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  • Why Swinging More Often Could Help the Brewers' Offense


    Tim Muma

    Although the Milwaukee Brewers rank fifth in runs scored (4.77 runs per game) after Monday, offensive concerns remain. They have crushed bad teams and struggled against better pitching. Is the key factor how infrequently they swing the bat?

    Image courtesy of © MARK HOFFMAN/MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL / USA TODAY NETWORK

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    Swinging less often might work for some teams and certain types of hitters, but perhaps the Brewers aren't one of those clubs. This could be why Milwaukee has the chasm of difference in runs scored against the lower tier of teams versus playoff competitors.

    • Against Baltimore Orioles, Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Cincinnati Reds (5.5 runs per game)
    • Against St. Louis Cardinals, Philadelphia Phillies, San Francisco Giants, and Atlanta Braves (3 runs per game)

    Patience at the plate has historically meant consistent success by laying off bad pitches to draw walks, hitting more often when ahead in the count, and getting into the bullpen. The correlation for the Brewers might be that bad pitchers will throw more balls and offer hittable pitches Milwaukee can destroy. But when the Crew faces better hurlers, swinging less often puts them behind in the count, making it even more challenging to do damage. So despite the offense being a top-five club in runs scored, many don't get the feeling these bats are genuinely that good. Will less patience help?

    The Brewers lead MLB in pitches per plate appearance (Pit/PA) at 4.07. They also have a 45% swing percentage, taking a hack the sixth-fewest amount of times in baseball. That is great for pitches out of the strike zone; however, they have the seventh-highest called strike percentage against them at 17.4%. If you're like me, you have noticed how often the Brewers take pitches (especially strikes), which is often frustrating. It's been discussed before that. Christian Yelich is one of those players that many think should swing more often. Out of 124 hitters with at least 100 plate appearances, Yelich has the 19th-lowest swing percentage (40.5%). And it often feels like he takes many hittable pitches, especially early in the count—something to watch going forward.

    Taking a look at 2021, there wasn't much of a positive connection between pitches seen and runs scored. Among the top-10 teams of runs scored, their average rank in pitches per plate appearance was 14th in Pit/PA. The top-5 offenses with their Pit/PA standing:

    1 - Houston Astros (17th)
    2 - Tampa Bay Rays (14th)
    3 - Toronto Blue Jays (27th)
    4 - Los Angeles Dodgers (9th)
    5 - Boston Red Sox (15th)

    These rankings show that a certain amount of aggressiveness leads to more runs regularly. There are always other factors, but it is interesting to see. Whether going after the first pitch, attacking each time they're ahead in the count, or not worrying about whiffing, four of the top five offenses in 2021 took a lot of hacks.
    Meanwhile, here are the top-five teams in Pit/PA last season with their runs per game ranking:

    1 - New York Yankees (19th)
    2 - Seattle Mariners (22nd)
    3 - San Francisco Giants (6th)
    4 - Detroit Tigers (23rd)
    5 - Milwaukee Brewers (12th)

    At least when comparing pitches seen to runs scored in the 2021 season, pitching was less of a virtue and might be the case in the present and future. That could be because of how good the pitching has become. Tons of pitchers throw with tremendous velocity and crazy movement, including the soft underbellies of bullpens that used to be the batting practice offenses needed. With it being such an enormous challenge to hit the ball in modern baseball, the risk of falling behind in the count is far greater. Hitters could undoubtedly be far more productive if they attack pitches early in the count when they are more likely to get something they can drive.

    Furthermore, the muted run-scoring environment in 2022 could add credence to the argument that "balls in play" are more valuable now. Avoiding more strikeouts can add value, particularly with runners in scoring position. Milwaukee has the eighth-highest strikeout percentage (K%) in baseball at 24.8%. Generally, taking more pitches and strikes makes a hitter more likely to strikeout. The flip side is the more a hurler has to throw, the better chance he walks a batter. Unfortunately for the Brewers, that hasn't been a big part of their offense. They rank 12th in MLB with a 9.0% walk percentage and in the bottom half of walks per strikeouts.

    There isn't a black and white answer to helping Milwaukee's offense find some consistency. Plus, each player has to determine what works best for him. The patient approach is a team-wide focus for the 2022 Brewers, though it's hard to argue it has been a success on the whole. There are still 130+ games to see where the season leads, but it might be worth the Brewers making adjustments based on pitchers' quality and swinging the bat more often.

     

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