Evaluating the Milwaukee Brewers or any player after 18 baseball games isn’t really the best idea. The small-sample numbers could mean something or everything or nothing at all. Regardless, it’s fun to check out early-season statistics and figure out what is real and what is spectacular.
For example, if you’re reading this, you know that Corbin Burnes is the first pitcher in MLB history to have a four-game span with 40 strikeouts and zero walks (is that technically a strikeout-to-walk ratio of infinity?). But there are other players and parts of the club that are off to impressive starts; of course, you’ll find some ugly numbers, too.
So let’s sift through the Brewers’ stats through Wednesday’s games and see how they rank thus far. The deeper you look, the more you discover the good, the bad, and the somewhat weird numbers staring you in the face.
First Inning Offense: Milwaukee has scored 17 runs in the opening frame this season, 2nd-best in MLB. That is already two more runs than they scored in the first inning last year, when they tallied an MLB-worst 15 runs. So while their offense isn’t firing on all cylinders, scoring first is a good recipe for success, especially when you have the pitching to make it hold up for nine innings.
**It’s reasonably to think this will continue to be a trend for the Brewers, especially as they get Christian Yelich and Kolten Wong back. Putting immediate pressure on the opposition could give Milwaukee a huge advantage with the threat of their shutdown pitching.**
Run Prevention: How tough has it been to score on the Brewers? Milwaukee is giving up only 3.06 runs per game, the best mark in MLB. The loaded Los Angeles Dodgers are closest, giving up 3.11 runs per contest. Opponents have scored more than 3 runs in only 6 of 18 games, helping take the pressure off the banged-up offense. And don’t forget to give credit to the defense as well as the pitchers.
**It would be unrealistic to expect this over the course of 162 games, but the consistency is a terrific sign. Milwaukee will hit some bumps in the road, but barring injuries, they should be in the top-5 when it comes to runs allowed.**
Catch the Ball: The Brewers rank 1st in MLB in FanGraphs’ “defense” stat, their way to provide a single measurement of overall defensive value. The defense stat is “Fielding Runs Above Average” plus positional adjustment. Utilizing defensive metrics is still a challenge - especially in small samples - but this is at least some confirmation of the Brewers’ great range and glove work. They also rank 2nd in MLB in Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), with 15 DRS in 18 games.
**This was the plan: Build a squad of value defensively, trying to make up for the lack of offensive firepower. Generally speaking, defenses tend to avoid the idea of a “slump” and remain predictable throughout the season.**
Narvaez on Top: Omar Narvaez currently leads all catchers in fWAR with a 1.1 mark through Wednesday’s games. Last year, he finished 17th among catchers with a 0.5 fWAR. Narvaez has emerged as the hitter the Brewers expected, and his improved defense suddenly gives the Crew top-tier backstop overall. Narvaez leads the Brewers in OPS (1.059) and all MLB catchers in batting average (.396).
**Narvaez’ bat through the first few weeks has been huge, making up for the three missing starters. Milwaukee doesn’t need him to be an MVP, but posting his typical career numbers would be perfect, and all signs point to him keeping it up.**
JBJ Swinging Away: Jackie Bradley, Jr. has started off the season with 24 strikeouts and ZERO walks. He is the only Brewers’ position player who hasn’t walked, except for Orlando Arcia (11 plate appearances). Bradley, Jr.’s 24 whiffs lead the team and are the 5th-most in MLB. It’s a big reason for his lowly .246 OBP, 73 points below his career norm.
**Though JBJ was signed mostly for defense and depth, his strikeout-to-walk ratio is concerning. The Brewers don’t need JBJ to be an All-Star at the dish, but better discipline and taking a few more pitches would be beneficial while he fills in for others.**
Hiura Coming Up Empty: Yes, we all know Keston Hiura is off to a miserable start (.118 average, .216 SLG). The worst part is, he has the lowest contact percentage on pitches in the strike zone (60.9%) in baseball (minimum 50 plate appearances). It is one thing to waive and miss at a slider down and away, but continuously whiffing on pitches over the plate is a disturbing trend.
**Considering Hiura led MLB in strikeout percentage in 2020, he could be reaching a critical point in his young career. Simply put, he needs to put the ball in play more often - particularly pitches in the zone. The Brewers will try to exercise patience for now, but it is fair to have real concern at the moment.**
Freddy “Wild Thing” Peralta: Freddy Peralta is walking 6 batters per 9 innings (BB/9), giving up at least 3 walks in 3 of his 4 outings. The 6.0 BB/9 ratio is the 2nd-worst in baseball among qualified pitchers. Fortunately, it hasn’t burned him yet (2.00 ERA, 1.11 WHIP), but it is certainly a recipe for disaster. Peralta owns a 93.4% left on base percentage (LOB%), which has been vital in keeping his ERA down.
**Without some improvement in this area, Peralta’s season could quickly turn south. His 15.5 strikeouts-per-9-inning has saved him a lot this season, but it would be tough to maintain that over a full season.**
Strikeout Machines: If you combine the strikeout totals for Burnes and Peralta, they have more punch outs than the entire starting staff of the Chicago Cubs and the Toronto Blue Jays. Burnes and Peralta have 71 strikeouts through Wednesday, while Chicago and Toronto’s starters each have 69 (nice). If you throw in Brandon Woodruff’s 26, the trio alone would rank 10th among starters in MLB.
Offense Finding a Way: The Brewers’ offense owns the worst OPS of the 15 NL clubs (.660), yet they somehow rank 6th in runs per game at 4.39 per contest. Two big reasons for the surprising run total is Milwaukee’s .274 average with runners in scoring position (2nd in NL) and 23 home runs (7th in NL). If the rest of the lineup can keep producing when everyone returns from injury, an outburst of runs could happen more frequently.
Burnes’ Most Ridiculous Stat: One number that jumps off the page for Corbin Burnes is his hysterical 1104 ERA+. Yes, that is ONE THOUSAND, ONE HUNDRED FOUR. With a 100 ERA+ being league average, Burnes is literally 1,004% better than the average pitcher. It’s obviously astronomical because he has only pitched in 4 games, but still. For reference sake, the all-time single season record for ERA+ is 293 by Tim Keefe back in 1880. The modern mark is held by Pedro Martinez at 291 in 2000.
I’m not going to bet against Burnes, but chances are he will fail to set a new ERA+ record. For now, let’s enjoy this 1,004% type of pitching while it lasts.
Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference