2007 Sabermetric Year in Review: Milwaukee Brewers

Oh Milwaukee, you fickle town.  You actually made us believe that you were going to be the feel-good story of the year.  You pledged to pee your pants if the Brewers made the playoffs.  Then, you managed to let the Cubs (the CUBS!) win the NL Central and you missed out on the playoffs altogether!  You let down all of the bandwagon intelligentsia fans who wanted to look cool by cheering for your team.  At least your pants are dry.
Welcome to stop #15 in our tour… Milwaukee.  Am I really only half-way done with these?
Record: 83-79, 2nd in NL Central
Pythagorean Projection (Patriot formula):  83.47 wins (801 runs scored,  776 runs allowed)
Team Statistical Pages:
Baseball Reference
Baseball Prospectus
FanGraphs
MVN Blog:
Brewers Bar
More Brewers Resources:
Latest News
Contract Status
Trade Rumors
Overview: Well, for what it’s worth, I think Prince Fielder should have been the MVP last year, not Jimmy Rollins.  But, I also think Troy Tulowitzki should have been Rookie of the Year instead of Ryan Braun.  I suppose that when it comes to picking an NL award with a Brewer involved, I get it wrong every time. 
What went right: Before Brewers fans begin micturating on me, it’s not that I thought Braun had a bad year.  In fact, he had a prodigious year.  It’s just that Troy was actually better.  Braun, despite the fact that he can’t field is a keeper.  He has all the signs of a good, young power hitter (including the high strikeout rate).  He hits fly balls, and they tend to either go for doubles (always beware a high HR total without a matching high double total) or out of the park.  As an added bonus, Braun’s emergence saved the Brewers from having to play their original platoon of Tony Graffanino and Craig Counsell at third.  Both of those guys stuck around as utility/bench guys, but neither actually finished above replacement level.  Assuming that those two had stayed replacement level through the year, Braun actually added 50 runs to the Brewers above them with his bat.  (He probably took off a few runs with his glove, though…)
The other thing that went right for the Brewers was that all of their luck happened in the first half of the season.  This made them the darlings of the early season.  Had they waited until twenty-five games in to start their little run, it wouldn’t have gotten noticed.  How could a team go so bad so fast?  Well, it’s entirely possible that the Brewers were never that good to begin with.  At the end of game #81, they were 47-34, on pace for a 94-68 record, which would have been good enough for home field advantage in the playoffs.  Here’s the thing.  81 games is actually a pretty small sample for any binomial distribution (as is 162!).  Let’s say that the Brewers were really a .500 team deep down.  The chances that a .500 team would win at least 47 of 81 games (to put another way, the chances of getting at least 47 heads in 81 coin flips)?  About 9%.  Not super-likely, but about a one-in-eleven shot.  Further, at the mid-point of the season, winning percentage in the first half predicts the second half with a correlation coefficient of about .46.  Not all that great.  The Brewers didn’t collapse.  They simply regressed to the mean.
What went wrong: Tony Gwynn apparently had a kid, but forgot to teach him how to hit.  I’ll give the kid credit.  He’s 24 and should at least learn some new tricks (from his dad?)  But, he was also posting OPS around .690 in AAA.  In 2006, he posted a .756 OPS, but with the benefit of a BABIP of 40 points over his career average.  Methinks the Brewers got a little fooled.  He’s got that marginal 4th/5th outfielder look about him.
Actually, the biggest thing that’s gone wrong for the Brewers is that they appear to be run by someone who hasn’t looked up in five years and is far too easily impressed by a big name.  Why on earth Jason Kendall and Mike Cameron (need we mention, he’s suspended for 50 games) are getting as much money as they are shocks me.  Kendall in particular is a head-scratcher.  His walk rate has been slowly declining, his strikeout rate has been slowly increasing.  His doubles have been slowly dying off, and he never really had home run power.  Eight years ago, he was a rare animal as the high OBP catcher who stole bases (fantasy owners loved him!), but he’s also a catcher, and catchers age like dogs and Presidents.  What does that make him eight years later?  56 years older.  Other than Satchel Paige and Julio Franco… ah, you can see where that one is going.
