A healthy Jeffrey Hammonds is one of the keys to a productive second half.
Its been feast or famine this year for the Brewers offense. As I write this (7/4/01), theyve hit an impressive 108 HRs (5th in the NL) but theyre also on record strikeout pace (686 and counting). Overall theyre tied for 9th in the NL in runs scored which is basically average and sinking after a fast start.
Whats Going On
While its easy to blame the strikeouts for the Brewers offensive inconsistencies, theyre a symptom, not the disease. Strikeouts are a little worse than most other outs, although really not any worse than popouts, but theyre better than double plays and its probably not a coincidence that only 2 teams in the NL have grounded into fewer double plays. The problem is that the Brewers lack plate discipline to draw walks and hit for average along with the homeruns and consequently suffer from a below average OBP.
Theres a simple formula for how many runs a team is expected to score:
Expected Runs = Team ABs x Team OBP x Team SLG
Checking to see how this formula checks vs. the reality of the Brewers we find:
Expected Runs = 2739 ABs x .325 OBP x .434 SLG = 386.3 Runs
Actual Runs = 386
Clearly the Brewers fit this model. And the biggest problem with the Brewers becomes obvious. Their OBP has not improved much from last year. Its a combination of not hitting for a high enough average (.258 which ranks 11th in the NL) and not walking enough (258 BBs which ranks 13th in the NL). Only 2 Brewers (Burnitz and Belliard) are adept at using the walk as a weapon which makes their batting average a bit misleading and is why they remain more productive ballplayers than commonly thought of. The biggest OBP sinks on the team are: Richie Sexson (.321 OBP vs. .365 Average for 1B), Henry Blanco (.281 OBP vs. .318 Average for C), Jeffery Hammonds (.314 OBP vs. .333 Average for CF) and Jose Hernandez (.313 OBP vs. .320 Average for SS). Everyone else is either at least average or doesnt play enough to matter much overall. The biggest potential problems is that both Tyler Houston (.373 OBP vs. career .312 OBP) and Devon White (.354 OBP vs. career .319 OBP) are probably playing over their heads.
Why all the talk about OBP? Because thats where the Brewers rank the lowest and because OBP is more important that SLG. Looking at the formula above, it should be noted that SLG and OBP only appear equal but theres a hidden factor. ABs are related to OBP as well. The higher the OBP, the higher the ABs and the higher the meaningful ABs with men on base and in scoring position. Addressing the overall OBP issue has to be the Brewers biggest emphasis if they want to take the next step forward on offense.
What Can Be Done
Clearly the Brewers cant just empty out their farm system to trade for a superstar to jumpstart the offense. Or call up a hot position prospect, since they really dont have any that are anywhere close to being ready for the majors. What they can do is keep working with Richie Sexson and hope his overall approach at the plate can be improved upon, they can cross their fingers that Houston and White dont turn into pumpkins in the second half, they can minimize Blanco's appearances at the plate, they can hope Hammonds comes back and is productive, and they can wait until Loretta gets fully healthy and trade Hernandez at the deadline for some additional help. Taylor has made the Brewers offense more respectable in a year, but going from average to playoff caliber offensively is going to be tricky.