The Milwaukee Brewers Are a Powerful Operation Without Actual Power

Turns out, you don't even need it.

Back in April, I wrote on the Milwaukee Brewers and their early offensive prowess. During the season’s first month, only the Dodgers reached base more and only a handful of teams scored more runs while demonstrating more power. A regular feature in the postseason on the strength of their pitching, it looked like the team had forged a new identity in pursuit of the postseason.

I also questioned the sustainability of it. To hang with National League teams like L.A. or Atlanta in the OBP & power games isn’t easily done. At least outside of maybe Philadelphia (this is coming from an April perspective). Milwaukee’s a young team. It’s a team without a deep run of proven success at the plate. Was April a matter of such young hitters requiring an adjustment on the part of opposing pitchers? Or could they actually swing it?

I also wondered if their approach was by design:

The Milwaukee Brewers aren’t doing anything outlandish in turning in strong offensive production. It’s all in the approach. But at some point, you wonder when patience leads to regression. An O-Swing% of 43.0 trails only the New York Yankees as the league’s lowest at present. However, their Z-Swing% is also only 61.0. That’s the lowest in the league. Their 3.91 pitches per plate appearance is only barely above league average (3.90). At this point, you wonder how much of their approach is intentional versus the simple state of being patient.

Especially since it hasn’t necessarily translated to contact. The 77.4 percent figure is only the 13th best. They’re also BABIP’ing .332, trailing only Atlanta, despite a 29.3 percent hard contact rate is only the 18th best mark. It’s just not adding up in the way that it probably should. Patience, yes. Results, yes. But is a process being reflected that draws a clear bridge between the two? Not quite yet.

That was also a valid question at the time. Given the lack of a historical foundation and the small sample, it was only logical to question it all. And yet, as we prepare to flip the calendar over to July, it looks like just about everything the Milwaukee Brewers demonstrated in the season’s first month was for real. And if it wasn’t, then we were simply looking in the wrong place.


An Answer to the Sustainability Question? 


As of this writing, the Brewers sit sixth in the league in runs scored (391). That’s third in the National League, behind only the Dodgers (2nd overall) & Phillies (4th). The walk rate, at 9.6 percent, has remained high. It trails only the New York Yankees & the Dodgers among big league squads. It’s helped them maintain the high on-base rate, with a .332 mark that is also only behind Los Angeles and Philadelphia.

Within all of it, the patience has continued. The team’s Swing%, at 44.3, is behind only the Yankees’ 44.2. The swing rate on pitches outside the strike zone has moved into the slot as the league’s best (28.1). Of course, their Z-Swing% has also remained low. In addition to the league’s lowest O-Swing%, the Brewers are also swinging at the fewest pitches inside of the zone, at 65.5 percent. This was an element I was previously wary of, as patience in a vacuum didn’t necessarily indicate process, given that the team scratched their number of pitches per plate appearance to just barely above league average. They weren’t parlaying that patience into a ton of contact either, which was a factor in the line of questioning.

In terms of P/PA, the Brewers have since distanced themselves from the league average mark. That currently sits at 3.87, with 16 teams sitting above it. Milwaukee now sits fifth there, at 3.95 P/PA. Contact, though, hasn’t seen major movement. The overall Contact% sits at 77.6 and still ranks 14th. It is a slight improvement, but not one that necessarily quells my early questions about process. Especially when the Z-Contact% (85.8) ranks only 18th. They’re also still not making particularly hard contact. A HardHit% of 38.7 sits only 17th and is actually a fair decrease from a 40-ish percent clip in April.

At the same time, my question has started to shift. It was initially some form of “can the Milwaukee Brewers sustain this impact with questionable contact rates & quality?” It has since transitioned, though, to does it even matter given this team’s actual skill set?

Speed & efficiency on the bases is a factor that was perhaps previously overlooked. But it’s also proven crucial. The Brewers are fourth in the league in infield hit percentage (7.9). They’ve stolen more bases than anyone (113). Even Cincinnati after their roaring start on the SB side. The Brewers’ SB% sits at 85, which trails only Toronto. Among teams in the top five in steals, the Reds are at 81 and the Phillies at 82. They’ve been more efficient than anything at that high a volume.

