The Brewers’ starting pitching has been demonstrably better since the All Star break. The numbers don’t lie; there isn’t a major category that isn’t significantly better.
The sample isn’t as big in the second half, of course (baseball “half seasons” aren’t really that), but both are significant enough to compare.
- WHIP: 1.43
- K/9: 6.78
- BB/9: 3.4
- HR/9: 1.35
- ERA: 4.71
- WHIP: 1.19
- K/9: 7.34
- BB/9: 3.1
- HR/9: 1.09
- ERA: 3.78
I know I’m not using advanced metrics here; I’m not that good at that, and figuring that out for the starting staff was either beyond my ability or patience, or both. But I don’t need advanced metrics to tell me that the second part is much, much better. A full run a game should lead to better results, no?
- First half: 38-49, .437
- Second half: 29-33, .468
Not as big a difference as you might expect, but the losses of Will Smith, Jeremy Jeffress, and Jonathan Lucroy probably account for that.
So...what differences do we have? Jimmy Nelson has performed much worse in the second half. Junior Guerra and Zach Davies weren’t too much different. Chase Anderson was a little better. Wily Peralta and Matt Garza were much better. Taylor Jungmann hasn’t started in the second half (yet).
Perhaps it took a half season for the methods espoused by Derek Johnson to take hold. That would certainly be hard to quantify, and Guerra and Davies didn’t change. Anderson got a little better; Nelson got a lot worse.
Wily Peralta went down to the minors and didn’t show anything to indicate that he would be significantly better when he came back up. He has been, though, and it seems to my untrained eye that he actually went back to just using his stuff rather than trying for location. Pure speculation here on my part, but maybe he simply took that long to get healthy after last year’s injuries.
Matt Garza is pitching differently, and that could be Johnson’s influence, or it could be Garza adjusting to Father Time’s effect on his abilities. In any case, his location has been way better in the second half - and again, that’s a half-season of working through an injury return.
We certainly can’t measure Jungmann yet; his total ineffectiveness at the start of the year, and even into AAA, are a mystery. And we don’t know if he is actually any better now; no starts in the second half yet at the major league level.
One big difference in the second half is who is behind the plate. Is it possible that having Martin Maldonado and Manny Pina behind the plate, with Maldy getting the bulk of the work, could be significantly better than Jonathan Lucroy and Maldy? It is certainly possible. Lucroy has been a strong force for the Rangers, and their pitching hasn’t tanked with Luc behind the plate (first half ERA 4.44, WHIP 1.41; second half ERA 4.55, WHIP 1.33).
But maybe the enthusiasm and pitch framing of Maldonado have made that much of a difference. It looked to me like Luc no longer had any interest in pitch framing. He never held a close pitch for the ump, or tried to bring a ball back in the zone. No matter where the pitch was, he quickly snapped it and stood to throw it back. Does that effect how umpires call balls and strikes? I don’t know. I also haven’t checked pitch framing “statistics” for any of these catchers. (editor’s note: both Lucroy and Maldonado have graded out as slightly above average in framing runs per Baseball Prospectus, though with Lucroy coming out ahead in total framing runs in nearly twice as many framing chances this season.)
My conclusion? Yes, the change in who has been behind the plate is the main reason for the improvement. Could I be wrong? Of course. Would I rather still have Lucroy on the Brewers? Yes, but not as much as before...and Lewis Brinson and Luis Ortiz can still make me feel even better.
I am willing to be swayed.