16 games of a major league baseball season isn’t enough time to definitively say a ton about what a team is or what it will become based on looking solely at the statistics it has produced thus far. All it takes are a few fluky games of the team doing something out of its general character and everything can become skewed pretty quickly. That being said, sometimes the numbers produced even in such a small sample can be suggestive of larger trends that may continue. Back in another time and another place, I wrote a little article talking about how the Brewers’ lineup was very right-handed, and how this might pose a problem for the team against right-handed pitchers at times in 2012 if it wasn’t fixed. Let’s take a look at how things are going in this department.
So far this year, the Brewers’ offense has been just slightly below the major league average in scoring runs, producing an average of 4.19 per game compared with the major league average of 4.20. When we move over to just the National League, where they don’t have to compete with DH teams, they are actually solidly above the 3.94 average in runs scored. Run prevention has been the bigger overall issue, with the Brewers 3rd from last in runs allowed per game in the NL at 4.94.
That doesn’t mean the offense is without blame for the Brewers 7-9 start, though. Against left-handed pitching, the Brewers offense is third in the NL in both OPS (.764) and wOBA (.335). Against right-handed pitching, though, the team is 10th in OPS (.685) and 12th in wOBA (.298). Teams do generally hit a little bit worse against right-handed pitching than left, so that explains part of the difference, but obviously not all of it given their respective league rankings. Considering that roughly 3/4 of the pitchers at any given moment in MLB are right-handed, this is not the sort of trend one would like to see continue for a team with aspirations for contention. So the big question is, will it remain a problem or is this simply a small sample fluke?
Well, there are some things about this that simply don’t figure to continue. For starters, the two main left-handed hitters in the line aren’t doing what one can reasonably expect them to do against right-handers. Nyjer Mrogan is a career .304/.356/.394 hitter against right-handed pitching, and is off to a .122/.122/.122 start against it this year. Mat Gamel is off to a solid but unspectacular .278/.339/.407 start overall, but has hit a modest .268/.318/.439 against right-handers. One would expect both of those players to get a bit better in these departments as the season goes on.
There is also almost certainly just some bad luck going on here, as evidenced by the team’s .281 BABIP against lefties compared to its .249 mark against right-handers. The “bad luck” theory gets even more support when one considers the team is actually hitting line drives more often against righties (22.5%) than against lefties (19.0%), while producing fewer ground balls, 33.8% to 39.0%. If they maintain those sorts of numbers over the course of a full season, it’s almost impossible to imagine the gap between results against right-handed and left-handed pitching remaining so large. Of course, these numbers are also subject to the same sort of small sample warnings as the overall numbers. It’s quite possible, for instance, that the team’s line drive rate against right-handers will drop and thus the expected “evening out” will be muted or lost entirely.
At the end of the day, all of this is just going to have to be decided on the field. Yes, the Brewers have struggled against right-handed pitching thus far in 2012. It’s also true they’ve not played up to their potential and have gotten at least somewhat unlucky, but only time will tell exactly by how much. If it doesn’t fix itself and continues to a major degree, though, the team will almost certainly need to find some sort of way to address the issue.
Exactly how they might do that is a tough question to answer, given the makeup of the everyday lineup. They are firmly committed financially to just about every position other than first base, centerfield and perhaps shortstop, but that is where they already have left-handed bats in two cases and where it’s very hard to find lefties at the third. Would the team upgrade the quality of lefty bat at these positions, or possibly even consider trading one of the big money guys to get a left-handed bat with some pop?
This is something that is going to bear watching as the season progresses. Check back for periodic updates.