Have the Brewers played worse at home, or are other factors at play?
It’s tough to find much to complain about right now in Milwaukee. The Brewers enter late August with a 74-49 record, giving them the third-best record in the National League and a 7.5 game lead in the Central division. The team’s overall success has come with an interesting quirk, however. The Brewers have been a force to be reckoned with on the road, playing an excellent 21 games over .500 with a 42-21 record. On their home turf, they have seemingly been far less formidable. The team’s 32-28 record at American Family Field is acceptable, but it is a far cry from their dominance away from Wisconsin.
This difference became a point of conversation once again when the Brewers, fresh off an impressive 8-2 road trip, promptly dropped the opener of a home series against the stripped-down Washington Nationals. Why have the Brewers been dramatically more successful away from their home turf?
If the Brewers have been playing notably worse on the road, it would show up in some of the other splits beyond just their record. A contrast immediately presents itself in the offensive department. On the road, the Brewers have averaged 5.03 runs per game, and their .324 wOBA ranks third among all Major League teams. It has been a drastically different story in front of the home crowd, where Milwaukee has managed just 4.23 runs per game with a .300 wOBA that ranks 26th.
While the Crew’s excellent pitching staff has experienced slightly better results on the road (3.20 ERA) than at home (3.50 ERA), they have been great no matter the venue. Furthermore, the staff has posted FIPs of 3.60 and 3.70 on the road and at home, respectively. Any performance gap on the mound is minimal at best.
The offense is clearly the culprit behind the team’s home and road splits. Do the Brewers truly hit that much worse in Milwaukee, or are there other factors at play?
For what it’s worth, the Brewers have been dealt slightly tougher draws on the mound when playing at home this season. The pitchers who have faced them at American Family Field have posted a combined 97 ERA- against all opponents this season. 49 of those 181 pitchers have an ERA below 3.00 on the year. Those who have faced the Brewers on the road have a combined 103 ERA-, and 35 of 181 have an ERA below 3.00. While those differences are not enough to be the main cause for the lack of scoring in home games, the quality of opposing pitchers is part of the equation.
Are the Brewers putting together dramatically worse plate appearances at home? Let’s see what the data says.
The team’s plate discipline remains constant across venues, but the batted ball data reveals some differences. At home, they have one of the lowest line drive rates in baseball; on the road, they have one of the best. The Brewers have a higher average launch angle at American Family Field, and their fly ball rate at home is the second-highest in the league. While more fly balls help to partially explain a lower BABIP, elevating the ball more should produce greater power numbers. That has not been the case, and it’s because the Brewers have been one of the less successful teams at sending their fly balls over the fence at home. On the road, they have one of the highest HR/FB rates as a team.
The fly ball data backs up an observation that many made earlier in the year: the Brewers were hitting a lot of warning track fly balls that looked like home runs off the bat. The likeliest explanation is that the ball simply wasn’t carrying at AmFam early in the year due to cooler weather in the spring. Sure enough, the Crew’s HR/FB rate at home was just 10.5% in April and May. Since the start of June, it has increased to 14.6%, which is in line with the league average. The Brewers also happen to have a far more palatable 97 wRC+ at home over that stretch.
The Brewers have a better record on the road because they have scored at a substantially higher rate away from Milwaukee. Hitting more line drives in home games might improve their run output, but they have also dealt with their fair share of tough luck in those contests. Between facing better competition on the mound and encountering some rough batted ball luck, the splits may be more attributable to factors outside of the team’s control. The Brewers are a great baseball team, and don’t be surprised if their win total at home starts to catch up with their success on the road.
Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball Savant