Anyone remember this “Bleacher Nation” article?
“The Brewers just Stole and Promoted the Cubs Assistant Hitting Coach Andy Haines”?
Yea, about that…
Replacing former hitting coach Darnell Coles after the 2018 season seemed like the right move for management, and after another strong season followed by a near playoff series victory in 2019, the future seemed bright for Milwaukee’s offense. After all, Haines was a part of the coaching staff that helped lead the Chicago Cubs to a World Series championship in 2016.
Boy, were we in for a treat in 2020.
While the Brewers’ offense in 2020 was noticeably weaker than the 2019 squad, the team still had plenty of good bats in the lineup. General manager David Stearns made sure to find players on the market that, with proper coaching and playing time, could help the team make the playoffs again. Despite barely making the playoffs, many fans can agree that this team did not necessarily deserve to make it there.
No thanks in part to Brewers’ hitting coach Andy Haines.
Unexpected Drop-offs from Unexpected Players
Following the disappointing finish to the 2020 season, Brewers’ management was tasked with replacing 8 players on offense alone, including Yasmani Grandal, Mike Moustakas, Travis Shaw, and Eric Thames. Those four players alone produced 95 of the team’s 250 home runs alone in 2019. Losing these players hurt the organization, and many within and outside of the organization knew that the team was bracing for a possible setback.
The featured many new faces at the positions they replaced. Players like Omar Narvaez, Jedd Gyorko, Justin Smoak, Eric Sogard, Brock Holt, and many others faced the difficult task of replacing the production of two all-stars and two key contributors on the roster. Many of these players had borderline-great seasons in 2019 as well. One of these players was Eric Sogard, returning for his second stint on the team. For example, utilityman Sogard finished 2019 with career highs in nearly every statistical category, including (but not limited to) batting average (.290), home runs (13), and OPS (.810) while splitting time between Toronto and Tampa Bay. With that level of production, it is no surprise that David Stearns sought to bring him to the team on a relatively cheap contract.
Then came the impending setback.
Sogard’s production, like many other “fresh faces” on the roster, saw a steep drop-off in 2020 (.209 AVG, one home run, .560 OPS, 2% increase in strikeout percentage) with the most unexpected drop-off coming from 2018 NL MVP Christian Yelich. Yelich had led the MLB in batting average in 2018 and 2019, but batted just .205 in 2020. He also saw extreme drops in slugging percentage and OPS from his 2019 All-Star campaign, and posted a career-high strikeout percentage (30.8%) and career-low Balls In Play percentage (IP%, 45%).
Other household names on the roster saw big losses in production compared to 2019. New outfield acquisition Avisaíl García lost over .100 percentage points in his OPS compared to 2019 (.796 to .659). He also only hit two home runs in 2020. Despite the shortened season contributing to his lower home run total, García was on pace for only five to six home runs in a normal 162 game season. Another player who had an awful season compared to his 2019 was Omar Narvaez, who had a very productive season in Seattle in 2019, hitting .278 with 22 home runs. Compared to his 2019 statistics, his 2020 season was unfathomably bad, posting a .176 AVG, a .562 OPS, and only two home runs.
The worst part is: this was not just a select few cases. The whole team, outside of a select few players, struggled mightily this year. This includes players, like Yelich and García, who are key pieces to any playoff aspirations the team has in the near future.
Borderline Top-10 to Bottom-10
Like previously stated, from an overall perspective, the Brewers’ offense was, simply put, bad this season.
The team ranked 26th in batting average (.223), 24th in OPS (.702) and RBIs (238, pacing for 643), 2nd most in strikeouts (582, pacing for 1571), tied for 26th in IP% (58%), and 29th in offensive WAR (-1.5). Compared to 2019 when they ranked 20th (.246), 12th (.767), 14th (744), 5th (1563), 27th (60%), and 15th (20.5), the team’s 2020 season was severely underwhelming.
While 2019 was not far, far better in ratio categories and strikeouts, the Brewers lost a lot of run production. The team saw a drop off in home runs, falling from 250 in 2019 to 75 total (203 pace). Losing bats like Grandal, Thames, and Moustakas definitely contributed; Yelich, Braun, Narvaez, and García certainly had the potential to help replace that production this season.
It just did not happen.
But why? Why would the team just fall off like this? Yes, many players in the league struggled this season, all-stars included, but a whole team’s offensive production? There’s more to this type of “slump” and not just a bad stretch.
Overall Grade: D+
When it’s all said and done, Andy Haines had a borderline-terrible season as the Brewers’ hitting coach. This grade might even be considered too nice to some. But, the lack of production alone is not entirely his fault. While there are limitations to how much “coaching” Haines can do, he certainly could have tried to light a fire under the offense down the stretch.
That simply did not happen at all.
The true culprit will be unmasked next season as to why the offense was so bad this year. The personnel had some household names, but they all struggled (outside of a select few players). It is not time to bust out the pitchforks and torches to have Haines fired just yet; but, if Milwaukee’s offense struggles again, then a shake-up of the coaching staff is imminent.
Other Brewers’ 2020 Report Cards
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