Yeah, that about sums it up: Personally, I think Hot Dog was using steroids.
CoCo is good (but my, did Cincinnati overpay!): Exeunt Coco and Linebrink.  Francisco Cordero did save 22 straight games to open up the season and had 27 saves at the All-Star break.  Despite my usual objections to the over-ratedness of the save, it should be pointed out that Coco struck out 12 batters per nine innings (let that number sink in…) while walking 2.5.  That’s amazing.  He probably doesn’t do that again, but it was a nice ride while it lasted.  Here’s the thing.  Pitchers usually have a BABIP in the low .300s, and if they deviate from that, they usually regress back into that neighborhood.  Coco’s BABIP was .341.  So, next year, he probably regresses a bit on the K rate, but a few more balls in play probably get caught.  That said, why did Cincinnati pay $10M per year to get him?  I find it hard to believe that any relief pitcher is really worth that much.
The Brewers will attempt to re-create that bullpen magic by signing Eric Gagne (not nearly as bad as he looked in Boston, but not worth $10M), David Riske (has a special place in my heart… at my bachelor party, my buddies and I went to the Indians game that night. Riske was out shagging flies during batting practice and when he heard it was my bachelor party, he threw me a ball), Guillermo Mota, and Salomon Torres.  Bullpen guys are always a risky (get ready for plenty of Riske/risky puns… we in Cleveland had to live with them for a few years) proposition.  The amount of work that they do in a season (even over a few seasons!) is such a small sample size that it’s hard to figure out their true talent level, and then to project that into next season.  If there’s one area where I think projection systems are fairly useless, it’s relievers.  The fun thing is that all of those gentlemen might work out well, and all of them may be just awful.
Manny Para: My my, what have we here?  Para went from AA to AAA and finally to the Big Show in 2007, and along the way, threw a perfect game in AAA and had an OPS against (at all levels) of .615.  Para is consistently striking out about a batter inning, although when he got to the Majors, his walk rate jumped.  Looks like MLB hitters were able to lay off his breaking stuff.  Still, Para’s got the raw skills (look at that pitch profile) and he could be an interesting one to follow.
Outlook: I can’t believe I made it through a piece on the Brewers without making a “Sunglasses at Night” reference about Corey Hart.  (Oh wait, there it is.)  Here’s the fun thing about the Brewers.  Here’s the fun thing about the Brewers in 2008.  a) They’re probably a .500 team deep down, but with a little luck, they could be an 86 win team.  b) They play in the NL Central.  This means that they are a possible playoff team.  Ain’t baseball great?  Other than Ben Sheets and Jeff Suppan, there isn’t a Brewer regular making more than $3M (wait, I take that back… Bill Hall, 3.125).  The infielders are all in their mid-20s.  What happens when those contracts come up?  Long term, this team could be the ’94 Expos.  Lots of young players who had a great season together, then all went on to have pretty-good-to-excellent careers… with other teams. 

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2 Responses to 2007 Sabermetric Year in Review: Milwaukee Brewers

  1. RollingWave says:

    I was under the impression that Cameron was suspended for 25 game not 50?
    either way , it’s a interesting club, espically in that it might challange the Marlins and Rays for da worest fielding club EVA!!! title.
    still though, it’s a fun team. though their team makeup makes you wonder wether they’d be one of those rare teams tahts better off in the AL instead of the NL (they could really use that DH spot…)
    as for Gwynn Jr…. well he’s better than Raines Jr lol!

  2. Pizza, all I can say is that as a Phillies fan, there was no more valuable Phillie this year than Rollins…. Utley is a better player, but he was not more valuable this year… if not for a John Lannon up-and-in fastball the award would have been his, but it did get him, he did miss a month, and in that month Howard did little to help… it was Rollins and Burrell.

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