Is The Brewers Pitching Staff This Bad?

Given the fact that the main site for Baseball Prospectus currently resides behind a paywall and BP Milwaukee does not, I recognize that some of our readers may not be familiar with BP and what makes it distinctive from other sites. In my opinion, BP offers the best baseball analysis on the internet. It also utilizes some statistics that are not available elsewhere — such as DRA (Deserved Run Average) and cFIP (which is essentially a contextualized version of FIP).

Those two pitching statistics have been shown to be more helpful than any other sabermetric stats that attempt to isolate “true talent,” in the broad sense of the term. DRA is a descriptive statistic, while cFIP seeks to be descriptive and predictive. In other words, DRA should be used to describe what did happen, while cFIP attempts to project what is likely to happen.

The most recent article written on DRA (Deserved Run Average) briefly explains what it’s designed to do:

DRA is premised on the notion that while a pitcher is probably the player most responsible, on average, for what happens while he is on the mound, he is not responsible for everything. DRA therefore only assigns the runs a pitcher most likely deserved to be charged with.

If you’re interested in a thorough explanation of the statistic, click on the link above and wade your way through the mountains of information and data. However, the above definition should provide a baseline of understanding and indicate what the statistic purports to do.

On the other hand, cFIP both tells the story of what happened for a pitcher and projects what is most probable in the future. As Jonathan Judge wrote:

Building on the mixed-model approach we developed at Baseball Prospectus for Called Strikes above Average (CSAA), cFIP seeks to provide this missing context. Each underlying event in the FIP equation — be it a home run, strikeout, walk, or hit by pitch — is modeled to adjust for, as appropriate, the effect of the individual batter, catcher and umpire; the stadium; home-field advantage; umpire bias; and the handedness relationship between pitcher and batter present during each individual plate appearance.

cFIP has multiple advantages: (1) it is more predictive than other pitcher estimators, especially in smaller samples; (2) it is calculated on a batter-faced basis, rather than innings pitched; (3) it is park-, league-, and opposition-adjusted; and (4) in a particularly important development, cFIP is equally accurate as a descriptive and predictive statistic.

Why care at all? The two statistics matter because they have been shown to both be superior to all other “advanced stats” in their respective goals. DRA is better than FIP at isolating what earned run average a pitcher truly deserves for past performance, while cFIP has been shown to be far more accurate at predicting future performance (on the whole) than normal FIP, xFIP, SIERA, etc..

Thus ends the dense statistical-jargon segment of the programming.

Lots of talk has surrounding the Brewers’ pitching staff and how poorly they have performed. Coming into Tuesday night, their collective 4.50 ERA ranked second-worst in all of baseball — behind only the Colorado Rockies — so that’s hardly an outlandish narrative for fans and beat writers to embrace. However, it’s perhaps misleading. According to DRA, Brewers pitchers have been closer to league-average than they have been to the cellar.

Stat Rank
ERA 4.50 29
DRA 4.35 18
cFIP 101 15 (tied)

If Brewers fans are willing to look past the pain and sadness that has plagued the team this year, it becomes apparent that it maybe hasn’t been so terrible, or at least won’t be in the future. Granted, nothing can take away the high number of runs allowed or erase the 21-game hole the team has dug over the first three months. No matter what the advanced stats say deserved to happen or should happen, it doesn’t change what did happen. Ultimately, though, we’re interested in determining the true talent of the club and of the individual players on the club. We’re still concerned about projecting what is likely to happen in the future, whether that’s happening in a pennant race or not.

DRA and cFIP suggest that the Brewers have a better pitching staff than we’ve seen and should perform better over the last three months of the season. That, in itself, is encouraging.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of the good news lies in the bullpen. The starting rotation has been rough, and neither DRA nor cFIP like many of the current starters.

Kyle Lohse 6.30 4.91 110
Matt Garza 5.48 5.09 113
Wily Peralta 4.00 5.61 114
Mike Fiers 4.50 5.00 88
Jimmy Nelson 4.64 4.18 111
Taylor Jungmann 3.50 3.00 103

Mike Fiers is the light at the end of the tunnel, it seems, and he’s a solid number-four starter who’s about to turn 31 years old. According to DRA and cFIP, the outlook for the remainder of the rotation is borderline putrid. Jimmy Nelson and Wily Peralta are projected to be significantly worse than average, while the rotation headliner (aside from Fiers) will apparently be Kyle Lohse — the same Lohse who many Brewers’ fans have grown tired of watching this year. Taylor Jungmann gets attractive numbers, but as discussed in my article on Tuesday, I’m not convinced they’re working with representative data.

The bulk of the improvement is projected to come from the bullpen.

Francisco Rodriguez 1.08 0.60 76
Will Smith 1.42 0.60 75
Jeremy Jeffress 3.34 3.65 89
Jonathan Broxton 7.00 6.14 92
Michael Blazek 1.69 0.54 94
Neal Cotts 4.30 4.22 94

Thus, given the quality predictive numbers in the bullpen, the good news is that the Brewers’ pitching staff should perform better than they have and allow runs at a lower rate. The bad news is that such improvement is not expected to come from the rotation in any meaningful capacity. The bullpen appears poised to carry the day. And if Melvin moves guys like K-Rod prior to the trade deadline, that improvement may be fleeting.

Overall, though, I want us to get used to seeing DRA and cFIP utilized in this space. The two stats are immensely helpful and versatile; they can even be utilized for fantasy baseball purposes. Using DRA and cFIP to look at the Milwaukee Brewers, though, it appears that things may not truly be as bad as they seem. The Brewers’ whole pitching staff isn’t this bad and the total runs allowed should decline. I think, deep down, we all knew this already. Still, it’s comforting to get statistical confirmation of it.

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