How Bad is 7.5 Back?


Well, I’m not going to lie to you – seven and a half games back is not the best position in the world.

But you already knew that.

The real problem is how the Milwaukee Brewers get moving again, and it won’t be hard considering the fact that the Brewers are playing in what could only mildly be called the least competitive division in Baseball this year.

Be forewarned, Brewers fans, this yet another attempt to peel our fingers from the ubiquitous panic button we’ve been pushing and re-pushing since early March.

By the Numbers

Here are the cold, hard facts, Brewers fans. As a team, the Milwaukee Brewers are indeed ranked in the bottom half of Major League teams in almost every offensive category – except for Hit By Pitches (39), which the team leads, and Strikeouts (515) which puts the team in second place. The Crew is eight in Home Runs with 73, 12th in walks with 202, and 13th in number of pitches seen.

How is this good news? Well the number of pitches seen is a pretty good indicator that if the team can settle down, they will be getting on base a whole heck of a lot more. Yes, that’s kind of a throw-away statement, but slumps and hot streaks often appear and disappear just as quickly – but a good eye for the baseball is hard to come by. The Brewers, as a team, obviously have one if they are raising pitching counts higher than all but five teams in the National League – they just aren’t connecting, or aren’t dropping in for hits.

The long ball is obviously still there, which is a good thing for the team, the fans, and the chicks who I assume still dig it. The only problem is there aren’t generally men on base when a Brewer goes big fly. Again, this is a product of randomness as much as it is a reflection of talent. As much as I’d like to believe this to be the case, one cannot simply summon home runs at will on any given pitch any more than you regularly turn grounders into singles or singles into extra bases. There’s not any easy answer to why the Brewers aren’t hitting, and that’s tough for a lot of us to understand. It should be as simple to turning a switch for a Major League Ballplayer (or it feels that way in our minds), and in fact sometimes that’s all it takes a mental adjustment and the balls start falling in. Other times it is a complete enigma coupled by really bad breaks of the ball – generally into the glove of an opponent.

And, as further reassurance of why you shouldn’t be worried – I present the Milwaukee Brewers of 2011, pre-All-Star Break. They were a better team in RBI’s, Home Runs, and Hits, but only by a slight margin (more so in homers, admittedly). They were also better in one-run games. They saw far less pitches than almost any team in baseball and were 20th in walks. They were a power team that swung at nearly everything at this point last year – which as you remember was just as frustrating as this is now.

The point of this exercise was simple – we need to find a pattern. Some semblance of hope in a season that many Brewer fans have inexplicably cast off in hopes of something better down the road. The pattern is there. Guys are walking a lot, being patient at the plate and content to try to manufacture runs for the time being. They just aren’t hitting. I can almost guarantee that won’t continue for the next 99 games, and when it does turn around you will see a much more efficient Milwaukee Brewer team on the base paths.

On Pitching

I’m just going to come out and say it, as plain as possible: our pitching is weird. The Brewers staff combined has given up less home runs than all but seven teams in Majors. They have struck out more batters (530) than any team but the Phillies. Brewers pitchers also walk far more batters – ranking ninth in the league, and Brewers pitchers have “earned” 268 runs to put them at the ninth highest in Major League Baseball. All of this, again, looks fairly similar to the team we saw last year, except that wins were up in 2011 and the team ERA was way down.

Now, those of you that know me know that I don’t believe in ERA very much because it penalizes a pitcher for a variety of factors he cannot control – defensive positioning, a ball carrying in the wind, and the official scorer’s interpretation of the play just to name a few.

Which brings up something interesting about this year’s Brewers team – and I’m looking at everyone

who is so hasty to blame the pitching this year – the 2012 Milwaukee Brewers are one of the worst defensive teams in all of baseball right now. They have committed 40 errors on the year, which is the 13th highest in the Majors. They also boast a fielding percentage that ranks 19th at .983. The team’s Defensive Efficiency Rating – a statistic which calculates, essentially, how many defensive chances turn into outs – is .665, 29th in baseball.

