Historical perceptions and an emotional investment in your local team often skew the reality unfolding on the diamond. This may be most evident when it comes to the Milwaukee Brewers and many - or most - fans believing they’re among the worst teams in one important situation.
Getting runners in from third base with less than two outs can certainly be a vital factor in producing consistently. From conversations on social media and on sports talk radio, you would believe the Brewers never bring home that runner. It’s definitely frustrating to watch hitters flail at pitches or pop one up, and it fine to be disappointed. The problem is, your 2017 Milwaukee Brewers are actually one of the best teams at capitalizing on these opportunities.
It’s a challenge to perfectly quantify a club’s effectiveness in this area because of the number of factors. There are raw numbers, percentages, and some subjectivity that all plays a role.
Starting with the most basic of stats - runs - the Brewers are near the top. Milwaukee has scored the 3rd-most runs in baseball with a runner on third and less than two outs. Since scoring in that situation is the ultimate goal, it’s hard to complain. Of course, this includes runners who were on first or second that also may have crossed the dish in the same plate appearance (PA). Regardless, with runs as the measure, they’re a top-5 team in 2017.
Their OPS in this scenario also bodes well. Milwaukee ranks 5th (.974), well above the league average of an .885 OPS. While some may point to their .339 batting average as a team (which is good for 11th in MLB), the near-1.000 OPS is indicative of quality at-bats. It shows that hitters are still drawing walks and getting pitches they can drive for extra bases. If the Brewers continue at this pace, the numbers will prove them to be among the most dangerous club’s with a runner on third and less than two outs.
Another way to look at this would be from a rough efficiency point of view. Again, there are many factors, but let’s keep it simple by taking runs scored per plate appearance in this situation. The Milwaukee Brewers rank 10th in MLB, averaging 0.68 runs per PA. That is the top third of the league, and considering the Brewers have the 5th-most plate appearances (146), it’s more than respectable. For reference sake, the Chicago Cubs have had 32 fewer chances and scored 28 fewer runs, leading to a league-worst 0.54 runs per PA.
But how much does “efficiency” matter? The San Diego Padres are second (0.73 runs per PA), but rank dead last in offense this season (3.63 runs per game). That’s because the Padres have had the third-fewest plate appearances in this scenario. Milwaukee, for the record, is eighth in runs per game (4.91).
So where does this negative perception come from when talking about the Brewers in this spot? Two statistics come to mind that likely skew a fans’ idea of success with a runner on third with less than two outs: Strikeouts and sacrifice flies. From a pure numbers standpoint, the Brewers do struggle in these areas.
Milwaukee has the third-most whiffs in this situation (32) and the fewest sacrifice flies (7). Witnessing a player strike out there creates extreme head shaking and feelings of despair. Seeing it happen so often would clearly create a sense of continuous failure. However, the Brewers are striking out less often with that runner on third and less than two outs (21.9%) than they do overall (25%). This shows increased success at putting the ball in play.
As for sacrifice flies, that seems associated with luck more than any particular skill. Some guys do make a conscious effort to simply lift the ball with a chance for an RBI, but many hitters don’t change their approach that much. In theory, the Brewers would simply lose more hits by gaining extra sac flies. That doesn’t sound optimal.
Aside from those two events, there are a few more reasons many Brewers fans think their team is horrible under these circumstances:
- They watch the Brewers far more often than they watch any other team; thus, they don’t realize how often a runner is left stranded by every other club.
- Emotions trump logic and an understanding of the situation.
- Hitting at the MLB level is incredibly difficult, so much so that the idea of “just put the ball in play” sounds easy, but it requires unbelievable skill.
- The human brain is designed to remember negative events more frequently than the positive ones, creating the perception of consistent failure.
So which Brewers do you want up with a runner on third and less than two outs? It’s a small sample size, but you have plenty of quality options and a couple of bad ones:
- Travis Shaw is slugging 1.000 and has the most RBI (19) in his team-leading 24 PA
- Nick Franklin and Eric Sogard are each 3-for-4 with five RBI apiece
- Domingo Santana, Jesus Aguilar, and Manny Pina all have an OPS over 1.000
- Keon Broxton and Eric Thames are a combined 2-for-16 with 6 total RBI
In fairness, the Milwaukee Brewers have been in the bottom third of MLB in runs, average, and OPS the past few years in this category. However, the 2017 version of the Brewers has a very different feel, and they’re cashing in when a runner is 90 feet away.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com