On the morning of April 24, I wrote about the strange set of trends exhibited by the Brewers bats to open the season. Contrary to the convenient “collapse” narrative, the inept offense that began the season hardly matched the trends that the club showcased as they failed to score runs at the end of the season. Since that point, the bats came alive and the pitching improved, but not enough to carry the team beyond a .500 pace.
|Through April 23||46||91||3-13|
What drove the club’s improvement? In one basic sense, the Brewers significantly cut back their swings at pitches outside the strike zone, while increasing their swings inside the strike zone. As a general trend, this looks good, but it does not necessarily define the club’s success.
|Plate Discipline||O-Swing%||Z-Swing %||Overall Contact%||RS/G|
Along with these “discipline” trends, the Brewers also suddenly hit the ball in the air at a higher rate, while maintaining their April line drive rate.
Even better than the Brewers’ groundball reversal is their first-pitch performance. It should come as no surprise that the Brewers’ offensive improvement corresponds with an increase in first-pitch plate appearances (and, of course, an improved performance within those first-pitch PAs). The 2014 Brewers succeeded by absolutely demolishing the first pitch, and the 2015 Brewers are coming back around in that area:
|Brewers Bats||First Pitch PA%||First Pitch Performance|
|Through April 19||8.6||.212/.257/.424|
|Through May 14||11.2||.321/.331/.588|
Of course, the Brewers also improved their performance in other counts since April, but there is one specific development that fans will really love: the Brewers have walked in all but one of their 3-0 plate appearances. The sole 3-0 plate appearance that did not result in a walk was a double, which means that the Brewers are batting 1.000 / 1.000 / 2.000 in 3-0 counts. This is an important area for potential improvement that I outlined in January, and it’s great to see the club improve in this regard, as the club “only” batted .308/.929/.692 in 3-0 counts last season (this may seem absurd, but that production was slightly below average). To see the Brewers shift from a club that produced outs in 7% of 3-0 plate appearances in 2014 produce no outs in their 2015 3-0 counts is an absolute improvement.
That said, the Brewers still have areas where they can improve:
- They can improve their strike out rate (nearly 23% thus far).
- They can improve their walk rate (less than 7% thus far).
- They can further maximize first-pitch swings. Currently, Brewers bats swing at nearly 30% of all first pitches, and they are hitting on 11% of those swings and producing outs on 25% of those swings (the 2014 Brewers swung at 33% of all first pitches, with 13% hits and 26% outs on those swings).
- They must continue their “small” areas of improvement, such as not making outs on 3-0 counts.
Even if there is this prevailing sense that the Brewers cannot do enough to overcome their poor start, it is important that the bats continue their improvements so that the front office can evaluate each potential “core member” or “trade member.” Presumably, if the Brewers are to improve in the coming years, their offense must have the best possible traits of the current club (productive aggression) alongside other areas of improvement (plate discipline). By absolutely maximizing first-pitch swings and 3-0 swings, Brewers bats can continue to chip away at their poor start and produce competitive ballgames.