The Brewers’ nine-game winning streak was snapped on Monday night at the hands of timely Cardinals hitting and a dominant Lance Lynn performance. A Jhonny Peralta solo homer got St. Louis on the board in the second inning, and Jon Jay put the game away with a three-run blast off Matt Garza in the sixth. Lynn took advantage of the aggressiveness of the Brewers, striking out 11 over seven frames.
In case you missed it Monday, the New York Times ran a piece by Tyler Kepner about the Brewers’ free-swinging approach at the plate that led them to a 10-2 start, but also proved beatable on Monday night. It not only detailed the mentality Brewers hitters are taking this season, but also features probably one of my favorite quotes ever.““It has to be, like, wayyy a ball for us to not swing,” said Carlos Gomez, their center fielder, swiping his hand about a foot off the edge of an imaginary plate.” In an age and a league dominated by discussions of drawing walks, OBP, and pitch selectivity, the Brewers are swinging to the beat of their own drum. From Kepner: “If your personnel works out better by being aggressive on the first thing they see, then you go with it,” said Roenicke, who guided the Brewers to their last playoff appearance, in 2011. “Aramis and Gomez have shown that on the first pitch, they do a lot of damage. So you let them do what they do best. I don’t want to tell them, ‘Hey, you guys, start taking pitches,’ because that’s not who they are.”
The first glance at the numbers agrees with the reports of the Brewers hitters’ aggression. The team ranks 20th in OBP (.316) through 13 games despite filing in at sixth in batting average (.271), a number aided by a .324 BABIP, which entered play Monday as the seventh-highest in baseball. Only three teams–Baltimore, San Diego, and Detroit–have drawn fewer walks (and two of those three offenses have been, well, putrid, and Baltimore hasn’t been so hot, either).
Before, I drew conclusions from how drastically the Brewers are taking this new #gritty approach from walk numbers after 13 games. A better, more predictable, way to look at the approaches of this Brewers team at the plate is to take a look at the heat maps of the hitters.
To do that, it’s important to look at more than just the overall assessment of pitch selection. For example, while the whole picture does sum up who’s being more aggressive and so on, by taking into account all counts and all pitch types, looking at specific samples and comparing them to the league is probably a better test.
First, here’s noted first ball swinger Aramis Ramirez on 0-0 counts, with league average on the right.
Compared to years past, Ramirez is swinging at a higher percentage of first pitches, particularly those down in the zone and on the fringes, which normally are rarely swung at in baseball.
Next is another notorious free swinger, Carlos Gomez, proving to us that the ball does, in fact, have to be, like, wayyy outside in order to not swing at it. The visual is Gomez’s swing rate at balls outside the zone compared with league average.
Not all hitters on the Brewers are as naturally aggressive as Ramirez and Gomez (I’m looking at you, Jonathan Lucroy), but, as a whole, the charts do go to show that Milwaukee is swinging at more pitches out of the zone. And not only are they swinging at more balls, but they’re doing so in hitter’s counts. Below is the team swing rate at pitches outside the zone in no ball counts, compared with league average.
Is this approach paying off? Not taking BABIP into context at all, it appears to be paying off with the aggressive hitters on the team. Keep in mind, though, that as the season goes on, those red marks on pitches out of the zone are sure to go down, though the swing rate may remain constant if the team really has bought into the free-swinging mentality. More so than anything, however, these charts go to support the article in the Times and Carlos Gomez’s greatest quote in history.