The Brewers are 10-15. The only way for a team to win only 10 of 25 games is to play very poorly. As early as it is and for as many ridiculous things that can happen in such a small sample of games, there are some on-field issues that the Brewers must address heading into the next 137 games.
First of all, the hitters. The good: they’ve scored 5.12 runs per game, well over the league average of 4.55. The bad: they only scored 2 runs all weekend against the Padres, and most of those 128 runs have come against the hapless Pittsburgh Pirates.
The offense isn’t of much concern to me. The Brewers are currently 2nd in the NL in wOBA. It just so happens that they haven’t really employed a very efficient distribution in runs. Some would argue that an above-average offense wouldn’t go scoreless in 22 straight innings and only score 2 runs in a 4 game series at San Diego – I would counter that a below-average offense wouldn’t score 36 runs in 3 games against any major league team, even a cellar dweller like Pittsburgh. The Brewers are hitting for power – a .174 ISO is 5th in the majors and 2nd in the NL – and they’re walking more than any NL team. That’s a recipe for long term success. It’s simply hard to hit in San Diego, and a lot of crazy things can happen in a four game sample.
Pitching and defense, on the other hand, are legitimate concerns. First, let’s talk about defense. 25 games is very, very little to make defensive evaluations on, but this is not a team that was expected to be solid on defense entering this season. Carlos Gomez and Alcides Escobar are the only elite defenders on this team, and there are major questions about the defensive skills of Ryan Braun, Corey Hart, Jim Edmonds (due to his age), Prince Fielder, Casey McGehee, and Rickie Weeks – essentially the rest of the team. Right now, the Brewers have a Defensive Efficiency Rating of .664 – that is, the Brewers have turned 66.4% of balls hit in play into outs. That’s worst in the league. At this early point in the season, some of that can certainly be blamed on bad luck – an inordinate amount of grounders hit in the hole, fly balls landing just on the foul line, etc. – but after 999 batters faced, it’s certainly cause for concern.
That could explain some of the pitching issues – a .336 BABIP would explain the difference between a poor but acceptable 4.69 FIP and an unacceptable 5.09 ERA. However, the Brewers pitchers are offering up an unacceptable number of home run balls, having allowed 35 HRs in only 25 games. The Brewers aren’t, as a staff, composed of fly ball pitching. They shouldn’t be allowing this many home runs – a HR/FB rate of 14.2% as a staff is Braden Looper-esque, and as I’ve mentioned earlier this season, that rate should fall (and has fallen since the first couple of weeks). If that rate falls as I expect it will, the Brewers ERA should come down closer to 4.50 than to 5.00.
The major contributor to that HR/FB ratio, however, is Trevor Hoffman. Hoffman did record a three batter three out save in his last appearance, but I am far from convinced that he is right again. A very large portion for the blame for this early season scuffle belongs right on Hoffman’s aging back. He is currently running a -1.54 WPA. A team requires +0.50 WPA to win a game, as each team starts the game with a 50% chance of winning the game. That means that Hoffman has cost the Brewers 3 games already, and they could be sitting at 13-12 with even an average performance out of their closer.
I still think the Brewers are a very talented team, and the Beyond the Box Score Power Rankings agree. Every time I look for reasons why this team has performed so poorly in the first month of the season, I keep coming back to the same thing – the team has played like an average team or better, and has lost games because their closer can’t get players out. This team is talented enough on offense to get by their shortcomings in terms of run prevention. The only question, to me, is if there’s enough time for the Brewers to get back into the race.