Where must the Brewers improve? Part 2: On-base percentage and Plate Discipline

Posted by Steve

Before I get into part two, a quick reflection on part one: After I said I did not have access to some of the newer and more advanced defensive metrics, Nate Silver of Baseball Prospectus wrote a column about Ryan Braun using all of those metrics. Gotta love that your manager and third baseman are each bad enough in some area to inspire full columns from Baseball Prospectus in the same season. Anyway, as you’d expect, it supported the fact that Braun is a terrible third baseman. UZR, an advanced zone rating system, concludes that Braun’s defense actually takes away 75% of his offensive value. Seventy-five percent!

Alright. As difficult as it is to pry myself away from that subject, I’m moving on to another weak area for the Brewers in 2007: on-base percentage.

The Brewers’ OBP woes weren’t as glaring as the defensive weaknesses, mainly because of all their power. When a team leads MLB in home runs, it’s pretty easy to assume they have a great offense. In many ways the Brewers did have a good offense, obviously. But how many times did you hear Bill say on TV that the Brewers “rely too much on the home run ball”? Of course that’s pretty stupid because the home run is the best possible outcome of any plate appearance. But what some people refer to as the Brewers’ inability to “manufacture” runs was more or less an inability to get on base at a solid clip rather than an inability to bunt, hit and run, move runners over, or any kind of outs-sacrificing garbage.

Again, at first glance it seems the Brewers had a good offense. As a team, they ranked third in the NL in OPS and second in slugging percentage. The slugging percentage is what carried the OPS though, as the Brewers has just a .329 team OBP, good for 11th in the NL. That right there is the reason a team who out-homers everyone by a wide margin is only fifth in the NL in runs scored (which would be the ultimate stat, wouldn’t it?).

OBPs

To start, here’s a look at each of the Brewers’ individual OBPs and how they ranked in MLB at their position.

Johnny Estrada, C: .296 (18th out of 22 with at least 400 PAs) So much for being an offensive catcher. I suppose I should maybe cut him some slack after the recent report that he played all season with a painful bone spur in his elbow, but it was still very bad.

Prince Fielder, 1B: .395 (6th in MLB). No problems here, at least on the surface. I’ll get into why this should probably be even higher.

Rickie Weeks, 2B: .374 (8th in MLB). Weeks did this with a .235 batting average, which is extremely impressive. I cannot wait to see what he will do in a full injury-free season.

J.J. Hardy, SS: .323 (18th of 26 qualified shortstops) Hardy sort of epitomizes the Brewers’ team as a whole–good power (7th of 26 in slugging), poor on-base percentage.

Ryan Braun, 3B: .370 (Braun barely didn’t qualify at third with PAs, but would have ranked 8th) This may be misleading, because overall a .370 OBP is very good for any position. Braun’s was inflated, however, by a high .324 batting average. Braun does need to improve his plate discipline, as you’ll see later…

Geoff Jenkins, LF: .319 (21st out of 23 left fielders with at least 425 PAs) This is also ugly as well. Jenks did not hit well enough to justify a LF spot, especially since most of the season he was set up in an advantageous platoon situation.

Kevin Mench, LF: .305 (31st of 36 left fielders with at least 300 PAs) Just brutal. Again, he was set up mostly in a platoon.

Bill Hall, CF: .315 (16th out of 20 qualified center fielders) No doubt Hall had a bad year. He was never a good OBP guy, but this year was especially bad. Incidentally he also lost his slugging this season (10th out of 20) after a monster season in 2006.

Corey Hart, RF: .353 (13th out of 21 qualified right fielders) Not too bad, but with a .295 batting average you’d like to see the OBP a bit higher.

Gabe Gross, RF: .329(33rd out of 40 right fielders with at least 200 PAs) It’s bad, but when you consider his .235 batting average it’s actually good. I still think in 400 PAs (basically in Jenkins’ old role) Gross could hit .255 with a .360 OBP, which would be solid.

Craig Counsell: .323 Again, it’s relative to batting average. Counsell hit .220. So he can’t hit, but at least he can work a count and take a walk.

Damian Miller: .296 Miller can’t hit anymore; at least he’s decent defensively. Funny that his OBP is the same as Estrada’s though.

Yovani Gallardo: .268 😉

So there are a lot of low numbers there, but as I said, it’s all relative to batting average.

