In 2012, the Milwaukee Brewers played in an environment where an average club would probably be expected to score approximately 708 to 715 runs. While it is well-known that the Brewers scored the most runs in the National League in 2012, it turns out that their monthly distribution of runs scored also had them well-established for an average or better campaign. Judging the club by their monthly runs scored totals, they were only a below average club in May; all other months featured average or better offense, from the moderately productive April campaign to the downright rowdy August showing. Between April, June, July, August, and September, the Brewers’ 162-game projections for runs scored were 718, 742, 797, 857, and 826.
Even though the Brewers’ total runs scored in 2012 appears close to 800 runs, and several of their months of production beat 800 runs — including the solid play in August and September among returned and newfound regulars alike — there remain questions for the 2013 offense. Granted, it’s a great thing to have a generally set batting order and fielding arrangement at this point in the offseason, but we can still ask:
(1) How great is Ryan Braun? What does an “off” year entail? Can we expect MVP years every year?
(2) Was Rickie Weeks‘s slow start due to his injury recovery? Or, is this type of slow start merely an exaggeration of previous trends?
(3) Aramis Ramirez always starts slow, but can he continue to be as strong in his great months?
(4) What does a full season of Carlos Gomez mean?
(5) Norichika Aoki showed an ability to hit inside pitching for power, to contrast his opposite field game. Is he the most likely Brewers bat to improve for this reason?
(6) Can Jonathan Lucroy produce for a full season if he stays healthy?
(7) Corey Hart‘s average and discipline fell slightly in 2012. Can he maintain his general improvements from 2010-2011?
What I find striking among these seven players is the month-to-month consistently that occurs throughout their careers. While answering these questions, I thought I’d look at (a) how many months of production in 2012 were above their career averages, and (b) how many top months of production in 2012 matched their best career months.
Oddly enough, both Weeks and Ramirez — somewhat “traditional” late starters — played their best baseball in months that have traditionally been their best. Weeks batted .272 and slugged .533 in July, and despite dropping off in average and OBP in September, he slugged .492 to maintain his second best month of the season. Both July and September are traditionally his best months. Ramirez boasted OPS above 1.000 in both July and August, scorching extra base hits in his traditional best months. Although we might have questions about both of these players, it seems that there is no question about their best months of the season; perhaps we might reframe our concerns to say, “how good will Weeks and Ramirez be when they post their best months?”
By contrast, Hart, Braun, Lucroy, and Gomez are traditionally early starters. Oddly enough, each of these players missed one of their traditional top months in 2012. Hart’s “miss” was perhaps the most damaging; June is traditionally a top month for the slim slugger, but Hart posted his second-worse month in June of 2012. Braun opened the season with a .294/.347/.647 campaign, but thanks to his lights-out May, June, and August, his near-1.000 OPS did not (necessarily) match one of his traditionally hot months (this is kind of like winning a $600 million jackpot and then complaining that the government took too much in taxes, though).
Similarly, both Gomez and Lucroy “underperformed” in two of their traditionally strong months. Gomez’s May is traditionally his second best month; his .250/.294/.406 campaign in May of 2012 was one of his least productive months, although that production is strong for his career. The same goes for Lucroy, who posted his second-worst month in April of 2012; although that month is traditionally his second-most productive month in his career, his 2012 mark of .278/.355/.463 was still better than his career.
These performances by Gomez and Lucroy raise interesting questions. First and foremost, even though they did not perform at their best in two of their traditionally great months, they still outplayed their career averages. This raises an issue about how likely they are to continue this trend. However, we can look at their trends of when they traditionally perform at their best and ask, “do these performances reinforce the Brewers’ offense at a time when some of their other bats may only be ramping up?”
It’s interesting to think about the Brewers’ offense in several factions. Braun is in a class by himself, as there’s really nothing to say about a guy who bats .301/.393/.548 in his worst month of his season. In the next factions, the Brewers boast early-starters Hart, Lucroy, and Gomez, and late-starters Ramirez and Weeks. The wild cards are Jean Segura and Aoki, for obvious reasons.
Overall, the trouble with projecting the Brewers’ offense going forward is that there’s only so much room for legitimate improvement. There’s Hart’s early season months, there’s Weeks’s off-the-charts early 2012 slump, there’s Gomez’s mid-year swoon, and then there’s Segura and Aoki. Overall, of the 35-months played in 2012 by Brewers’ regulars (with previous seasons in their careers), those six Brewers regulars played at a level that was better than their career averages — in terms of both month-by-month judgments, and actual career production.
This basically narrows the dash to 800 runs down to 10 months of production, and a series of better-than-career average months by the majority of the regulars. Luckily, several of those months-for-improvement belong to Weeks, who really turned around his season; the other opportunities for improvement belong to Hart (who has great stretches of streaky power when he gets hot), Ramirez (even his slow early season was a bit too slow in 2012), and Braun, on a technicality (that .941 July campaign).
I legitimately wonder about this club’s potential to drive those extra base hits and those adroit baserunners into the territory of exceptional run production. In a way, it depends on which half of 2012 one considers; against their second half, the Brewers look like a surefire 800+ run club. Do we follow the narrative that suggests that the Brewers suffered from their early-season replacements? Or, do we follow the logic that questions the percentage of Brewers that can maintain above average seasons? At the very least, the Brewers’ gang of early starters will let us know if they’re on a strong pace, and by the time they need some reinforcements, it will be time for the summer-slammer to kick into overdrive.
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