A Simple Kind of Fan. The Most Top Heavy Offense in Baseball– 6.28.11
According to Fangraphs, the Milwaukee Brewers have the 3rd best offensive WAR in the National League. Except for the abhorred stretch back in May, the offense has been adequate in supporting the terrific starting pitching and shaky bullpen play. I am certain while pleased, Doug Melvin and Ron Roenicke would like more balance in the lineup. It is extremely top heavy and once past Prince, the lineup is smooth sailing until Rickie comes up. This obviously signals a concern about the team’s depth and ability to handle a key injury. In fact, it is my belief that the Milwaukee offense is the most top heavy offense in all of baseball.
The ability to hit for a high average, get on base, and hit with power are all traits desired for any hitter. Having these traits combined in one player is exceedingly rare. Today we are going to look at the benchmarks of a .290 batting average, a .360 on base percentage, and a .500 slugging percentage. A player with a slash line of .290/.360/.500 is a complete player that is a major force in any lineup. In fact, there are only 26 such players in all of baseball (a minimum at 110 bats) that have accomplished the feat thus far. Currently, the Brewers have four such players in Weeks, Morgan, Braun, and Fielder (OK, I know Weeks currently has a .498 slugging % and Morgan has a .496 Slugging percentage, but let’s just pretend their last at bats on Sunday didn’t happen, OK?)
To break down this benchmark in a more detailed fashion, we see that there are 11 players in the AL who are cutting the mustard. Some of the notable names in the AL include Jose Bautista, Adrian Gonzalez, and JJ Hardy (!!). In the NL, the Cardinals are the only such team in baseball to even have three players, but not the three you expect, as Holliday, Berkman, and Allen Craig are the qualifiers. That means that the Cardinals and Brewers have nearly as many (7) players qualify for this benchmark as the entire rest of the National League combined (15).
In spite of this group’s great play, Betancourt and McGehee have been terrible and playing at below replacement value offensively. What amplifies this poor play is that both players are in the lineup almost daily and always play next to one another. This means, theoretically, that I could replace these Brewers with two random guys from AAA and get better results. When also considering that Hart and Lucroy have been just average, it become clear that the Milwaukee offense has been carried by these four players.
In conclusion, while Milwaukee has registered a 16.6 WAR as a team, the quartet of Weeks, Morgan, Braun, and Fielder have managed to amass 76% of that total. In fact, the Milwaukee fearsome foursome has a higher WAR than eleven other NL clubs! When taking account their high scoring team output and using the slash line benchmark of .290/.360/.500(ish), it becomes clear that the Brewers have the most top- heavy offense in all of baseball and not much to rely on other than these four players and, I suppose, Corey Hart.
Yep, the safest job in Major League Baseball is starting shortstop for the Milwaukee Brewers. There is no internal competition for the job and the team’s cupboard is so bare that the odds of picking up an impact player are not good. This is exactly what Yuni Betancourt thinks about his job. How do I know this? Because any rational human being fearing for their job would correct mistakes that they consistently make on a nightly basis. Any rational human being would attempt to fix things they could control and correct. In Yuni’s case, the easiest thing he can do is work the count.
I know Bill Schroeder says working a count is not an easy thing to do. Of course, Bill has said a lot of things this year that have been flat out wrong. His extolling of the defense in April is one great example. As for the notion that a count is difficult to work, I believe the term is defined as ‘making adjustments’. This is what Big League players do, they make adjustments throughout a game. The good ones excel, the poor ones play shortstop for the Brewers. A wise man once told me that the key to life is adjustment. You need to look no further than Friday night for this principle to be put into motion. In the win against the Twins, Yuni was 0 x 4 and saw a total of 8 pitches. Frankly, he is not making adjustments and will soon be on the outside looking in because of it.
For the week Yuni was 8 x 20. He played shortstop all week and had two home runs to go along with eight hits. Great right? Not exactly. There is no denying that Yuni did indeed hit two home runs. However, for the week he also only drove in only two RBIs and scored only two runs. So for all of the ballyhoo surrounding a supposed hot week, he didn’t make an impact offensively outside of those solo shots (one of which was an injury aided home run and was an error to begin with). Despite my misgivings, his slash line has improved to .241/.262/.366. Personally, I wouldn’t move Gamel, or ANY of the top talent the team has left, for a shortstop in late July. As Jim Breen from Bernie’s Crew writes, the market is bare. Regardless, if the right player came along, I would be tempted to move a fringe prospect like Maverick Lasker or, because of his weird contract, a guy like Cody Scarpetta. Finally, the one thing this Milwaukee team has going for it is that their flaws are very easily identifiable and can be corrected by replacing poor players with average talent. Luckily, this team doesn’t need a superstar addition like a CC Sabathia. It needs perhaps two role players that will give solid veteran at bats and play good defense. Just think like Mark Kotsay, but five years younger.