BBs/PA

Another indicator is walks drawn. Here’s how Brewers players rank in walks per plate appearance.

Johnny Estrada, C: .026 (21 of 22 catchers with at least 400 PAs) Wow. Obviously I knew it was even harder for Johnny to draw a walk than it was for him to throw out a runner, but it’s funny to say that he drew twenty-six one hundredths of one walk each time he went to bat.

Prince Fielder, 1B: .132 (7th in MLB) Again, good. I hope that after Prince’s first year as an elite hitter that he can improve his patience just a bit. He has elite power, but the OBP wasn’t quite elite. Maybe .420 or so seems feasible down the road.

Rickie Weeks, 2B: .154 (1st in MLB) I keep telling you he’s a monster! He kills the competition; second place is Kelly Johnson with .130.

J.J. Hardy, SS: .063 (22nd of 26) J.J. is a hacker, and it shows in his OBP. He really needs to become a more disciplined hitter and draw some more walks.

Ryan Braun, 3B: .059 (23rd of 24 with at least 450 PAs) This is a big concern I have with Braun, second only to his defense. He’s obviously extremely talented offensively and has a ton of power, but he could be even better if he took more pitches and became more patient.

Geoff Jenkins, LF: .069 (17th of 21 with at least 450 PAs) Again, just bad. Fun fact: Barry Bonds drew .277 BB/PA.

Kevin Mench, LF: .052 (30 of 36 with at least300 PAs) Mench may not even belong on an MLB roster.

Bill Hall, CF: .080 (11th of 20) Meh.

Corey Hart, RF: .064 (18th of 21) This is why I said Hart’s OBP should be a little higher, even though .353 isn’t bad. He really doesn’t walk enough.

Gabe Gross, RF: .119 (10th out of 40 with at least 200 PAs) This is why I think Gross deserves more playing time. Wouldn’t it be cool if we could morph Gabe Gross and Corey Hart together? I’m envisioning a switch-hitting Magglio Ordonez with better speed.

Craig Counsell: .123 Again, Counsell is at least good at drawing some walks. Still not worth 3 mil a year.

Damian Miller: .068

P/PA

Finally, let’s look at overall patience and ability to work the count. Here’s how they stacked up in pitches seen per plate appearance for their position. I’m guessing I’ll want to run and hide from Estrada and Mench.

Johnny Estrada, C: 2.99 (Last in MLB with at least 400 PAs) Yep.

Prince Fielder, 1B: 3.79 (14th among 19 qualified first basemen) This is why I think Prince could/should have an even higher OBP. He’s not very patient, and many of his walks were intentional.

Rickie Weeks, 2B: 4.18 (2nd in MLB) Okay. He’s my man crush. Can I say that? I used to think it was Corey Hart. At this point a Rickie Weeks jersey would be a great investment, and at some point will be a necessity.

J.J. Hardy, SS: 3.85 (7th in MLB) Considering his OBP and walk totals, this number was a little better than I had expected.

Ryan Braun, 3B: 3.70 (17th out of 24 with at least 450 PAs) Lines up with his low walk totals.

Geoff Jenkins, LF: 3.79 (11th out of 21 with at least 450 PAs)

Kevin Mench, LF: 3.31 (34th out of 36 with at least 300 PAs) Any way you slice it, Kevin Mench sucks.

Corey Hart, RF: 3.57 (16th out of 21 qualified) Also indicates Corey isn’t patient enough.

Gabe Gross, RF: 3.91 (16th out of 40 with at least 200 PAs) Again, a solid number for Gabe.

Craig Counsell: 3.88

Damian Miller: 3.67

—————————-

Solutions

It’s pretty frustrating to know that the Brewers in a way wasted all their power on a team that didn’t get on base. Aside from individual players improving their patience (this seems possible in players like Hardy, Hart, Braun and even Fielder), there are a few solutions to improve the team’s on-base percentage.

Trim the fat

Players like Kevin Mench, Johnny Estrada, and as much as I like(d) him, Geoff Jenkins, are established veterans who aren’t going to change their approach. The Brewers need to cut ties with Mench and Jenkins (which incidentally frees up about $11 or $12 million). They should also seriously consider finding a catching upgrade. I’d take a solid defensive catcher who hits .240/.300/.390 over Estrada’s empty batting average and crap defense. On the other hand, if the Brewers believe Estrada’s injury hampered him as much as he claims, he might be worth keeping around another season.

