It’s like Rob Deer and Gorman Thomas don’t even know this franchise anymore. What happened to our free-swinging Brewers, the same ones that just two seasons ago had Carlos Gomez remarking, “It has to be, like, wayyy a ball for us to not swing…everybody here has the green light?”
Well, for one, a small sample size.
But, through mid-April in 2016, the Brewers have swung less than any other team in baseball. This, after swinging the second-most in each of the past two seasons. They’re swinging less at pitches out of the zone, and they’re swinging less at pitches in the zone, leading to sequences like this from Monday:
And then Domingo Santana also struck out looking to lead off the sixth!
So, to recap: we’re less than two weeks into the season and not even at the point where swing rate has stabilized. But it sure looks like the Brewers are making a concerted effort to swing less, given the drastic fluctuations in their swing rates from the past couple of years:
|Year||O-Swing Rate(MLB Rank)||Z-Swing Rate (MLB Rank)||Swing Rate (MLB Rank)|
|2014||34% (3)||69% (2)||50% (2)|
|2015||35% (1)||69% (10)||50% (2)|
|2016||22% (29)||60% (30)||41% (30)|
Part of that must be the overhaul the organization has gone through in the past year. Jean Segura and Carlos Gomez both swung at over half the pitches they saw in 2015, and their O-Swing% was north of the team average. Adam Lind and Gerardo Parra also chased and drove the team’s O-Swing% up. So it’s partially a function of a new team with a new front office that may place a higher premium for on-base guys.
But the holdover hitters from last year have also seen their swing rates decrease both outside the zone and overall. Ryan Braun, Scooter Gennett, and Domingo Santana have thus far decreased their O-Swing% from last year’s totals by 10% or more in the early going. Brewers beat reporter Tom Haurdicourt reported Manager Craig Counsell saying, “It’s an everyday message (to the hitters) and it’s really about swinging at good pitches. It’s discipline. (Hitting coach) Darnell (Coles) is preaching that every day.”
This mix of the front office acquiring more on-base players and the on-field management working with the players on adjustments seems to be making an impact. The Brewers are fifth in walk rate, after finishing in the bottom third each of the previous three seasons.
Whether this is an organizational philosophy change, or more a function of the players on the current roster remains to be seen. Or, given the small sample size, this could look completely different in May, with the Brewers back to their free-swinging ways and me wondering why I didn’t use this time instead to plant those jalapenos I’ve been meaning to get around to, but now it’s too late and the harvest won’t come until at least September.
In the meantime this is something to watch for a young team with more organizational talent than Milwaukee has seen in a while, and that is sure to go through rough stretches in a rebuilding year. The new and veteran Brewers are watching pitches, and we’ll watch with them, watching pitches.