Now, DER is not highly touted as stats go, but I think it’s far more telling of how a team is performing than a pitchers win-loss record or an ERA. Baseball is made up of hundreds of individual little opportunities every day, and Milwaukee’s defense is simply not capitalizing on those opportunities. If you need someone to blame on this one, lay off the pitchers. It’s lazy analysis. Blame someone like Rickie Weeks, who is performing well below his standards the last two years in terms of fielding his position. Blame Corey Hart in the outfield (but not on first base, where he has performed much better defensively.) Blame Carlos Gomez, who’s over-enthusiasm to dive head-first at bloop singles has managed to kill more than one pitcher’s day. A pitcher can only toss the ball towards the plate – he can’t predict where it’s going to go, or how the team will react to that behind it.

On Trades

Now this one is a lot of fun. Every time I hear trade talk, it’s spoken of like it’s:

  1. Completely and totally possible, regardless of financial feasibility and organizational comfort
  2. Consistently worth the energy with positive results
  3. A definitive fix for the team’s problems

Here’s the deal: unless you have a lot of money just lying around, a trade doesn’t really fix anything. Look at CC Sabathia in 2008. Yes, he single-handedly willed the Brewers into the Wild Card, where they were promptly ousted by the eventual World Series Champions in Philly. Philly managed to trade for and acquire most of that year’s team – but they had the money to keep them. The Brewers, on the other hand, lost CC to the Yankees where has continued to help a team ripe with talent (and money) continue to win. A good example of trades for Milwaukee would be acquiring Marcum and Greinke to pitch ahead of an already talented team.

There’s a difference between picking up important pieces for your team and throwing stuff against a wall to see what sticks.

If you can’t get talent and retain them, you are simply grasping at straws or trying to push butts into the seats.

A lot of people are talking about dealing away Greinke right now, and I am not going to buy it unless it

actually happens, which it probably won’t. Why, you ask? Well, Greinke commands top pitcher money, is an elite talent, and has reservations for playing with teams like Kansas City who just wanted to keep him and hope for the future in a series of really terrible years. He also has reservations against media-heavy big market teams that will work against his anxiety. Everyone knows this, and it’s hard to imagine who would take a chance on someone that most likely would not like to play for them.

Then there’s the fact that Milwaukee will have to physically entertain offers for Greinke. I should sincerely hope that the Brewers would not – as one commenter on a Brewers fan forum put it – “get a whole bunch of prospects.” Prospects are nice. They are fun to talk about, fun to watch in the Minor Leagues, and quite simply one of the biggest crapshoots in baseball.

Hell, Brooks Conrad was one of Milwaukee’s top 20 prospects.

The only way I would see Greinke getting traded is if we could get some combination of a high-performing starter, elite level shortstop, or several high-performing relievers and position players. His price on the trading block should be unbelievably steep. He’s one of the best pitchers in the game. If you aren’t getting some of the best talent back in the league, what’s the point of losing him – especially since he hasn’t given up the option of an extenstion or resigning at the end of the year.

I don’t but the fact that Milwaukee has to “re-stock” it’s farm system either, so I would hesitate to accept any offers of player for prospects. We have plenty of prospects with great potential that are being worked on to play in Miller Park, and plenty more prospects that work just as well for us to try to steal talent from other teams that are willing to do that.

Besides, I don’t think I need to remind anyone that we have 99 games left to play, right?

Parting Thoughts

Remember last year, when the Brewers were five and a half games back in early May? It was the lowest point of the year, and everyone was certain the season was done. They were certain Axford was a fluke, the pitching was rotten, and the whole team’s offense was dismal.

Do you remember the fact that our Division Lead wasn’t secure until Milwaukee had their best month of Baseball in 41 years? Even then, it took until September to finally throw the Cardinals from our back and clinch it.

What I’m trying to say is, baseball takes forever to come to a conclusion. The Brewers are in a division where the best team has only won eight more games then they’ve lost, and the team itself is performing about the same as it was at this time last year. I know it’s frustrating, but this is Milwaukee. THIS IS WHAT WE DO.

We pull for the Crew, and in turn the Crew tosses and turns around their division for a little while until they decide to flip the switch. We don’t call for the heads of the coaching staff or demand that every scrap of talent we have be traded off to start anew, sometime circa 2015. We build talent. We don’t buy it.

So do me a favor, Brewers fans, and don’t buy into the black-and-white of what is obviously a very grey landscape. Give it a rest, look at the big picture, and try a little enthusiasm for just a day or two.

Of course, if you happen upon this article in August and things look the same: disregard the above.