The Brewers and home runs have always been intertwined, from Harvey’s Wallbangers, to Craig Counsell emphasizing the importance of the home run. Historically, the Brewers have relied on scoring lots of runs, and hoping the pitching staff allows one less run than the offense scored.
That’s not the case anymore.
The Brewers were carried by their pitching last season. Their staff had the 4th highest fWAR of all teams last season (9.1), the fourth lowest FIP (3.80), and had the lowest average exit velocity of all 30 teams last season (86.8 MPH).
The emergence of Devin Williams, Justin Topa, and Corbin Burnes all propelled the Brewers when their offense struggled. This season, the offense appears to be destined to be better (it really can’t get worse) than last season, and the pitching staff is almost entirely intact.
But one area that will be even better is defense. The Brewers appear to be shifting to focusing on Run Prevention, highlighted by the additions of Kolten Wong, and Jackie Bradley Jr.
The Brewers have taken a big step towards winning more games this season: they are putting an emphasis on run prevention.
It may seem like a basic statement, but to win games you can’t give up runs. Baseball is won by scoring what your opponent did, plus 1. Intuitively it makes sense that there is a higher correlation between runs allowed and winning percentage, as opposed to runs scored and winning percentage.
Using the past 5 seasons of data, Runs Allowed and Winning Percentage saw an R² of .6275, whereas Runs Scored and Winning Percentage saw an R² of .4574. What does that mean?
High powered, flashy, home run pimping offenses are nice, but run prevention is better.
By allowing fewer runs, there is less pressure on the offense to score. Given the Brewers continuing struggles to bring in runners in scoring position, not having to rely on those runs would be a positive.
The Brewers have greatly improved their defense this season, adding two Gold Glove winners via free agency, and getting Lorenzo Cain back after sitting out 2020. In adding Kolten Wong specifically, the Brewers are replacing one of the worst defensive second baseman with one of the best.
The Brewers now have 4 Gold Glove winners in the field behind future Cy Young winner Corbin Burnes and the rest of the pitching staff.
The Brewers now have Lorenzo Cain and Jackie Bradley Jr patrolling the outfield. There is not a better defensive duo than those two. Kolten Wong will share the infield with Orlando Arcia and Luis Urias, providing much better coverage of the infield than Keston Hiura was able to provide.
This will benefit all the pitchers, but especially ground ball pitchers like Brett Anderson could see a boost. The Brewers also have a rotation with two legitimate Cy Young contenders, who could benefit from the additional defensive prowess backing them up as well.
Jackie Bradley Jr is a human highlight reel, he passes the eye test, and the actual test, being one of the statistically best defensive outfielders for the past five years. An added bonus of Wong and Bradley Jr is that they are offensively solid players. This is not a situation where the Brewers are improving defense at the expense of offense, rather they are improving defense, and getting comparable offense.
As opposed to past years when pitching is the limiting factor for the Brewers, the offense may be that this year, which is a good problem to have considering Christian Yelich, Keston Hiura, Omar Narvaez, Lorenzo Cain, and lean-mean hitting machine Avisail Garcia are staples in the lineup.
The Brewers did not reduce their offensive capabilities this offseason, and all signs point to a rebound campaign from many of the players who struggled last season.
However, Even if the Brewers do not return to the offensive powerhouse they have been in the past, the improvements made to Craig Counsell’s run prevention unit put the Brewers in a better spot to experience sustained success than when the offseason started.