This past Sunday, a rather odd column appeared in the Milwaukee-Journal Sentinel, as Tom Haudricourt suggested the Brewers have a problem winning at home this year because their record on the road happens to be superior. The article was frankly odd all around: while the Brewers have been an elite road team this year (37-27) they are hardly terrible at home, where they are 36-31. The average home team actually wins about 54% of its games over time, so the Brewers are actually right at that pace. To his credit, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke, when quoted inside the story, (correctly) dismissed the differential as largely random, and said it wasn’t worth worrying about.
The article and its premise were roundly criticized on Twitter, including by me. But people who write Brewers columns (including me) have to have something to write about, and the thing that column really got me thinking was that the Brewers have been sort of narrative-resistant the entire year.
The Brewers really don’t have that compelling story that makes for good copy. At the beginning of the season, the story was supposed to be the return of Ryan Braun, but that was promptly swallowed by the team’s hot April start. Once that start was over, Braun ended up on the disabled list, and by the time he had returned, it was clear that the team not only would not be revolving around Braun, but would be relying on two other hitters: Carlos Gomez and Jonathan Lucroy. Aside from some healthy booing from opposing fans, Ryan Braun has become a complete non-story, aside from his surprisingly resilient production.
The Brewers also don’t have one defining aspect that makes them easy to characterize with sweeping rhetoric. They don’t lead the league in offense, or run prevention, or in team defense. They run the bases well in general, but have amazing brain freezes from time to time. Their bullpen is very capable, but the results have been mixed. Whenever you see the latest releases about the best hard-hit averages, or hitting streaks, or league-leading FIPs, the Brewers are almost never among the leaders.
And that’s ok, because the reason the Brewers may well run the table on top of the NL Central is that are content to be solidly above average in pretty much every respect. They have the fourth-best offense in the National League (99 wRC+), the third-best defense, and the second-best baserunning. Put those together, and Fangraphs rates them as the most productive lineup in the NL (21.3 fWAR), even better than the $200 million-plus Dodgers.
The Brewers combine that league-leading lineup with the 5th best starter ERA- (park and league-adjusted), and a league-average bullpen (95 ERA-; 10.49 RE24) that frankly has pitched even better than those results suggest (a league-best 3.07 SIERA).
In sum, the Brewers have been more about their aggregate than their individuals this year, and that makes them a challenging story. My sense is that many of the leading analysts spent most of the season waiting to pen their “we told you so” story about the Brewers, and as that story has continued not to come to fruition, writers are left either stretching for storylines or, in the case of most of them, simply ignoring the team altogether.
This is just fine. I take far greater pleasure in checking the Baseball Prospectus playoff odds, and seeing the Brewers ranked at the top, than I do from some fluff piece on Foxsports about the “essential ingredients” for playoff success, or something similar. But don’t be surprised if people continue to stretch for narratives as far as the Brewers are concerned; they are difficult to pigeonhole for all the right reasons.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter @bachlaw.
All statistics from Fangraphs.