Additionally, FanGraphs’ BsR baserunning metric has them atop the league. A 12.2 BsR is up on a fairly wide margin from the second-place Reds. It certainly starts to render those contact questions a little less valid in the big picture.

I suppose it’s not so much an answer as a reframing of the question. I’m still not sure that there’s a process there, given the lack of movement in the contact trends. Ultimately, though, the Brewers’ patience isn’t so much to create impact anyway. It’s to further the headache they’re creating for opposing pitchers.


The Missing Ingredient That Isn’t Actually Missing


Furthering our line of inquiry is the power side. I’m not sure how widespread this perception is. But I live under the assumption that you need at least some impact power in your lineup in order to build out a successful offense. Successful in a way that affords you a deep postseason run.

Look at the top five run producers in baseball: Baltimore, Los Angeles (you know which one), New York (see again), Philly, and Cleveland. Three of those teams are in the top five in ISO; all five sit in the top eight. They’re all in the top seven in HR/FB%. Four of ’em are in the top eight in HardHit%. There’s a lot of impact guiding those attacks.

The Brewers are not cut from the same cloth, despite being right behind all five teams in runs scored. They rank only 19th in ISO (.145) and 11th in HR/FB% (11.7). They’re 17th in HardHit% (38.7). This is the thing that has changed significantly since April. They’re not nearly as threatening in the power numbers as they appeared.

That month, Christian Yelich ISO’d .410 (46 PAs). Gary Sánchez was at .250. Rhys Hoskins went for a .227 figure. Each of William Contreras Jake Bauers were giving ISO numbers over .180. So it’s no wonder the Brewers sat seventh in ISO during the first month. Jumping to the now-cumulative, 2024 doesn’t provide that same level of impact offense.

Hoskins is the team leader in ISO, at .192. Bauers is at .189. Willy Adames & Gary Sánchez are the only two hitters above .180, with Joey Ortiz sitting exactly there. Compare that to some of the other top groups. The Yankees have Aaron Judge at .404 and two others above .240. The Dodgers have six regulars above .200. Baltimore has five. Cleveland has three and Philadelphia has two. The Brewers have none and are hanging all the same.

This speaks to both the one thing about Milwaukee’s April that ended up being unsustainable (on-base presence) and the one thing that actually didn’t need to be (power), given the previously overlooked (baserunning).


Who Needs Power When You Have…Friendship?


Last year, we watched the Arizona Diamondbacks make a World Series run on the strength of baserunning efficiency and timely hitting. Given the trends the Milwaukee Brewers have showcased since that month, are we looking at a similar situation?

Consider the fact that the Brewers have the league’s highest batting average with runners on (.282). They have the second-highest OBP in those situations (.352). Their ISO with runners on jumps up to the fourth-highest, at .177. They’re also top 10 when said runners are in scoring position. Juxtapose that with the team’s speed & baserunning efficiency and it’s hard not to envision it.

Part of what has made the Brewers such a fascinating situation in 2024 isn’t only their shifting of an identity, from pitching-forward to offense-first. It’s been the development of the offensive identity on its own. April showed us a lot of power apparently wrought by heavy patience. It wasn’t a particularly efficient group, though, given the number of pitches seen and only average contact rates. So the power itself wasn’t sustainable. Fourteen players on this Milwaukee Brewers team, however, have a steal. That element is.

Instead of power output from Hoskins or Yelich or Contreras, it’s a team that has been taken over in its identity by the wheels & on-base prowess of Brice Turang, Blake Perkins, and…also Yelich. We now know this was the real model of their pursuits: Get on base. Put balls in play with runners on. Create havoc on the bases. Score runs.

Who needs the power when you can simply be a nightmare for the opposing defense?

Randy Holt

Randy Holt is a staff writer for Pitcher List & a depth charts analyst for Baseball Prospectus. He's a self-identified Cubs fan who has become more agnostic, instead obsessing about quality defensive baseball wherever he can find it. Randy has a sport management degree from the University of Florida, as well as degrees from Embry-Riddle & Arizona State. When not wasting away on the husk of Twitter/X, Randy is a high school English teacher & a baseball and golf coach.

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