Aggressive. Challenging. Disruptive.
These are the adjectives you’ll hear from manager Ron Roenicke when describing the Milwaukee Brewers‘ style of play on the bases.
The problem is that many of the guys simply don’t understand when to take a risk and when to take what’s given to them. Especially with a group designed to hit for plenty of power, it makes no sense to continue with a strategy of over-zealous sprints over, around and through the bags.
In the past three seasons, Milwaukee has made the most outs on the bases in the entire National League. Since the start of the 2011 campaign, the Brewers have made 199 outs while running; that doesn’t count pick-offs, caught stealing or force outs. Counting the pick-offs and caught stealing would push the number to 390 outs, or nearly one out per game.
Sure, it doesn’t sound like a lot, but you have to remember that some games go without one of these plays, meaning multiple games with two or three base outs. Furthermore, it’s all about context. If a runner is thrown out at home plate to end an inning, leaving runners stranded at second and third, that has a ton of negative value. But maybe the total number doesn’t do much for you.
An advanced stat called ultimate base running (UBR) gives a value to a player or team’s base running impact. From 2011-13, the Brewers own a -14.7 UBR, which is 14th out of 16 NL clubs. With a three-year average of -4.9 per season, Milwaukee’s base running is between poor and downright awful (zero is average). Again, this doesn’t include plays within a stolen base attempt, but it shows how foolish the team has been in giving away outs. Brewers fans have seen it plenty, particularly the contact play with the infield in (insert eye roll).
In just about every offensive category related to power, the Brewers are in the top three over the last few seasons. The Colorado Rockies are often in front of them, so that shouldn’t even count. The point, however, is that pushing to manufacture runs and trying to take so many extra bases is creating a negative value, in part due to the unnecessary risk involved.
Milwaukee has hit the most home runs in the past three seasons, a huge advantage offensively. The downside is that 327 of the Brewers’ 544 long balls have been solo shots. That’s 60 percent of the home runs with the bases empty, and part of that is due to poor base running. Not only does the Crew’s potent offense need to be factored, the pitching plays a role as well.
In 2011, when they had terrific pitching, the runs they cost themselves on the bases didn’t hurt as much. Now, with a staff that will probably be about average, the Brewers can’t afford to lose scoring opportunities in an effort to “put pressure on the defense.” Ryan Braun or Aramis Ramirez batting with runners on second and third is plenty of pressure. It certainly beats one of those guys leading off the next inning because a runner was thrown out at home to end the frame.
I’m not saying they should lose the speed portion of their game completely. The Brewers have actually been very successful stealing bases, especially with Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura. Even with those two, the Brewers need to pick their spots wisely and let the hitters do their job at the dish when the time calls for it.
Bottom line, the offense has a ton of power potential throughout the lineup and the overall production level could be the best in the league. Runs are precious and should be treated accordingly. Just getting up to “average” on the bases would net the Brewers three or four more victories, which could be the difference between a playoff game and cleaning out the clubhouse.