Milwaukee Brewers: Poor Run Differential Demonstrates Weakness

MILWAUKEE, WI - AUGUST 15: A Milwaukee Brewers fan runs through centerfield with a Brewers flag before the before their game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Miller Field on August 15, 2015 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Brewers defeated the Phillies 4-2. (Photo by John Konstantaras/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WI - AUGUST 15: A Milwaukee Brewers fan runs through centerfield with a Brewers flag before the before their game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Miller Field on August 15, 2015 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Brewers defeated the Phillies 4-2. (Photo by John Konstantaras/Getty Images) /
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The Milwaukee Brewers run differential on the season is quite poor. If history is any guide, that does not bode well for their hopes of making the post-season.

It’s been a peculiar season for the Milwaukee Brewers to date.

On the one hand, the Brewers find themselves with striking distance of making the playoffs as they enter the final days of August. Milwaukee will enter play tonight four games back of the Chicago Cubs, and 3 1/2 games back of St. Louis for the second wild card spot in the National League. At 65-62, the Milwaukee Brewers are still one hot stretch away from potentially getting themselves into the playoffs.

There are, however, significant numbers pushing against the idea that the Brewers are true contenders to make the playoffs this season.

What do the projections say?

Fangraphs projection modeling currently gives the team just a 12.6% chance of making the post-season. Baseball-Reference’s projections are even more bearish. They give the Milwaukee Brewers just a 10.5% chance of making the post-season as of this afternoon. Those odds have come down by 15.5% over the past 30 days.

Why are the models so bearish on the Brewers chances? It’s in large part due to the Milwaukee Brewers run differential being so poor.

Milwaukee boasts the worst run differential of any playoff contending team in baseball right now at -35. The only teams close to them are in the NL: Philadelphia (-14 RD, two games out of the second Wild Card spot), and San Francisco (-56 RD, six games back of a Wild Card spot).

Pythagorean record, which estimates what a team’s record should be based off of their run differential, suggests that the Brewers are currently five games better off than they should be.

I’ve gone back and looked at every team that’s made the playoffs since 2008 to see if there’s any precedent for a team making the post-season with such a poor run differential. The answer: there isn’t.

What does history say?

Every team that’s made the post-season since 2008 has had a run differential in positive territory. Only two teams during that period have even been close to having an even or worse run differential when making the post-season.

In 2016, the Texas Rangers won the American League West with a record of 95-67. However, their run differential finished the season at only +6. Their expected win-loss record, based off of this small run differential, suggested they should have been 82-80.

What got the Rangers to such a good record that season was an abnormally high success rate in one run games. Texas went 36-11 that season in one run games, by far the best record in one run games in baseball that year.

In 2012, the Baltimore Orioles did virtually the same thing that Texas did. Baltimore won 93 games that season, good enough to land them one of the two wild card spots in the American League. However, their run differential finished the season at only +7. Their expected record, just like the Rangers was in 2016, was 82-80.

Baltimore’s success, like Texas, came from an exceedingly high success rate in one run games. The Orioles went an Major League-best 29-9 in one run games that year. The second best team, the Cleveland Indians, went 24-12 in one run games. They won just 68 total games that year.

Since the advent of divisions in 1969, only four teams have made the post-season with a negative run differential: the 2007 Diamondbacks (-22 RD, 90-72 record, lost in NLCS), the 1997 San Francisco Giants (-7 RD, 90-72 record, lost in NLDS), the 1987 Minnesota Twins (-20 RD, 85-77 record, WON WORLD SERIES), and the 1984 Kansas City Royals (-13 RD, 84-78 record, lost in ALCS). All had a better run differential than what the Milwaukee Brewers have right now.

What does this tell us? It strongly suggests that, unless the Brewers get exceedingly hot in the coming weeks, and bring their run differential into positive territory while doing it, they’re extremely unlikely to make the playoffs.

Milwaukee has kept their record over .500 thanks, in large part, to their success in one run games. The Brewers have gone 22-14 so far this season in one run games, third best in baseball. Only the Atlanta Braves (23-13) and the San Francisco Giants (29-13) have been better thus far.

Making the post-season by winning the vast majority of your one run games, however,  is nearly impossible to do. The odds are too great in favor if things going wrong in games that close for a team to make the playoffs doing this the vast majority of the time.

A significant amount of the Brewers wins recently have come by extremely narrow margins. Since July 21, seven of Milwaukee’s 12 wins have come by a single run (7-4 in one run games total during that span). Four of their other fives wins were by just two runs.

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Meanwhile, Milwaukee have lost eight of their 14 games during that span by three runs or more runs. Five of those losses were by five or more runs.

The Milwaukee Brewers aren’t playing very good baseball right now. Unless things dramatically improve, starting this weekend, it’s difficult to see how this team makes the post-season come October 1st. The numbers are stacked against them.

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