the pitcher has no control whether a line drive goes into the gap, or into the glove of the left fielder.
A better alternative stat is FIP (fielding independent pitching). This calculates all the controllables a pitcher has including: home runs, strikeouts, innings pitched, walks, and hit by pitches. Junior Guerra again leads the team in this stat and the entire staff has been also very comparable. The Cardinals lead the division in team FIP. The Cardinals have an average of 3.44.The rest of the division is comparable with FIP’s in the 4’s. The Brewer’s rotations average FIP is 4.5. It is good to look at FIP with the ERA because you will get the full picture.
Here is a Chart Comparing the Starting Rotation
We knew coming into this season that the starting staff could be an “Area of Opportunity”. Up to this point of the season, it has been one of the weaker points of the team. However, with how Counsell manages this staff, there is not a need for a starting pitcher to go 6-7 innings. With this formula, the staff has been functional, and more importantly, has allowed the Brewers to be in most games. The Brewers have been able to be successful by leveraging there biggest strength (Bullpen) with their starting rotation. They should be able to continue with this formula throughout the season.
The moral of the story is that it would be nice to have better strength within the starting rotation. However, the Brewers are quite comparable to other teams in the division. If the offense remains a “strength” along with the bullpen, everything should play out as it has to this point in the season.