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Milwaukee Brewers’ home woes a product of pitching and Miller Park

Brewers’ hurlers are feeling more at home in road stadiums.

Pittsburgh Pirates v Milwaukee Brewers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

The Milwaukee Brewers have one of the best road records in the league (19-13), but they’re struggling mightily at Miller Park. With a 19-22 mark at home, the Brewers have essentially squandered their early-season success outside of Milwaukee. Perhaps it’s mainly a case of small samples or randomness, and the records will flip by season’s end. However, there appear to be a few of factors harming the crew at home, while helping them on the road.

First, let’s look at what is NOT the problem. Milwaukee’s defeats at home are not happening because of their opponents. Every team they have played on the road, they’ve also faced at home. Thus, they should (in theory) have the same issues in any location. This is a sign that maybe Miller Park is part of the problem. We’ll get to that in a moment.

It also hasn’t been the offense’s fault at home. While the lineup has certainly had it’s problems here and there, the Brewers’ offensive numbers are better at Miller Park, as you would expect.

So that leaves us with the pitching staff. After watching the first two games of the series against the Pittsburgh Pirates, I would think it is hard to be surprised by this. In looking at the home/road splits for Milwaukee Brewers’ pitching, the numbers across the board are inferior at Miller Park. When basically every meaningful category looks worse at home, it makes a lot of sense why they have had trouble there, even against teams with poor records.

It’s plain to see the staff has performed far batter on the road. The key to the Brewers’ issues at home lies in a trinity of statistics: strikeouts per nine innings (K/9), walks per nine innings (BB/9) and the home run per fly ball percentage (HR/FB). The HR/FB stat tells you what percentage of total fly balls have resulted in home runs. Walks, strikeouts and home runs are often known as 3TO, which stands for “Three True Outcomes.” This means the defense has no impact on these events, and the pitchers are essentially the only ones to blame.

So at home, Brewers’ hurlers are walking more batters, striking out fewer hitters, and giving up home runs at a much higher clip. That combination of additional base runners, less sure outs, and more guaranteed runs are conspiring to sink Brewers’ pitchers. Even if one of those categories was better at home, there would likely be a few games where the outcome was different.

One major factor to consider is the effect of Miller Park versus the venues Milwaukee has traveled to this season. Miller Park has always favored hitters, particularly when it comes to blasting home runs. Milwaukee has always ranked in the top-10 in home run ballpark factors and it’s no different this season as it ranks seventh. Meanwhile, of the eight road parks the Brewers have visited in 2017, only one stadium ranks in the top-14 in terms of home runs based on ballpark effects.

  • New York Mets: 28th
  • St. Louis Cardinals: 27th
  • Pittsburgh Pirates: 25th
  • San Diego Padres: 24th
  • Cincinnati Reds: 18th
  • Toronto Blue Jays: 16th
  • Chicago Cubs: 15th
  • Milwaukee Brewers: 7th
  • Arizona Diamondbacks: 1st

Seeing those pitcher-friendly rankings when it comes to home runs, it could be less about Miller Park and more about the Brewers’ road benefits. It certainly shows that the home run ball is the main factor in the home pitching woes. Another piece of evidence that the Brewers’ home and road records are greatly impacted by the long ball lies in their league rankings when it comes to fly balls that turn into homers.

Milwaukee’s 14.4% HR/FB ranks 14th out of 30 MLB clubs - so they’re league average. Their road HR/FB of 11.9% is tied for the fourth-lowest in baseball. That could indicate that some regression on the road will be coming when they enter homer-friendly parks like Yankee Stadium, Coors Field, and Citizens Bank Park. It might also mean that Milwaukee’s home record of 19-22 is a more accurate representation of the team’s talent.

For things to change at Miller Park, the Brewers will need to take a more aggressive approach on the mound. The numbers suggest Milwaukee pitchers are falling behind hitters too often and putting batters in hitters’ counts. This can have the three-fold effect of increased walks, decreased strikeouts, and increased home run rates.

When pitchers consistently fall behind in the count, the batter has total control:

  1. He can comfortably take borderline strikes instead of swinging and possibly making weak contact for outs.
  2. He is more likely to lay off pitches outside of the zone, resulting in fewer strikeouts, more hitters’ counts, and less weak contact.
  3. He can look for certain pitches in specific locations to create hard contact, especially fastballs he can elevate.

The Brewers’ offense will only be able to do so much to win games. For Milwaukee to turn around its record at home, the pitchers will need to find ways to be more effective, whether it’s changing their strategies, executing better based on scouting reports, or bringing up different arms to see if they have more success. Until then, the Brewers might need to put up seven runs per contest to have a winning home mark.

Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference