There will never be one, single statistic that causes a team’s performance to fall short of expectations. At the same time, the struggle in a particular area can often lead to additional problems in a game, in a week, or in an entire season.
For the 2019 Milwaukee Brewers, the difference between a few games back and a few games ahead in the NL Central may come down to their pitchers’ results on 0-2 counts. Interestingly, their numbers rank in the top-10 in baseball when the count is 1-2. But back to the issue at hand.
While it may seem ridiculous to put a swing of 10 games or so on a specific count, you have to think about the impact these negative outcomes can have for the rest of the inning, game, or even longer. It could be a major factor in the Brewers’ overall issues on the mound this season compared to last, as you’ll see shortly.
Few things make fans (and coaches) more frustrated than giving up 0-2 hits to a batter. Getting a hitter in an 0-2 hole is nearly a guaranteed death sentence for his plate appearance. Unfortunately for Brewers’ hurlers in 2019, the outs they should be getting in these spots aren’t coming frequent enough.
In fact, not only have their pitchers been among the worst in baseball at allowing 0-2 production, they are at the opposite end of the spectrum when compared to their own 2018 execution when ahead two strikes.
Plus, the numbers themselves don’t tell the whole story. That 0-2 hit might drive in a run, extend an inning, or start a rally – when 90% of the time it should have been an out, a rally killer, and/or the third out of a frame. So instead of a Milwaukee hurler getting that out, saving some pitches, and shutting down the opponent like he should have, trouble is brewing – at the moment and potentially later in the game.
Suddenly, the starter gives up two runs and is replaced an inning early by a middle reliever. That causes someone like Josh Hader to come in earlier, trying to protect a close lead, and now be out for the next game or two. There are always lasting effects of not getting the outs you should be getting.
The question then arises, “Why has this become such a problem in 2019, when the Brewers’ hurlers were among the best in 2018?”
Of course, the instinctive reaction from fans goes to the change in pitching coaches from Derek Johnson to Chris Hook. All the evidence from this year certainly shows some negative effects of losing DJ from the staff; however, it’s a challenge to know if the “0-2 count situation” has been impacted by the change (or how much). Though, it’s possible the switch resulted in a strategic change when it comes to pitchers being ahead two strikes.
Perhaps one can also blame the catchers calling the game. Obviously, Yasmani Grandal has seen the vast majority of frames behind the dish. Last year, Manny Pina and Erik Kratz took on most of the load. Kratz was well-respected in handling pitchers, so he may have had a way to ensure his guys were making the pitch they wanted in the location they needed on 0-2. Pina, too, may be more effective in this area than Grandal. Hard to say.
But in the end, 95% of the time, a lack of success on 0-2 pitches comes down to execution. The pitch should be competitive (at least somewhat of a tease), but it should be in a place that no real damage can be done. Ideally, it’s also setting up the hitter for the 1-2 offering if the at-bat lasts another pitch. Too many pitches this year have instead found the strike zone on 0-2, many times catching a lot of the plate and saying, “hit me!”
A final problem could be that these hurlers in 2019, for a myriad of reasons, just don’t have good enough “stuff” to get hitters to chase balls and get themselves out. The Brewers’ pitching staff ranks 25th in MLB in allowing contact on pitches outside of the strike zone (O-Contact%). Opposing hitters make contact on 64.9% of Brewers’ pitches out of the zone. Meanwhile, the Cincinnati Reds have the lowest O-Contact% in the NL at 58.3%. Many of you know why I mention that...maybe that Derek Johnson connection does have validity.
Of course, as with everything, it takes a long, deep, behind-the-scenes dive to truly understand all the “whys” that could play a factor.
Sadly, regardless of the reasons, time and time again, we witness Brewers’ pitchers giving up hits on 0-2 counts this season. It’s gotten to be so noticeable that it is normal conversation on social media.
With a team that has talent and is still in the thick of a postseason run, winning these battles on the fringes are vital. Perhaps starting now, the Milwaukee Brewers’ pitchers and coaching staff will get this issue resolved, move closer to their 2018 numbers on 0-2 counts, and contribute to another fantastic two-month race to the final day of the season.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference.