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Exploring the Milwaukee Brewers' Struggles in the "Clutch"

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Our beloved local nine is among the worst teams in the league in run-scoring situations.

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

On the whole, the Milwaukee Brewers' offense actually hasn't been that bad this season. If the club's pitching staff was doing a little better than allowing 5.22 runs per game this year, we'd be looking at a team with more than 17 wins. Through 40 games this year, our beloved local nine is averaging 4.30 runs per game and has a cumulative .730 OPS, which nearly match the league averages of 4.32 runs per game and .729 OPS so far in 2016.

Those number don't accurately depict, though, just how frustrating this offense has been to watch at times this season. Last night's 2-1 loss to the Cubs in 13 innings is a shining example of this. Jimmy Nelson threw 7.1 scoreless innings against the National League's best offense, only to have a well-deserved "win" stolen from his ledger after Jeremy Jeffress blew the save in the top of the ninth. The game went to extras and in the bottom of the 12th, the Brewers loaded the bases with no outs and a walk-off victory seemed almost assured.

Unfortunately, Hernan Perez (shallow fly out to center), Aaron Hill (popup to short), and Martin Maldonado (popup to first) failed in order to knock in the game-winning RBI. This continued a trend of struggles with runners in scoring position that the Brewers have been battling all season long.

On the year, Milwaukee batters are hitting for a cumulative .245/.331/.399 slash line, which is altogether respectable. However there is a significant difference depending on the situation. When the bases are empty, Milwaukee is hitting .268/.355/.470 in 2016. That's good enough for the ninth-best batting average, tied for second-best OBP, and the fifth-best slugging percentage among all teams in the big leagues when the bases are clear.

With runners in scoring position, though, the Brewers' line drops to a collective .235/.333/.350 slash. Things get even worse when the bases are loaded, when Milwaukee has hit .220/.286/.390. Don't hold your breath when there are two outs and runners in scoring position, too - the Brewers' are hitting just .189/.284/.287 in those situations.

The Brewers have had plenty of good scoring opportunities throughout the year, but they just haven't been able to produce those "clutch" hits. The Brewers have stranded 280 runners on base this season, the 13th-most in the MLB. The club's 79 wRC+ with runners in scoring position ranks 23rd in the league and they own the fifth-highest strikeout rate in those situations at 24.2%.

According to wRC+, only four Brewers' position players have performed above league average with runners in scoring position this season: Ryan Braun (212 wRC+ in 47 PA), Alex Presley (200 wRC+ in 21 PA), Domingo Santana (128 wRC+ in 26 PA), and Kirk Nieuwenhuis (116 wRC+ in 22 PA). Braun's season has been outstanding in just about every aspect and his .436/.532/.667 batting line in 47 PA with runners in scoring position ranks him as the fifth-best qualified hitter across the entire league in those situations.

There's plenty of blame to go among the rest of the Brew Crew for these struggles, however. Scooter Gennett (-25 wRC+ in 23 PA) and Ramon Flores (-4 wRC+ in 23 PA) have somehow have managed to be so bad that their wRC+ numbers with RISP are in the negative, which both impressive and depressing when considering that league average for wRC+ is set at 100 and each tick below that is considered to be a percentage point worse than league average.

Jonathan Lucroy and Chris Carter are considered to be two of the Brewers' middle-of-the-order thumpers, and both have performed quite well overall this season. Unfortunately both have struggled mightily in run-scoring situations. Milwaukee's all-star backstop is hitting a meager .184 with a .627 OPS (70 wRC+) in 45 PA with runners in scoring position in 2016. Carter, who has been mostly featured as Milwaukee's cleanup hitter this year, hasn't been cleaning them up like he should; he's managed only a paltry .128 average and .466 OPS (20 wRC+) in 51 PA with runners in scoring position this season.

There's been plenty of research done to disprove the notion of "clutch" hitting as a skill, of course. Carter and Lucroy have both performed about the same with the bases clear and with runners in scoring position throughout their careers, as most players tend to do in large sample sizes. We can only hope that their numbers in "clutch" situations, along with most of the rest of the team, regress positively back to the mean. Otherwise most fans of the Milwaukee Brewers won't have any hair left to pull out by the end of the season.

Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs