The Milwaukee Brewers offense was good in 2011, but it stops there. At fifth in the National league in runs scored and sporting just a 102 OPS+, any positive adjective past good doesn’t qualify — not great, not excellent, and certainly not doubleplusgood. The problems were easily visible throughout the 2011 season, and they were named Casey McGehee and Yuniesky Betancourt. But surely there can be more reasons why the Brewers, despite having arguably the best 1-through-5 in the league, couldn’t manage to plate more runs.
One way the Brewers can — and almost certainly will — improve in 2012 is in hitting with the bases loaded. The Brewers finished 14th in the National League in hitting with the bases loaded, outperforming just the Braves and the Reds:
With just 140 of the 6,113 plate appearances piled up over the course of six months of baseball coming with the bases loaded, it’s tough to chalk up these results to anything other than the luck of the draw. Still, given how well the league hits with the bases loaded — .268/.309/.414 against .253/.319/.391 in all other situations — putting up an absurdly bad .605 OPS in these situations can put a quick halt to an other wise chugging offense.
However, one of the big issues of the Brewers’ 2011 lineup is exposed when we dig deeper into this split: if Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder didn’t hit themselves in, they couldn’t count on anybody else to do the job. Of the 140 plate appearances taken by the Brewers with the bases loaded, 56 (40%) were taken by Yuniesky Betancourt, Jonathan Lucroy and Casey McGehee. Lucroy was fine in these situations even if he didn’t provide power (.357/.412/.357), but Betancourt (.143/.167/.143) and McGehee (.273/.200/.455) were not.
Betancourt’s awfulness seriously cannot be overstated. He was 3-for-21 with one walk. He hit two sacrifice flies, but also grounded into three double plays. Overall, Betancourt produced a whopping 23 outs (15 normal outs, six on double plays, two on sacrifice flies) in just 21 at-bats and 24 plate appearances. That’s bad enough to break the OPS+ statistic. He checks in at a -12 on a statistic which describes offense produced as a percentage of the league average offense. Considering -12% of the league average offense is some negative number, the stat is basically saying that if you could have negative runs in baseball, Yuniesky Betancourt’s performance with the bases loaded in 2011 is how you would get there.
But the entirety of the blame cannot be placed on him (as fun as that may be). The Brewers’ best hitters were hardly monsters with the bases loaded themselves:
Rickie Weeks produced nothing in seven plate appearances, Ryan Braun managed to reach base just thrice in 12 chances, and Prince Fielder didn’t record a single extra-base hit or walk in 14 chances. Next year, the Brewers won’t have the kind of exceptional concentrated talent at the top of the order where they can afford to miss opportunities like this. Chance says that Weeks and Braun should perform better. Construction of the lineup should result in fewer run-scoring chances left for offensive black holes. Last season, the Brewers were lucky enough to score enough runs to win the National League Central despite these struggles. Don’t expect them to be so lucky should we see a repeat in 2012.