Ignoring overrated traditional metrics of success like hits, on base percentage, team wins, or runs scored vs. runs allowed, you’ll find the Brewers had an excellent season in 2016.
I spent a Friday night spam sorting Fangraphs tables to reveal things the Brewers were good at in 2016. Some are well documented, some less so.
Stealing Bases (1st in MLB)
Buoyed by Jonathon Villar’s league leading 62 SB’s, the Brewers stole way more bases than anyone else (181). If my math’s right, that’s like 7 steals per inning. Not bad.
The Reds were closest with 139. Domination.
Weighted Stolen Base Runs Above Average (wSB – 2nd in NL, 3rd in MLB)
The Brewers were 10 runs above average in terms of stolen bases. The Brewers got caught a lot, but given the run value of a CS in 2016 vs. the solid 181/56 SB/CS ratio (that’s a bit better than 3 steals per CS), the Brewers graded quite well.
The Cubs might have won the World Series, but they had nothing on the Brewers in wSB (-4.3). The Cardinals finished dead last at -6.9. Take that.
If you were a little dismissive about the #1 rank for stolen bases, you’ll be happy to learn the CS total didn’t negate the value of the big SB total. It was actually worth something.
Walking (2nd in NL, 3rd in MLB)
The Brewers had their 6th best season for walks in franchise history, and their best mark since they walked 610 times in 2009 (Thanks Prince Fielder).
The Cubs (656) and Blue Jays (632) finished with a significant advantage.
Unfortunately, the Brewers were poor at actually hitting the baseball, finishing with the league’s 2nd fewest hits and 4th worst batting average. And they led the league in strikeouts, setting a franchise record.
Which brings us to...
3TO% - (1st in MLB)
Ever get that feeling you were in love with the Brewers last year but you couldn’t put your finger on it? Here’s the reason:
The Brewers were the most 3TO team in the league last year. No team made defenses work less. Most plate appearances were boom or bust, and that’s how Milwaukee baseball fans like it. Free passes, whiffs, and dingers. The Russell Branyan formula.
HR/Fly Ball (1st in NL, T-1st in MLB)
Now we’re talking.
15.6% of the fly balls the Brewers hit in 2016 ended up in the seats—the best mark in the league. Close behind at 2nd in the NL was the Diamondbacks at 14.5%. Next? The Cardinals. Not great company. Since when does a higher HR rate in any reasonable context correlate to futility?
There’s a moment right after bat meets ball when TV viewers make a split-second judgment call before the camera switches—the difference between a pop-up and a 450 foot home run can be near indecipherable with the right launch angle. You need a trained eye to accurately gauge ball flight based on the angle of the ball coming off the bat + perceived exit velocity.
Personally, every time the ball shoots toward the upper corner of the TV screen, my first thought is “homer?” In 2016, the Brewers gave us the answer I wanted more than any other team in the league.
Having Fastballs Thrown at Them (FB% - 2nd in MLB)
Only the Reds saw a higher % of fastballs than the Brewers (60.1% vs 59.8%). A bit of a surprise to me, as I’d expect a younger team like the Brewers to see more breaking stuff. This may warrant further investigation.
Hitting Splitfinger Fastballs (wSF - 4th in MLB)
Splitters are tough to hit. They’re rarely intentionally thrown for a strike, for one thing. The Brewers have quietly been stockpiling split artists.
They also had pretty good success hitting splitters in 2016, finishing at 2.6 runs above average. They trailed only the Padres, Cardinals, and Phillies. More great company.
Swinging and Missing (SwStr% - 1st in NL, 4th in MLB)
The Brewers didn’t swing much in 2016 relative to the league (26th in Swing%), but when they did, they mostly missed. It’s not like they were chasing a bunch of junk out of the zone (3rd to last in O-Swing%). They didn’t discriminate in what they swung and missed at in 2016. Balls and strikes were all fair game.
So it Wasn’t All Bad
The Brewers were actually memorable last season. If they’re just as curious in 2017, we’re all winners.