Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Brew City Enigmas

Shades of last season: the Milwaukee Brewers lost at home last night to the surprising St. Louis Cardinals, a maddening result for a team who remembers last season's foul end. Once in control of the division, the Brewers have fallen 2 games behind the Cubs and 1.5 games behind St. Louis due to untimely losses in both Wisconsin and Missouri. Milwaukee is now solidly in 3rd place in the NL Central. So how good are the Brewers, anyway?

Runs-scored and -allowed statistics suggest that Milwaukee is on pace to have won 10.7 games as of today. Their record of 11-8 show a slight tendency to win close games, and given the large number of difficult games played against both the division-leading Cubs and Cardinals, the casual opinion of Milwaukee is that the Brewers are slightly overachieving.

Baseball Playoffs Now rates Milwaukee #7 in quality wins and #12 in strength of schedule, yet the Brewers stand at #2 in Major League Baseball in ratings percentage index (a mixture of quality wins and strength of schedule). This discrepancy follows from the relationship between record and schedule. Teams who win have losing opponents by definition; therefore record and schedule are often inversely related. Arizona is #1 in record and #26 in strength of schedule. The same is true for the Chicago Cubs, St. Louis, Boston, and most of baseball's good teams. But Milwaukee bucks the trend by barely losing to good teams away and handily beating poor teams at home. By wins and losses only, Baseball Playoffs Now places Milwaukee at a true ratings percentage index (quality wins + schedule) just below league phenom Arizona, and well above the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis (#6 and #7 respectively).

Our scoring analysis algorithm places the Brewers between Chicago and St. Louis in runs scored/allowed, however. Surprisingly, Milwaukee is projected to score 0.6 runs more than St. Louis over a 100-game series in Milwaukee and 0.2 runs more than the Cardinals over that same series in St. Louis. But against Chicago, Milwaukee loses by 0.5 run per game in Illinois and by 0.1 run per game in Wisconsin.

In the final ratings, Milwaukee still controls second place in baseball. Given their current mediocre NL Central standing (third place), not to mention a ninth place standing in baseball, it is safe to say that the Brewers are underrated. Milwaukee is much better than its record states. With more losses like last night's, however, it's hard to know in which direction this team is going.

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