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The Brewers have the worst above-average offense in baseball

Milwaukee ranks 10th in runs scored, but how they’ve gotten there does not inspire confidence

Chicago Cubs v Milwaukee Brewers Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images

The offense is a topic of discussion again after the Brewers dropped two out of three games to the Cubs at home this week.

They scored five runs on Monday in a walk-off win, but three of those came on Victor Caratini’s 10th-inning blast after starter Justin Steele held them to two hits.

The following day, the Brewers scratched across three runs in an 8-3 defeat.

In the series finale, they looked hopeless against Adrian Sampson, who has a career 4.93 ERA and was making just his third start of the season. Their lone run in a 2-1 loss came on a Keston Hiura home run in the fifth inning.

Despite that poor showing, Milwaukee’s overall offensive numbers look respectable. They have a 102 wRC+ as a team, which would be the highest of any group assembled by David Stearns and Matt Arnold. The Brewers also rank 10th in baseball with 383 runs scored.

Those figures suggest that concerns about the lineup are overblown and that the Brewers are performing better than expected at the plate. However, a deeper dive reveals that their run total paints a picture that is rosier than the true state of their offense.

The Brewers have the benefit of facing the tanking Reds and Pirates more than most teams. Cincinnati and Pittsburgh feature two of baseball’s bottom four pitching staffs by ERA-.

Milwaukee has feasted on these anemic pitchers. Here are their top four run-scoring games of the season thus far:

  • 19 runs against the Pirates on July 1
  • 18 runs against the Reds on May 4
  • 12 runs against the Pirates on April 26
  • 11 runs against the Reds on May 11

The Brewers have eight double-digit scoring games this season. Five of them have come against the Reds or Pirates. They have scored 138 of their 383 runs against those two teams. That’s over a third of their run output—36%, to be exact. The offense has a 143 wRC+ against Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. It has an 89 wRC+ against all other opponents.

Those runs cannot be entirely written off. The Brewers deserve credit for taking care of business (and then some) against two awful teams. They are certainly not the only team in baseball to pad their overall stats against vastly inferior competition. The Yankees, Rays, Red Sox and Blue Jays face the Orioles regularly, the Dodgers and Giants face the Rockies, and the Twins face the Royals.

However, the difference in Milwaukee’s offensive performance based on the quality of their opponent is striking, especially in comparison to other teams.

The Brewers are one of 16 teams with a wRC+ of 100 or better this season. Below is a comparison of how each of those offenses has fared against teams below .500 and teams at or above .500.

Do the Brewers Have Baseball’s Worst Above-Average Offense?

Team wRC+ OPS vs <.500 OPS vs >=.500 Difference sOPS+ vs >=.500
Team wRC+ OPS vs <.500 OPS vs >=.500 Difference sOPS+ vs >=.500
Yankees 118 .807 .717 .090 112
Astros 116 .744 .762 -.018 124
Dodgers 115 .774 .744 .030 120
Twins 112 .726 .771 -.045 126
Blue Jays 112 .819 .711 .108 110
Mets 111 .750 .708 .042 110
Braves 108 .800 .708 .092 108
Cardinals 108 .745 .708 .037 110
Mariners 107 .732 .674 .058 100
Red Sox 105 .764 .700 .064 107
Phillies 105 .762 .718 .044 112
Giants 104 .706 .726 -.020 114
Cubs 103 .775 .685 .090 104
Brewers 102 .797 .646 .151 92
Marlins 102 .773 .658 .115 95
Rays 100 .706 .652 .054 92
The Brewers’ inability to hit against good teams stands out from otherwise similar offenses. Baseball-Reference

This is far from the most reliable split for evaluating an offense. “At or above .500” could mean an opponent with a .500 record. It could also mean a far more talented opponent that is 20 games over .500. The same is true of opponents below .500.

Game-by-game pitching matchups also play a role. Scheduling could result in a team facing a bad opponent’s best starter or a good team’s worst starter in every series.

However, most of the teams on this list share a couple of traits.

First, they perform better at the plate against lesser competition, but the difference rarely exceeds 100 points of OPS. That’s not surprising.

Second, almost all of these offenses are at least decent against solid competition. This is evidenced by their OPS+ for the .500 or better split.

Then there are the Brewers, who stand out in both categories in a bad way.

The Brewers are one of three teams on the list who have performed over 100 points better in OPS against below-average teams, and they have a 36-point lead over the Marlins, who have a 115-point difference. The Blue Jays follow with the other triple-digit difference, but their offense has still been solid against good competition.

Not only do the Brewers have the widest discrepancy in their offensive performance based on the quality of their opponent, but they also have the worst OPS on the list against .500-or-better teams.

Getting the job done against poor teams is part of a winning season, but repeatedly drubbing two of baseball’s bottom-four pitching staffs is not an especially impressive accomplishment.

The silver lining is that the Brewers do not have to do much at the plate to beat good teams so long as their run prevention unit continues to do the heavy lifting. A high-quality lineup was never part of the plan for this year’s team. The offense needs to be better, but not by much.

The Brewers have also played at less than full strength for most of the season. A lineup featuring a healthy Christian Yelich, Willy Adames, Hunter Renfroe, Luis Urias, Kolten Wong and Omar Narvaez might be able to do just enough. That group has rarely been fully intact this year.

Milwaukee also figures to be in the market for a bat at the trade deadline. Adding a decent hitter or two could push the offense to that “good enough” bar.

However, if the Brewers do not become more reliable at the plate, they could be destined for a fate similar to the one they suffered last October: nonexistent hitting and a first-round playoff exit.