In their last few games, the Brewers have finally started to barrel up the ball.
The Milwaukee Brewers offense has been as awful as anyone could possibly imagine to start the 2021 season. The Crew entered their current series against the Cardinals dead last in wRC+ (48), 29th out of 30 teams in slugging (.276) and on-base percentage (.239), 27th in strikeout rate (32%), and 24th in runs scored (19). This collective awfulness has resulted in the Brewers wasting some phenomenal outings from a starting rotation that has been one of the best in baseball in the early going of the season.
While the high strikeout totals stood out as a glaring issue, Milwaukee’s offensive deficiencies were compounded by their inability to make solid contact when they did put the ball in play. Through their first six contests of the season, Brewer hitters combined for a 52.7% ground ball rate, the third-highest in the game. Their collective fly ball rate of 25.6% was the third-lowest. They recorded just 47 hard hit balls (batted balls with an exit velocity of 95 miles per hour or higher) and just 28 batted balls with a triple-digit exit velocity.
The offense finally erupted for nine runs on Saturday afternoon, but evidence of improvement was already present before that game. On Thursday, the Brewers were held to just one run, but their offense was making notably better contact. They hit just six ground balls—just the second time in 2021 that they hit under 10 grounders in a game—and hit a line drive or fly ball 15 times, their highest total since Opening Day. Their average exit velocity of 91.7 miles per hour was the highest of the season.
The trend continued—this time with results—the following game. The Brewers tallied 19 hard hit balls, including 15 that registered at over 100 miles per hour off the bat. They also added on five barreled balls. Over the last two games, the Brewers have demonstrated much improved contact compared to their performance in the first week of the schedule.
A number of key members of the lineup appear to be settling in. The Brewers are undoubtedly counting on the most production from Christian Yelich, who did not look like himself at all in 2020. Yelich has yet to demonstrate any power this year, slugging just .357, but he has a 50% hard hit rate over his last four games, which places him right in line with his usual norms. Keston Hiura, who has looked hopelessly lost at the plate, exceeded an exit velocity of 100 miles per hour on all four of his batted balls on Saturday, culminating in a monster home run to give the Brewers a comfortable lead. Lorenzo Cain cranked two home runs in an extra-inning victory over the Cubs on Wednesday.
In the same way that a six-game sample size was never worth pushing the panic button over, an even smaller two-game sample does not indicate that the Brewers will absolutely murder the baseball moving forward. This roster is constructed to be carried by pitching and defense with the hope that a mediocre offense can provide just enough run support. The lineup is going to go through multiple frustrating stretches throughout the year, and this likely will not be the last time that they average just two runs per game for about a week. However, from a purely observational standpoint, the Brewers are now hitting the ball much harder, which is a sign that they have snapped out of their first extended funk of the season. In the long run, they should be able to score enough runs to play a few games over the .500 mark and remain firmly in the fight for the NL Central.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball Savant and FanGraphs.