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Brewers’ struggles against left-handed pitching reaching a perplexing low

Milwaukee’s right-handed hitters have been unable to touch left-handers all season

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at Cincinnati Reds Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

After Cincinnati Reds rookie Andrew Abbott hurled six shutout innings against them in his major-league debut on Monday night, the Brewers are now slashing an MLB-worst .204/.284/.333 as a team against left-handed pitchers.

That line is even worse against left-handed starters, against whom the Brewers have a .595 OPS.

Struggles against southpaws are not new for Milwaukee. The Brewers were below average against left-handers in 2021 and 2022 by wRC+.

This year, what was a weakness has evolved into crippling ineptitude.

In the seasons mentioned above, the Brewers finished with a 91 and 92 wRC+ against left-handers, respectively. This year, they rank 29th in baseball with a 74 wRC+.

While the lack of production on the field has been unpleasant to watch, what’s more frustrating is that there is no clear explanation for why those struggles have been so pronounced.

The Brewers do not roll out left-handed platoon hitters against left-handed pitchers. If anything, Craig Counsell makes a concerted effort to put hitters in the best position to succeed by aggressively playing matchups. He deploys a heavily right-handed version of the lineup against left-handed pitchers. Such maneuvering has not yielded results.

While the Brewers did not make the necessary moves last offseason to profile well against left-handers this year, they did make additions that should have helped the team avoid a debilitating platoon split.

The Brewers traded lefty-masher Hunter Renfroe to the Los Angeles Angels, but they added William Contreras as their primary catcher and signed Luke Voit as a platoon partner for Rowdy Tellez and Jesse Winker. They also returned Mike Brosseau and Tyrone Taylor, who had solid track records against left-handers.

What has made this season’s struggles against lefties perplexing is the collective collapse of Milwaukee’s once-reliable right-handed hitters. Brewers right-handed hitters have combined to hit for a 79 wRC+ against left-handers, the second-worst mark in baseball.

The breakdown of how most of the team’s right-handers against southpaws in 2023 compared to their previous production is stunning.

Brewers Right-Handed Hitters vs. Left-Handed Pitching

Player wRC+ vs LHP (2023) wRC+ vs LHP (career entering 2023)
Player wRC+ vs LHP (2023) wRC+ vs LHP (career entering 2023)
Joey Wiemer 157
William Contreras 137 158
Owen Miller 113 65
Darin Ruf 84 143
Willy Adames 83 90
Brian Anderson 79 93
Mike Brosseau 55 127
Victor Caratini -3 82
Tyrone Taylor -43 109
Luke Voit -53 110

Contreras has not matched his previous feats as a lefty masher but has still turned in a strong performance. Owen Miller has posted reverse splits this year but has been solid against left-handers. Joey Wiemer has done exceptionally well in such matchups as a rookie.

The remaining seven players are underperforming their career norms, many to an unfathomable extent.

Taylor and Voit have provided no value against left-handers, and the latter lost his roster spot last week. The Brewers signed Darin Ruf to replace Voit, but he did not show much in a small sample before suffering a major knee injury last Friday.

Mike Brosseau has been similarly dreadful against southpaws, leading to his demotion to Triple-A on Monday.

Willy Adames and Brian Anderson have long had reverse splits, but both are underperforming their career marks against left-handers.

These bottom seven hitters have combined for a .158/.253/.254 line (43 wRC+) against left-handed pitchers while accounting for 44% of Milwaukee’s plate appearances against southpaws.

Were those players performing at a level anywhere close to serviceable, the Brewers’ numbers against lefties would be vastly improved.

The stunning underperformance comes without much explanation.

Left-handers do not sequence their pitches noticeably differently against the Brewers than other teams. The Brewers do not have a clear weakness against a specific part of a left-handed arsenal, such as a good lefty changeup. They have struggled across the board against any pitch (fastballs, breaking balls, and off-speed) thrown by a southpaw.

The lack of an explanation means there is no obvious solution to the problem. If they remain in contention, the Brewers will surely be in the market for a right-handed bat at the trade deadline. However, one external acquisition will not reverse a widespread problem that spans much of the lineup.

Instead, much of the improvement will have to come from within. The Brewers have enough players who have performed against left-handers in the past. Those hitters will have to perform to improve the team’s splits.