Photo: Jim Prisching/AP
With no actual baseball to write about, a lot of digital ink has been spilled on the long-term future of the Milwaukee Brewers, especially whether they will use the upcoming trading deadline as an opportunity to buy, sell, or do some of both. Nick Michalski, Vince from Miller Park Drunk, and the folks at Brew Crew Ball have already wrote excellent articles on the topic, so I won’t rehash their points in this space, except for one: There’s really no way to overstate how much that critical decision depends on what happens in the next nine games.
The Brewers kick off their post-break season with three-game series’ against the Pirates (home), Cardinals (home), and Reds (away), the three teams who are ahead of them in the NL Central – by eight, five-and-a-half, and seven games, respectively. If the Brewers are able to put together a trio of series wins over that time, the Brewers are right back in the thick of the playoff hunt. If not, both the division and the second wild card will be essentially out of reach, and trading deadline will still be almost two weeks away, leaving plenty of time for the market to develop for whichever players the club chooses to sell off. Needless to say, the 2012 season can really only be saved by an incredible run that starts tomorrow.
Unfortunately, the odds of the Brewers going on such a run are microscopic. MPD did a nice job of putting this into perspective in his post, but since we’re reputed to be a family-friendly site, I can’t use it here. So, instead, I’m going to look at the same question from a statistical perspective. I haven’t really worn the saber hat since I became responsible for most of the content on the site, but I feel there’s a real need for this topic to be looked at objectively, and no one has really done that yet.
(Note: We’re going to have to use a little bit of math here. I chose not to get into detail about the processes here, but if you have questions, don’t hesitate to contact the blog via email or Twitter.)
Right now, the general consensus is that the Brewers will need to go at least 7-2 over the next nine games to resurrect their playoff hopes (and keep their best players in Milwaukee, at least for the rest of the year). According to binomial probability, if we give the Brewers a 50% chance of winning each game, they would have an 8.98% chance of winning at least seven of the next nine – certainly possible, but the odds don’t look good right now.
However, we can improve on this analysis by adjusting for the quality of both the Brewers and their opponents (Pirates, Cardinals, Reds). If we incorporate this, the Brewers’ odds of going at least 7-2 slip to 6.52%. In other words, the odds of the Brewers playing well enough to propel themselves back into contention are roughly the same as pulling a random card out of a deck and getting an ace.
In other words, it’s certainly possible that the Brewers suddenly reverse their fortunes in the next two weeks, but it’s highly unlikely, even though the club’s play has improved somewhat over the last couple weeks. It’s going to require consistently effective starting pitching, a bullpen that suddenly functions as a bullpen should, and likely some August 2011 magic. Unfortunately, we’re dealing with a club that hasn’t shown any of those things even briefly this year.