Move along, nothing to see here! The Brewers were staked to an early deficit by struggling veteran Matt Garza, but the battling bats made the game rather interesting in the late innings.
WHOOPSIES!: The biggest play of the game came within the first four batters of the game, as the resurgent Matthew Joyce smacked a three-run homer to hand the Pirates a strong lead. The Pirates’ odds of winning jumped from 58 percent to 80 percent on that play (+0.22 WPA).
Best and Worst Plays: In terms of WPA and game sequencing by the ol’ eyeball test alike, the Brewers’ best and worst plays occurred during consecutive plate appearances in the top of the eighth inning. These plays were made possible thanks to an all-guts display in the seventh inning by Ryan Braun (single, wild pitch, run), Hernan Perez (RBI double, pick-off error, run), and Scooter Gennett (grittiest groundball productive out! #Scoots!). Something was rumbling amidst the Brewers bats as they entered the eighth down by two runs.
Best Play: Hit machine Martin Maldonado opened the inning with a nice little base knock, which knocked the Pirates’ odds of victory from 87 percent back to 80 percent. Then, Craig Counsell called off Jonathan Lucroy’s planned day of rest, so the elite catcher could pinch hit for Jhan Marinez. In a game of “anything you can do…” among the Brewers’ catching corps, Lucroy grounded a surefire double play ball that was hilariously mishandled.
By reaching on the error, Lucroy produced the Brewers’ best play of the game, bringing the Pirates odds to 70 percent (0.11 WPA for Milwaukee). According to BaseballProspectus, with runners on first and second and no one out, the Brewers were odds on favorites to score approximately 1.467 runs in the eighth. With superstar shortstop Jonathan Villar coming to the plate, those odds seemed ever more interesting…
Worst Play: …until Villar executed a sacrifice bunt (W..T…) straight to the pitcher (!!!). With Maldonado running to third, Tony Watson had a chance to write a thank you note to Villar before throwing to third to nab the lead runner. This was Milwaukee’s worst play of the game, bringing the Pirates’ odds of winning back to 79 percent. It decreased the expected runs to 0.9145.
Honestly, while watching this play, I literally felt speechless. Did the Brewers bench actually call a bunt with a piano on second and a celeste on first? If the bench did not call such a play, what compelled Villar, who already had slammed a third inning solo home run, a .300 hitter and one of the Brewers’ most productive players with a .291 TAv, to put the ball on the ground? Even if one is inclined to argue that the Brewers were avoiding the double play chance by bunting, it is worth noting that Villar has 23 infield hits thus far in 2016, according to Baseball Reference. 16 percent of his plate appearances also feature line drives, and 12 percent of his plate appearances end in walks.
Moreover, and I don’t mean to be rude, but after Villar, the Brewers had honorable replacement player Jake Elmore batting second. Don’t get me wrong, there is a valuable place for Elmore in the MLB, especially on a team like Milwaukee that cannot carry a deep bench because two of their starting pitchers cannot work into the fifth or sixth inning (at best). So, the flexible Elmore is a valuable member of the Brewers insofar as he can play every single position on the diamond. But the fact of the matter is, and here’s where even batting average is a great stat, the odds are better that Villar makes something happen in the game right then and there. I really hate writing like this, by the way, because I hate knocking any professional ballplayer. But, either Villar or the Brewers bench made a poor decision, which cost the Brewers runs (and a real chance to win the game).
Here’s a place where the “rebuilding” schtick really becomes irksome, by the way. I understand that the Brewers will take their knocks this year, blah blah blah, and every loss is worth anywhere from $2,000 to $11,000 in draft bonus pool money to the Tankheads, blah blah blah (#RaceToTheBottom!). But what I despise about this idea is that the Brewers should be instructing their players, especially extreme future value players like Villar, a player who stands a good chance of being a part of a competitive core in Milwaukee, in the ways of winning. I don’t care if you give Villar a 100% green light and he learns how to run aggressively and force the game on the basepaths; but I absolutely do care if the Brewers do nothing to try and win with Villar, one of their best players, in a situation where the game is literally on the line. Is there any better place for Villar to learn how to handle a critical game situation than in a critical game situation?
The bunt is a terrible play. Even if it works it reduces the Brewers’ expected runs for the inning! The Brewers coaching staff is implicated either by calling the bunt or not putting an “Absolutely Do Not Bunt” sign on. Hopefully this becomes a learning situation, because what will be much more important than that $11,000 maximal gain that loss provided in 2017 draft bonus money is fighting for those millions of dollars of playoff revenue in 2019. Will Craig Counsell bunt in this situation in 2019?
Up Next: The Brewers host their friendly neighbors from Milwaukee’s Largest Suburb this weekend, as the Collapsing Cubs come to Miller Park. The All Star Break seems to be just what the Cubs needed, though, as they are now 4-2 after a 14-20 tailspin entering the break. First up is Notable Veteran Jason Hammel (4.36 DRA) and Guts Nelson (5.18 DRA). Nelson is perhaps the Brewers’ most interesting pitcher, with a chasm between his actual runs prevention (very good!) and underlying pitching aspects (not as good). Then, by DRA, it’s Bucket Brigade Lackey (3.61) against Thee Imposing Zach Davies (3.62) on Saturday, and Yips Lester (3.65) versus Ace Guerra (3.46) to close the series. The Tankheads want the losses, but in all seriousness this is a great opportunity for Milwaukee’s best pitchers to face a strong challenge in the Lakeview offense.