To call the Brewers’ 2020 season a success would be very generous.
The Brewers did make the playoffs for the third season in a row, however, they have the distinction of being one of only two teams to be in the playoffs after a sub-.500 regular season (the other being the 2020 Houston Astros). Lackluster production from Christian Yelich and Keston Hiura harmed the Brewers season as well.
Offensively the team struggled, but was the team as woeful as they appeared? Key to this analysis are two statistics developed by FanGraphs.
OFF (Offensive Runs Above Average)
OFF is a metric developed by FanGraphs which can be used to measure offensive production of players. It combines and includes batting runs and baserunning runs, while also doing so in a neutral manner, taking into account ballpark factors.
OFF is calculated as such: OFF = Batting Runs + Baserunning Runs
Unlike WAR, where 0.0 is a replacement level player, an OFF of 0 is league average. However, if one wants to get a rough estimate, the typical conversion is 10.0 OFF is equal to 1 WAR.
DEF (Defensive Runs Above Average)
Like OFF, DEF was developed by FanGraphs as a way to measure defensive production of players. Unlike metrics such as DRS, or UZR, this is a universal metric which allows players at different positions to be compared. A DEF of -6 is the same regardless of if the player is a first baseman or a shortstop. League average is 0. Because of the general variability of defensive metrics still, there is not a clear conversion to defensive WAR.
DEF is calculated as such: DEF = Fielding Runs + Positional Adjustment
After that brief breakdown, it’s time to look at how the Brewers fared in their production:
Brewers 2020 Team Production
Ideally, players would have positive runs above average for both offense and defense. However, only three Brewers did that in 2020. Tyrone Taylor, Lorenzo Cain, and Manny Pina were the only Brewers with a minimum of 10 PA to have positive Offensive and Defensive Runs Above Average. Jacob Nottingham came close, but recorded an OFF of -0.1.
The quadrant that represents the worst performance, having negative runs above average on both offense and defense, had seven players. Hiura, Mark Mathias, Logan Morrison, Ben Gamel, Justin Smoak, Eric Sogard, and Ryan Braun all had the distinction of being worth negative runs on both offense and defense. More on Hiura’s struggles can be found here.
When over half the roster is in the negatives, and only one player who received anything close to regular playing time had positive performance on both offense and defense, it is easy to see how the Brewers struggled.
The Brewers’ offensive struggles weren’t an anomaly in the Majors this season, as a lot of players league-wide also recorded negative offensive runs above average.
532 players had 10 or more PA on the season. Of those players, 179 had an Offensive and Defensive runs above average less than or equal to 0.
The struggles of the Brewers can especially be seen when looking at a team specific chart. The Brewers had the fourth worst offensive runs above average (-49.2). The three teams ahead of the Brewers: the Rangers (-84.1), Pirates (-75.3), and Rockies (-59.8) didn’t come close to making the Playoffs.
The Brewers tied with the Mariners for 12th in Defensive runs above average (-5.7). Only four teams had both positive offensive runs and defensive runs above average: the Padres, White Sox, Rays, and Athletics. Nine teams had both negative offensive and defensive production.
The eventual World Series champion Dodgers were second in OFF (60.8), and 23rd in DEF (-15.3), which shows that in 2020 offense, not defense, wins championships.
The Brewers were able to make it to the playoffs because of postseason expansion, but the credit for their success belongs to their pitching.
Hopefully a longer 2021 season, and a rejuvenated lineup will be able to shake free the rust that plagued Milwaukee’s offense, and allow them to be the offensive force they have been in the past.