On the Eve of the Final Cardinals-Brewers Series, a Look at the 2012 Brew Crew

ST. LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 4: Ryan Braun #8 of the Milwaukee Brewers drives in a run against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on August 4, 2012 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Paul Nordmann/Getty Images)

The Cardinals and Brewers will meet at Busch Stadium on Friday for the clubs' final series of the 2012 season. After meeting in the NLCS last season, both clubs saw their All-Star first baseman leave via free agency for a big payday in the American League. The Cardinals find themselves fighting for one of the Wild Card play-in berths while the Brewers are seven games back in the Wild Card hunt despite a recent hot streak. I thought we might take a quick look at how the Brewers have gone from NL Central champs with a 96-66 record last season to 67-70 so far in 2012.

Like the 2012 Cardinals, the 2012 Brewers are better than their record. Even Milwaukee has a +22 run differential for the season, the club is three games below the .500 mark. Like the Cardinals, the Brew Crew are a study in the heartbreak that bullpen volatility can cause a ballclub. Their starters have also seen their starters' ERA shoot up even as the group's FIP remains about the same.

OFFENSE

In 2011, first baseman Prince Fielder mashed for the Brew Crew to a line of .299/.415/.566, which was good for a .408 wOBA and 162 wRC+. Due to his defensive shortcomings, Fielder posted 5.5 fWAR. Fielder left Milwaukee for Detroit via free agency, leaving a significant production void for the front office to fill. The Brewers responded by inking free agent third baseman Aramis Ramirez. The former Cub is not the offensive force Fielder is, but he has been excellent. Through September 5, 2012, Ramirez had compiled a .295/.358/.523 slash line. His offensive contribution has equaled a .376 wOBA and 138 wRC+. Throw in UZR, and Ramirez has already amassed 5.1 fWAR and is on pace to match if not surpass Fielder's 2011 Wins Above Replacement.

The offseason drama for the reigning NL MVP has not affected his play one bit on the field. Ryan Braun continues to rake. Were it not for the positive drug test on an October urine sample, Braun would likely be in the MVP discussion again this year. After hitting .332/.397/.597 with 33 homers and 33 stolen bases in 2011, Braun has put up a slash line of .311/.389/.604 through play on Wednesday. While not quite on par with his .433 MVP wOBA, his .417 2012 wOBA leads the NL, as does his 7.1 fWAR to date.

The Brewers offense has performed extremely well this season, at a level very close to the high level it did a year ago.

Year

RPG

Rank

HR/PA

Rank

BA

Rank

OBP

Rank

SLG

Rank

wOBA

Rank

‘11

4.45

7

33.04

1

.261

3

.325

5

.425

1

.327

2

‘12

4.79

2

30.22

1

.257

6

.324

5

.435

2

.330

2


STARTING PITCHING

In 2011, the Brewers had a very good rotation. Zack Greinke threw 171.2 innings with an unlucky combination of a 2.98 FIP and 3.83 ERA. Yovani Gallardo posted a 3.52 ERA and 3.59 FIP. Shaun Marcum tossed 200.2 innings with a 3.54 ERA and 3.73 FIP. Randy Wolf was the most lucky with his 3.69 ERA and 4.29 FIP. Chris Narveson posted a 4.54 ERA and 4.08 FIP. As a whole, their 3.78 ERA was in line with their 3.75 FIP.

In 2012, the group's luck changed. Unlike his fortunate 2011, Wolf was unconditionally released after 140.1 IP with a 5.71 ERA and 4.79 FIP. Mike Fiers has tallied 103.1 IP with an excellent 2.69 FIP and 3.14 ERA. Greinke's 123 IP with the Brew Crew saw him post an ERA at 3.44 far higher than his 2.55 FIP. Marcum's ERA (3.53) has again outperformed his FIP (3.96). As a whole, the group's 0.25 ERA-FIP gap is second in the NL only to the Coors-plagued Rockies.

Year

K/9

Rank

BB/9

Rank

HR/9

Rank

ERA

Rank

FIP

Rank

xFIP

Rank

‘11

7.78

3

2.73

5

1.03

9

3.78

6

3.75

6

3.65

2

‘12

8.40

1

2.78

7

1.10

11

4.06

9

3.81

7

3.75

4


BULLPEN

In 2011, the Brewers had an excellent bullpen. In the NL, it ranked fifth in ERA, third in FIP, and second in xFIP. Its 131 Shutdowns ranked tenth in MLB and its 57 Meltdowns tied for the fifth lowest total in the majors. It was anchored by closer John Axford with his 10.51 K/9, 3.05 BB/9, 1.95 ERA and 2.41 FIP, who was joined midseason by Francisco Rodriguez and his 2.64 ERA and 2.72 FIP.

In 2012, Axford and his relief mates have been much worse. With a K/9 of 11.62, Axford's strikeouts are there but his walks are way up at 5.18 BB/9. After a 0.49 HR/FB in 2011, that figured sits at 1.10 for 2012. His ERA is 4.87, which is far worse than his 3.95 FIP, itself up 1.55 points from last year. K-Rod's walks have shot up just as Axford's has, from 3.27 per nine innings in 2011 to 4.50 in 2012. Throw in a 0.92 drop in K/9 and Rodriguez's ERA is 4.95 and his FIP 4.13.

The group as a whole is striking out 1.34 more batters per nine innings than the 2011 group, but are also walking 1.40 more per nine. Some bad batted ball luck tossed in and the group's 2012 ERA of 4.68 is 1.66 higher than last season even if their FIP is 0.60 higher. It's been a rough go. At 100 Shutdowns, their rank has slipped to fourteenth in the big leagues. The problem hasn't been a lack of Shutdowns so much as it has been a marked increase in Meltdowns. The Milwaukee bullpen has already had 77 Meltdowns this season, twenty more than they had in all of 2011.

Year

K/9

Rank

BB/9

Rank

HR/9

Rank

ERA

Rank

FIP

Rank

xFIP

Rank

‘11

8.01

8

2.78

2

0.68

4

3.32

5

3.24

3

3.43

2

‘12

9.35

4

4.18

15

0.88

11

4.68

13

3.82

10

3.76

4


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