By now, most people understand the 2014 Milwaukee Brewers‘ hitters swing first, think second and then swing some more. They aren’t in the lineup to talk a walk or work the count in a majority of cases, which is leading to a ton of whiffs, lower OBP and inconsistent play.
And yet, there are a number of things they do well and most expect them to be in the top tier of runs scored by year’s end. For fans and the opposition, thinking about what they might do is hard to figure out, including for Boston Red Sox catcher David Ross, who said about the Brewers’ hitters, “I don’t know what to do with you guys.”
That’s because they’re willing to swing at just about anything and everything, and often times when they connect, it’s hit hard and goes for extra bases. Milwaukee’s lineup is sort of an old-school creature fighting the conventions of modern baseball’s beliefs in taking pitches, finding any way on base and winning with consistent, predictable outcomes.
Their stats seem all over the place and the offense can feel like a bit of a paradox. The best example comes from the amount of contact they make (or don’t) and what happens when they introduce bat and ball.
It’s sort of a Jekyll and Hyde personality.
The Brewers rank dead last in making contact, whiffing 26.2 percent of the time they take a cut at a pitch. Considering they swing on 49.8 percent of the occasion, that translates to a ton of wasted hacks.
Not surprisingly, Mark Reynolds is the top culprit as he makes contact 53.7 percent of the time, while Khris Davis is next, connecting on just over 63 percent of his swings.
The problem with so many empty rips comes into play when situational hitting can net you a run or the opportunity to score. When a runner is on third with less than two outs, pitchers are happy to face a guy who whiffs a lot, as opposed to a light-hitting contact guy.
In that type of situation, you’d actually rather have Logan Schafer up (86.1 percent contact) than Davis, even if Davis proves to be the better overall hitter.
The funny part of all this is that when the Brewers have made contact, it’s often a line drive. In fact, Milwaukee tops all of MLB with 24.5 percent of its balls put in play resulting in line drives. For those unaware, line drives are far more likely to result in runs.
Line drives produce about 10 times more runs than a fly ball will, and they’re roughly 25 times more likely to create a run than a ground ball will throughout a year.
Ironically, Davis leads the Brewers in line drive percentage at 38.7, which is second in MLB behind the Atlanta Braves’ Freddie Freeman. Milwaukee actually has three of the top six players in baseball in this category with Carlos Gomez (35.7) and Aramis Ramirez (35.8) also among the leaders.
Perhaps that means, in the long run, getting in your extra cuts results in better contact, even if it happens less frequently. The stats also show that Milwaukee hitters who are higher in contact rate are hitting far fewer line drives (e.g. Jean Segura).
So while the over-aggressive at-bats, frequent swings that catch nothing but air and the lack of taking a walk can all be frustrating at times, understand that the guys do have a plan in mind and are playing to their strengths.
There will be slumps and pitchers who can expose these types of hitters at times. However, should their line-drive rate continue, which would include improvements from Ryan Braun and Segura, many of those balls put in play will be rockets into the outfield, to the fence and into the stands.
Last time I checked, doubles, triples and home runs tend to account for a lot of runs scored and that’s all that matters in the end.