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The Brewers offense is bad, but expect some level of improvement

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This is a poor offense, but it’s rare for a lineup to continue at this level of futility over a full season.

Miami Marlins v Milwaukee Brewers Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

After being shut out by the Kansas City Royals on Tuesday night, the Brewers offense now owns a collective 81 wRC+. That is tied for the second-worst in all of Major League Baseball, and it includes a ten-run outburst from this past Sunday. Had it not been for that game, Milwaukee’s offense would likely rank last in the sport. Thanks to their futility at the plate, the Brewers have wasted some of the best starting pitching the franchise has ever seen from Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes, and Freddy Peralta.

To avoid mincing words, this is unacceptable for a team that claims to be a playoff contender. The players know that. Lorenzo Cain has been candid about the fact that they need to be better.

It is important to remember that the expectations for this offense were never high to begin with. Much of the blame for that falls on the front office. After the Brewers came in 24th of the 30 MLB teams in wRC+ last year, David Stearns and Matt Arnold failed to add a single demonstrably above-average hitter from outside the organization. Perhaps Kolten Wong and Jackie Bradley Jr. could be perceived as offensive help if you squint hard enough, but they have career wRC+’s of 96 and 91, respectively. Their excellent gloves make them valuable additions, but they were going to provide little to no help for a poor offense. Entering the season, the team’s decision makers cited internal bounce backs as a reason for hope. So far, Omar Narvaez and Avisail Garcia have improved on their 2020 numbers, but it has not been enough to make this lineup competent.

Maybe hitting coach Andy Haines is part of the problem, but it is unlikely that he is the problem itself. It runs much deeper within the organization. They have become excellent at developing and constructing pitching staffs, but the Brewers under Stearns have yet to assemble a strong lineup. The best they have done in his tenure is league average production at the plate. Even if you want to write off 2016 and 2017 as rebuilding years, the Stearns regime is still 0-for-4 when it comes to constructing a lineup that provides clear positive value.

FanGraphs

There is additional evidence that the front office should shoulder more blame than the hitting coach. There is no drastic difference in the team’s offensive performance under Darnell Coles, the previous hitting coach, and Haines. This is true from both result and plate discipline standpoints.

The Brewers have had nearly identical approaches and results under Darnell Coles and Andy Haines.

Maybe Mark Attanasio limited how much money Stearns could spend over the offseason, and his hands were tied. Whatever factors existed behind the scenes, the fact is that the front office handed Craig Counsell and his staff a poor group of hitters to work with. The pitching staff has been even better than advertised, and the Brewers as a team rank 9th in the league with 12 Defensive Runs Saved. That is certainly enough to carry a below-average offense. Unfortunately, they have been even worse than anticipated, to the point where even the highest level of pitching and defense cannot bail them out.

Where is the good news? Well, there is not much. This group always was, still is, and will continue to be a bad offense. However, in recent seasons, teams that started with a similarly awful lack of production from their bats have seen improvement for the rest of the season. Again, the Brewers have an 81 wRC+ as a team through May 18th. Below is a list of teams that had similar starts to recent seasons and how those teams fared the rest of the way.

Recent Teams with Extremely Poor Starts Offensively

Team wRC+ (through May 18) wRC+ (remainder of the season) Level of Improvement
Team wRC+ (through May 18) wRC+ (remainder of the season) Level of Improvement
2019 Padres 80 91 +11.0
2019 Orioles 79 94 +15.0
2019 Pirates 79 97 +18.0
2018 Padres 82 85 +3.0
2018 Diamondbacks 80 91 +11.0
2018 Marlins 78 85 +7.0
2017 Rangers 83 92 +9.0
2017 Pirates 80 87 +7.0
2017 Rockies 78 91 +13.0
2016 Yankees 82 95 +13.0
2016 Twins 80 100 +20.0
2016 Reds 79 92 +13.0
2015 Red Sox 83 104 +21.0
2015 Pirates 81 102 +21.0
2015 Rockies 81 88 +7.0
2015 Angels 80 99 +19.0
2014 Padres 81 82 +1.0

The levels of improvement for these teams range from modest to significant, and there are a number of additional contextual factors behind this that could be explored in further detail. However, each team saw their wRC+ increase to some degree.

Will the Brewers turn into a league-average offense the rest of the way? No, but they could easily be one of the teams that see an increase of about seven points. They would still be a generally poor team at the dish, but they would not be wasting as many fantastic starts and have a much better chance of remaining over .500.

The Brewers simply have not hit to start the 2021 season, and they have been letting their starting pitchers down regularly. The criticism is not only expected, it is deserved. There are not a plethora of reasons to be optimistic, but the only place to go from here is up. The precedent established by past teams indicate that some level of improvement—hopefully just enough—is on the horizon. It isn’t even June yet. There is a lot of season left.

Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.