Would Playing More "Small Ball" Lead To More Wins For Brewers ?

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(Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

Brewers Manager Ken Macha seems to be content to live and die with the long ball. And as the Brewers occupied first place in the National League Central division for three straight weeks, that strategy seemed to work fine.

A check of the standings today, however, shows that the Brewers have fallen to second place and the rest of the division is hot on their heels.

Their starting pitching has faded in the last month, their leadoff hitter and "chief run producer" Rickie Weeks is out for the season and the bullpen is tired.

The vaunted lineup is striking out more and leaving an alarmingly high number of runners on base.

Perhaps it is time for Macha to revise his strategy for the second half of the season.

Looking at the breakdown of the team hitting stats, some numbers jump out at you. The Brewers are a solid fifth in the NL in runs scored with 329 and rank third in the NL in home runs with 81. As a team they are on pace for a whopping 652 walks after averaging 550 the last two seasons. The team on-base percentage is a solid .337, sixth in the NL and ten points higher than the average of the last two seasons.

With team numbers like that, the Brewers should be rock solid. But are they?

After averaging 102 team stolen bases in '07 and '08, the Brewers are on pace for a paltry 53 this season. The last time the Brewers had such a low total was all the way back in 1984 when the aging team that had once been known as "Harvey's Wallbangers"  finally collapsed to finish 67-94. The 2009 Brewers are ranked 15th of the 16 teams in the NL in this category.

Even without Weeks the Brewers have players with a proven track record of successfully stealing bases. In '08 Corey Hart, Ryan Braun, and Mike Cameron combined for 54 thefts. The entire '09 team is not even trending to hit that number, and the threesome mentioned above is trending to total only 32 thefts collectively.

If the lack of stolen bases isn't enough to get your attention, then perhaps the disappearance of the bunt will grab you. As a team the Brewers have a meager 21 sacrifice bunts this season. That is next to last in the NL.

Even worse, if you remove pitchers, the Brewers have only five sacrifice bunts all season, ranking dead last in the league. Yes, only five bunts in 69 games.

Over the last two seasons as a team they have averaged 22 sacrifice bunts by position players.

Macha has implied that he does not like to give up outs with such a good hitting lineup, especially on the road. Well, the Brewers as a team are hitting .252. And that, Brewer fans, is an unimpressive 12th among NL teams. The last time the Brewers hit that low as a team was 2004 when they finished 67-94. And in that losing season the Brewers swiped a whopping 138 bases.

With the starting pitching showing signs of trouble, one would think that Macha might look to manufacture some more runs with some "small ball".

Opposing teams have adjusted their defense without having to worry about any bunts being laid down. Opposing teams do not have to worry about holding Brewer runners close to the base nearly as much as they do other teams.

This has lead to an increasing number of "hard hit outs". Guys like J.J. Hardy and Jason Kendall are making good contact but hitting balls at players. If these opponents were either playing up to prevent a bunt, or playing close to the bag to hold runners, some of these hard hit balls would become hits.

In other words, the Brewers' hitters are very predictable and opponents know just where to play them.

With 19 games left until the All-Star break, and 15 of those games at home, now would be a great time to start employing some "small ball".  Macha could make teams guess a little more on where to position their players and opposing pitchers would have to think a bit more about Brewer base runners.

In the next three weeks the Brewers could face some very good pitchers with names like Carlos Zambrano, Chris Carpenter, Tim Lincecum, and Kevin Slowey. These pitchers don't give up many runs. Every one will count!

C'mon Ken, let's see some bunting, some stealing, maybe a hit and run. The Brewers will need those runs if they expect to see the post season again this October.

 

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