Sunday, April 20, 2008

(Very) Early Season Analysis

It is still very early in the season but the Brewers have completed 6 series and I think they have generated enough data to start taking stock of how things have gone thus far. A couple of trends concern me; one doesn't; and one is actually quite encouraging.

First the concerns. Eric Gagne has blown 3 of 9 save opportunities. The Brewers managed to win two of those games but the trend is not a good one. Francisco Cordero blew only 7 saves all of last season. My guess is that Gagne has a couple more weeks to prove that he can handle the closer's role. If he can't, then look for a change, Gagne's $10 million salary notwithstanding. (If I had to predict, I would say that he will not be the Brewers' closer by season's end and there is a 50-50 chance he will not even be on the team.)

The other concern is Ben Sheets's health. He has been absolutely lights out so far (with an ERA under 1) but left yesterday's game with a tightness in his right triceps. He needs to be healthy for Milwaukee to have a chance (though they can probably withstand a brief trip to the DL).

One trend that doesn't really concern me is the Brewers' lack of offense so far. Hitting, more than pitching, tends to be streaky and I think they will be able to get things in shape. Plus, even though their stars--Fielder, Braun, Weeks, and Hardy-- are all hitting below .250, the Brewers are 10th in MLB in runs scored. The bats will start rolling eventually.

The early season trend that I find encouraging is that the Brewers have been able to win on the road. Last season, Milwaukee's ineptitude away from home was the bane of their existence. So far this year, they are 7-5. If they can stay above .500 on the road over the course of the season, they should be right there in September.

There were a number of voices in the national baseball press saying that the NL Central would be decided by which team ended up with the best starting pitching. I echoed that sentiment in my Opening Day post here. To that end, I'll be following the season-long correlation between quality starts (number of starts going at least 6 innings and giving up 3 or less runs) and rank in the standings. Milwaukee has 7 such starts so far this season and is tied in that statistic with the Cubs; St. Louis has 9; Cincinnati has 6. Order in the standings: St. Louis, Cubs, Brewers, Reds. To this point, quality starts are a pretty good predictor of relative team success.

UPDATE: My current sourness on Gagne should probably be tempered a bit by the fact that Brewers' manager Ned Yost chose to use him for the fourth straight day in yesterday's game. Gagne said he felt good and was ready to go but it's the manager's job to exercise prudence in those situations. The Crew had plenty of rested and capable arms in the bullpen and Yost probably should have used one of them.


abby said...

You really like baseball, don't you? :-) Keep writing about it... maybe I'll learn something and appreciate it beyond its provision of a prime napping soundtrack (when not at the game) and its prime beer drinking and cheer-punctuated conversation opportunity (when at a game).

JAK said...

Yes. I suspected (as did others, I'm sure) that relief pitching was going to be the main problem, and that seems to be proving true thus far this year. While I haven't counted, it seems like they've already been in a NUMBER of extra inning games that they didn't need to be in. (Someone like Cordero could've nipped them in the bud.) Fortunately, they ended up winning several of those, but they lost several also. A very scary trend.

AJK said...


Glad I can make an attempt to open you up to the glorious goodness that is baseball (though it is also the things you mention).


I actually think the Brewers' bullpen is better overall than it was last year (yesterday's performance notwithstanding). They have more guys who can come in for 2 good innings and if they keep Stetter up in the majors, have two good left-handed options to use in tough spots.

The problem is not being able to nail things down in the 9th. I'm not sure the rise of the closer's importance is a good development in the game. But as long as managers are going to manage that way, you need to have a guy who can put the game away 90-plus percent of the time.

It's interesting that the Brewers have won 3 of the 4 games in which Gagne has blown saves. Also, from reading the reports of yesterday's game, Weeks should have turned a double-play that would have ended the game and avoided extra innings.