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2007 Milwaukee Brewers Team Review
by Asher B. Chancey, BaseballEvolution.com
November 1, 2007
Here is what you think about the 2007 Milwaukee Brewers – The Milwaukee Brewers are a team stocked with exciting young hitters at every position, but their pitching truly, inexplicably, fell apart this season. Ben Sheets will never make it through a whole season, Dave Bush is vastly overrated, Jeff Suppan is mediocre at best, and Chris Capuano was clearly overachieving in 2005 and 2006. The Milwaukee Brewers got out to a relatively large lead in the mediocre National League Central division, riding the backs of their exciting young hitting and winning despite their mediocre pitching.
What you think is wrong.
Now, here is everything you need to know about the Milwaukee Brewers – they have stars or future stars at all the conventional power positions – first base, third base, left field, right field – but have the worst up-the-middle defensive support for their pitchers in the National League. Their pitchers are not the best in the league, but they are a talented group, and their numbers indicate not mediocrity, but the truly terrible nature of the defense behind them. The Brewers performed well this season because they offense is top notch, and their pitching is solid, but they failed in the end because their defense was horrendous.
Hogwash, right? Well, let's see.
There are several innovative new defensive stats which have emerged over the last few years, and all of them spell doom for the Milwaukee Brewers defense.
Take “Zone Rating” for example. ESPN.com tabulates this statistic from data supplied by STATS LLC. According to ESPN.com, the worst second baseman in major league in 2007 in Zone Rating was Rickie Weeks – by a lot. J.J. Hardy wasn’t the worst shortstop in baseball, but this is only because 2007 featured two of the worst defensive shortstops in the modern era of baseball – Hanley Ramirez and Derek Jeter. Of merely mortally bad shortstops, J.J. Hardy finished third from the bottom in Zone Rating after Jhonny Peralta and Felipe Lopez. And in center field, Bill Hall was distantly the worst in baseball, finishing dead last behind Gary Matthews, Jr.
Now, Zone Rating has its issues. There are hundreds of thousands of people who will tell you that Ichiro Suzuki and Andruw Jones are two of the best centerfielders in baseball, and they finished fourth from last and third from last in Zone Rating in all of baseball. So, we won’t rest here. Let’s look to Range Factor.
In ESPN.com’s tabulation of Range Factor, Bill Hall finished quite a bit better, ranking ahead of Aaron Rowand, Mike Cameron, Vernon Wells, Grady Sizemore, and Juan Pierre of all people to finish eleventh in the majors, out of 18 regular centerfielders. The news is not as good for Rickie Weeks, who finished fifth from the bottom in Range Factor, ahead of such luminaries as Craig Biggio, Dan Uggla, Jeff Kent, and Mark Grudzielanek. And J.J. Hardy finished dead last in all of baseball amongst shortstops in Range Factor; he was the only player to finish worse than Derek Jeter.
But wait, there’s more – The Hardball Times (which uses Baseball Info Solutions as its data source) has a stat called “Revised Zone Rating” which I don’t begin to understand (really, I read the description twice and still don’t get it) which somehow compliments Zone Rating. Amongst all major league second baseman in 2007, Rickie Weeks finished fourth from the bottom in RZR, ahead of Uggla, Biggio, and Josh Barfield. J.J. Hardy finished 15th (out of 25) regular shortstops in RZR, which is the best he has fared in any statistic so far. And Bill Hall, whom I suddenly feel compelled to point out is not a natural center fielder, finished diggety-dead liggety-last in RZR amongst major league center fielders in 2007.
Next, we have John Dewan's Plus/Minus system. This system basically involved dudes watching videotape of every game that is played, and tabulating plays that each player makes compared to whether they should have made it. For every play that he makes that another player wouldn't have made, he gets a plus 1, and for every play a player doesn't make that another player would have made, he gets a minus 1.
In 2007, the Milwaukee Brewers were third to last in the National League in Team Plus/Minus, according to The Hardball Times. In all of Major League Baseball, only five teams had a worse plus/minus than the Brewers - the Angels, Devil Rays, Mariners, Pirates, and Marlins. The Angels are obviously the anamoly here, but the records of the other four teams point in a pretty clear direction.
Lastly, we come to defensive Win Shares, as designed by Bill James. According to The Hardball Times, Rickie Weeks ranked 21st in the majors in defensive win shares amongst second basemen, J.J. Hardy finished tied for 11th with Julio Lugo amongst shortstops, and Bill Hall finished tied for 21st amongst all centerfielders. Out of all the defensive stats, the Brew Crew finished most respectably in defensive Win Shares, and it was still a bad finish.
So, how did it all play out for the Brewers? Well, we can tell how it played out by looking at the what is known as "defense independent statistics" for the Brewers’ pitching staff, to compare how the Brewers pitchers did in categories which don’t depend on defense compared to those that do.
When it comes to defense independent pitching statistics, Milwaukee's pitching staff is pretty fantastic – the Brew Crew finished fourth best in the National League in homeruns allowed, third best in total strikeouts, and fourth best in total walks. But when it comes to statistics that rely on defensive support, Milwaukee takes a nose-dive – tenth in the National League for fewest hits allowed and ninth in the National League for fewest runs allowed per game. What’s more, Milwaukee ranks an astonishing 27th in Major League Baseball in what ESPN calls DIP%, which measures the ratio of defense independent stats to defense dependent stats.
For comparison's sake – the teams that comprise the bottom third of major league baseball in DIP% are: the Dodgers, Houston, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Florida, the White Sox, Milwaukee, Seattle, Cincinnati, and Tampa Bay.
Of these teams, the Dodgers and Mariners made nominal runs at the post-season before fading before the weather turned cool. Meanwhile, Houston, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Florida, the White Sox, Cincinnati, and Tampa Bay were among the worst overall teams in baseball.
Good Defense is a pitcher’s best friend. Ask Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, and Roy Oswalt how nice it was have Adam Everett playing behind them the last few years. See if you can get the Colorado Rockies pitching staff to talk about Troy Tulowitski and the impact he had on the club this year. Think the 2005 White Sox might be willing to share some opinions on Juan Uribe, Tad Iguchi, Aaron Rowand and Scott Podsednik?
That the Brewers made as strong a showing as they did this season is a tribute to their young, exciting offense. Indeed, Ryan Braun, Corey Hart, and Prince Fielder promise to excite us for a generation. But this is a team that shot itself in the foot in 2007, and the up the middle defense has its fingerprints all over the gun. This team can ill-afford another bad defensive performance from Hardy, Hall, and Weeks, because their big offensive stars aren’t any good on defense either – Ryan Braun was the majors' worst – as in dead last – third baseman in range factor, zone rating, and fielding percentage in 2007, and Prince Fielder doesn’t have any gold gloves in his future, either.
But a team can get by with great offense and bad defense from its corner positions. What it can’t get by with is mediocre offense and horrendous defense from the up the middle positions. J.J. Hardy, Bill Hall, and Rickie Weeks need to work on three things this off-season – defense, defense, and defense – or they need to go. If the Brewers break camp with Hardy, Weeks, and Hall slotted to see as much time in 2008 as they did in 2007, and they haven’t made significant improvements to their defensive games, the Brewers will be lucky to win as many games next year as they did this year.
Questions? Concerns? Comments? Asher lives in Philadelphia, PA, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.