A Season You Have Probably Forgotten About By Now
If you would ask typical baseball fans when the statistical analysis revolution of baseball occurred, most would instinctively say “Moneyball” with Bille Beane. Some astute fans would surely say Bill James or Branch Rickey. Personally, I have always felt that sabremetrics began with Henry Chadwick. I would also argue that this revolution to use statistics began by simple kind of fans in earnest in 1962, the day after Maury Wills was awarded the NL MVP award over Willie Mays. Mays put together a complete season of domination for the Giants, yet Wills stole 104 bases and walked away with the award. The argument that ensued had fans attempting to quantify how much more valuable home runs were than stolen bases. Fans began weighing certain statistics differently and the small sapling that was a sabremetric revolution slowly began its transformation into a mighty redwood of the baseball forest that it is today.
The 1962 season was also a big year in one of baseball’s most storied rivalries. The San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers were tied after 162 regular season games. The National League Championship, and a trip to the World Series, came down to a three game playoff series for all of the marbles. The Giants, who trailed LA for most of the season, fittingly came back in the 9th inning to stun the Dodgers in the deciding Game 3 and consequently celebrated a trip to the World Series on enemy turf.
As I mentioned, in 1962 the baseball writers awarded Maury Wills the MVP award over Willie Mays. This act alone might have been the biggest travishamockery in modern day sports history. Why was this practically a crime? More importantly, what were baseball writers thinking/drinking that year to elect Wills more valuable than Mays?
In 1962 Maury Wills stole a league record 104 bases and was caught only 13 times (89%). That is about it. I suppose I should mention that he also collected 208 hits. Those are the only two major offensive categories that Wills managed to exceed Mays that year. I could spend some time trying to compare the two players, but it is easier to look at a quick chart comparing Wills and Mays in 1962:
|SB%||18/20= 90%||104/117= 89%|
Now that you have had a chance to let these numbers sink in, the first thing you probably noticed is that Mays was awesome and Wills was fast. Mays indeed led virtually every offensive category except hits and stolen bases between the two players. In regard to hits, if you consider walks as well, Mays actually reached base more times than Wills (267 vs 259). Wills was a superior table setter that season. As such, he should be getting on base, stealing bases, and scoring a high number of runs. In truth, Mays was actually on base more and scored just as many runs as Wills, but as a middle of the order hitter. It appears as if Mays was a better table setter than Wills! For crying out loud, Mays hit more homers than Wills had RBIs. With that being said, could stolen bases be the only reason he won the award?
One possible scenario is that perhaps Wills was more valuable than Mays because the Dodgers overachieved, while featuring Wills and little else? While a nice thought, that is hardly the case. The 1962 Dodgers offense featured Frank Howard, Tommy Davis, and an aging Duke Snider. Of course, when you think of the Dodgers pitching in this era, you think of Don Drysdale and Sandy Kofax. They were a quality team that relied on more than just Maury Wills and his tremendous stolen base ability. To be fair, the Giants featured Mays and a cast of recognizable players such as Orlando Cepeda, Willie McCovey, Harvey Kuehn (!), Don Larsen, Gaylord Perry, Felipe Alou, and a young Juan Marichal. I feel that while the Giants may have had more recognizable players 50 years after the fact, the teams were evenly dispersed with talent. As a result, the possible theory of Wills truly being more valuable to his team than Mays is complete BS in my opinion.
Hence, it all comes down to stolen bases for this award. If so, how dominant was Wills? Wills stole 104 bases and broke Ty Cobb’s record of 96 set in 1915. Incredibly, the second place finisher in stolen bases that year had 32. That is quite a gap. While I concede that Mills was far and away the stolen base king that year, you still must consider a couple of factors. First, Mays may have only stolen 18 bases, but he still stole bases at a higher percentage that year than Wills (90% to 89%). Second, it is not like Willie Mays couldn’t steal a base. Heck, The Say Hey Kid led the NL four times in steals from 1956-1959. In fact, he stole 40 bases in 1956. But in 1962, Mays was busy leading all of baseball in home runs, so getting to second base 100 times via the steal wasn’t a big deal for him. Surely a year in which Willie Mays set career highs in total bases, home runs, and RBIs was enough for him to win the MVP award?
Sadly, baseball writers chose to look at one specific statistic and vote for the MVP, when the rest of the statistics on the board screamed for another player to win the award. I have maintained for years that baseball fans looked at some of the other numbers that Mays brought to the table, such as a graceful mix of power and defense. They began to wonder if some numbers were more important than others. Home runs and great defense are elusive and powerful weapons. I believe this MVP race, and the polar opposite contrast in styles the two players offered, in a small way legitimized a place for sabremetrics in the baseball community for baseball fans around the country.
Dates Appearing Closer on the Horizon
July 10, 2011. This is the end of the first half. Milwaukee hosts the Cincinnati Reds for a huge 4 game series. I have declared that if the Brewers are within 6 games of the division lead by this date, they will win the division. So far the team is 6-7 since June 13th and has actually extended their lead to three games in the Central over Cincinnati. As predicted, the Cardinals are fading and are currently looking at a much improved Pittsburgh team breathing down their necks.
July 14, 2011. The tough portion of the schedule before the All Star break may be over, but the difficult tests continue for the Brewers. They head out West to play grueling back to back four game marathons in Colorado and Arizona before finishing up with an easy 3 game set against the World Champs, in their yard. Yikes.
Shameless Self Promotion
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