Mix up the order

Until Hardy shows more plate discipline, which may/may not ever happen, keep him out of the two-hole. The offense really took off down the stretch when Weeks and Gross hit 1-2 in the lineup. Hardy looks great anywhere from 6-8 in the order if you ask me.

Add a solid walks guy… Or two

The Brewers should target an established major league hitter who will carry at least a .350 OBP. It really doesn’t even matter if he hits for any power, as long as he can get on base. Obviously the Brewers already have the run producers; they just need guys to be driven in.

Here are a few players who fit that bill:

Austin Kearns, RF

Kearns put up a .266/.355/.411 line this year with Washington. The Reds gave up on him when it became apparent he would not become the superstar he was billed to be, but he has still turned into a solid hitter. Kearns also brings great defense, so it would kill two birds with one stone. In my opinion, Kearns would not come at a premium price in a trade because of his modest batting average and low power numbers, but again, we’re much more concerned with the .355 OBP rather than the .411 slugging percentage. Kearns is still only 27 and will make $5 mil in ’08, $8 mil in ’09 and has an option in ’10 for $10 mil. Seems like at least two good seasons of production for a guy who may not have even peaked yet.

Mike Lowell, 3B

Lowell’s coming off a very good season in Boston where he hit .324/.378/.501. He’s available to sign as a free agent. While he won’t come too cheap, it’s probably worth exploring for the Brewers. He’s a huge upgrade defensively over Braun (two birds one stone again) and even if his average fell to say, .290, he’ll still carry a solid OBP. He’s 33, so he likely still has a few years of solid production left.

Gregg Zaun, C

Zaun is 36 but still hit .242/.341/.411 in 2007. He has a career OBP of .344, a nice number for a catcher. He’ll make less than 4 mil next season, so he might be a little tough to pry away from Toronto

Ryan Church, OF

He’s still cheap, he’s left-handed and he has had a little more pop than Kearns.

Conor Jackson (LF?)

I’m not sure if Jackson can play left field, but he’s been a bit of a disappointment in the power department for Arizona. He is good at reaching base though. Obviously the Brewers have no use for him if he’s only a first baseman, in which case I retract this suggestion. In fact, I’m pretty sure he’s just a first baseman, so… never mind. I’m still not deleting this paragraph.

Koskue Fukudome

Who?? Fukodome is a Japanese outfielder, but unlike Dice-K, he is a free agent and won’t require a posting fee. He put up huge numbers in Japan… Think Hideki Matsui with a little less power. At this point it’s unclear how much Fukudome could make in MLB, and it’s possible that he could be priced out of the Brewers’ range. He’d sure look good in left field for Milwaukee though.

Kenny Lofton, CF/LF

The ageless wonder. The guy put up a .367 OBP at 40 years old, and he’d still probably be a better center fielder than Bill Hall. Why not make the Brewers the 27th different team he’s played for in his career (may be an exaggeration)?

David DeJesus, CF

More or less Kenny Lofton… Probably lower batting average but better defense. Most importantly, still a solid OBP.

——————-

Those are just a few ideas. Something needs to be changed to improve team OBP. Doug Melvin alluded to this in his end-of-season press conference, so, unlike the Braun-to-outfield idea, this is one problem I fully expect to be solved.

By the way, you like how a lot of my suggestions for improving OBP would involve moving Braun to the outfield? Steve, you devil you!

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3 responses to “Where must the Brewers improve? Part 2: On-base percentage and Plate Discipline

  1. J.J. Hardy, SS: 3.85 (7th in MLB) Considering his OBP and walk totals, this number was a little better than I had expected.

    That makes no sense to me. Does that mean he takes a lot of strikes, or maybe fouls off a lot of pitches? Is there any way to look that up?

  2. I actually spent a little time looking into that. I thought that maybe his numbers with a full count were unusually bad (in other words, he expanded the strike zone), but that didn’t seem to be the case. I might end up doing a little more digging at baseball reference.

  3. I’m not sure where to look this up, but my theory is that if you can find his 1st pitch swing %, it will be really low. Like he rarely swing at the first pitch, but then after that is apparently far less selective. Just a thought.

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