The Milwaukee Brewers entered the weekend ranked 20th in runs scored per game (4.26) and 21st in OPS+ (94). After a hot start to the season, the bats have frozen. In some ways, the club is fortunate to be ranked that highly, as they opened play Friday as the worst team in five statistical offensive categories.
Highest Ground Ball Percentage (GB%)
As I tell the players I coach, "Ground balls are outs." The Brewers have a 47.2 GB%, the worst mark in baseball. Line drives are your best chance at hits, while fly balls give you power production. Grounders have a function in particular scenarios, but overall, that is a frightening percentage of bouncing balls that explains a lack of run-scoring. Among Brewers batters with at least 40 plate appearances, nine players have a GB% higher than the MLB mean.
The league-wide ground-ball rate this season is 42.8%, and since most of the players above are regularly in the starting lineup, that causes significant problems consistently sustaining offense. Some believed the new shifting rules would positively impact the effectiveness of grounders. That hasn't been the case for Milwaukee, and several of their guys have had this issue before. They don't need a complete 180-degree turn on their tendencies, but a tweak by a few hitters would go a long way in helping the offense.
Lowest OPS When Hitters are Ahead in the Count
Hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in sports, especially at the big-league level, with constant 95 MPH heaters and ridiculous movement. Thus, when a batter gets ahead in the count, it's vital that the men in the box do a lot of damage. The 2023 Brewers start the weekend with the worst OPS when ahead in the count (.864). Part of this issue likely stems from their mostly-passive approach at the plate. Milwaukee ranks 24th in MLB in Z-Swing%, the percentage of times they swing at a pitch within the strike zone.
The positive of the lineup's patience is that it has led them to the sixth-best walk percentage (9.5 BB%). On the flip side, the Brewers own the fourth-worst strikeout percentage (25 K%), so there is a tradeoff. And it appears the club has had problems turning on the aggressiveness with the count in its favor, often limiting the team's production.
Highest Soft-Hit Percentage (Soft%)
This statistical struggle is likely linked to the Brewers' issues hitting while ahead in the count. Entering play Sunday, Milwaukee owned the highest Soft-Hit Percentage (Soft%), a recipe for disaster over the long haul. It doesn't take a genius to understand that softly hit baseballs are more often turned into outs. So what is causing the regular soft contact?
Connecting with the barrel is ideal, and the Brewers rank 15th in baseball in barrel percentage (Barrel%). Despite being right in the middle of the league in Barrel%, their hitters are third-worst in average exit velocity (87.7 MPH). Thus, the Soft% concern isn't about missing the barrel. It might stem from weak swings, contact on pitches outside the zone, and too many infield pop-ups. The Brewers have the second-highest Infield Fly Ball Percentage (IFFB%) in baseball at 11.4 percent, lessening the opportunity for quality exit velocity and increasing the chance of an out to roughly 99 percent.
Tied for Most Times Grounded Into Double Plays (GIDP)
When you hit as many grounders as the Brewers do, your chances of hitting into a double play increase. There's also an element of bad luck in this type of stat, but a hitter's approach and understanding of the situation can play significant roles. Regardless of the reasons, a twin killing is called the pitcher's best friend for a reason. It's also a quite noticeable, frequent occurrence if you're "watching" on Twitter.
Hitting into rally-stifling double plays not only derails the inning in which it happens, but can completely take the wind out of an offense's sails the later in the game it occurs. Whether or not the Brewers can find ways to avoid double plays remains to be seen. The fact remains that this is one of the five stats that is contributing heavily to the offense's demise.
Fewest Doubles in Baseball
I'm not trying to argue that doubles are the most essential key to offensive success. But when your club is dead last in MLB in that category like the Brewers are, it's disconcerting. There's a strong belief that doubles are the precursor to homers. A bunch of two-baggers could become round-trippers with a bit more air, a few more MPH of exit velocity, or a little luck. Not only that, but more doubles mean fewer hits are needed to score runs.
As for the home runs, Milwaukee ranks 13th. So while they've hit for moderate overall power, the lack of doubles is not due to a ton of dingers. Instead, the Brewers have the fifth-worst extra-base hit percentage (XBH%), calculating the percentage of plate appearances that end in an extra-base hit. Thus, the Crew must rely heavily on timely hitting and the long ball to score because so many of their hits are singles. With modern pitching, it's a tall task to get tons of singles and win most of your games.
With four months still left in the season, a lot can change. How much the Brewers can alter their modus operandi in these areas will determine the direction of the offense. Milwaukee doesn't need to be close to the best in any of the above stats, but finding its way to the middle of the pack would ensure more runs are scored consistently, taking the pressure off the pitching and defense as well.
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