High strikeout rate hampering Milwaukee's offense

Brewers are on pace to break record of 1,535 set by Astros in 2013

High strikeout rate hampering Milwaukee's offense

MILWAUKEE -- Chris Carter is the Milwaukee Brewers' single-season strikeout king (191) with a dozen games to go, and his new team is on pace to break his old team's all-time record for whiffs in a season.

The Brewers have struck out 1,429 times in 2016, already the seventh-highest total all-time. Milwaukee is on pace for 1,543 strikeouts, which would break the record set by Carter, Jonathan Villar, Jake Elmore and the 2013 Astros. Houston struck out 1,535 times.

How much do strikeouts matter? To the 2016 Brewers, it appears they matter significantly.

"I'm actually surprised at hearing about us being close to the record," said hitting coach Darnell Coles. "We have a team that swings and misses a little more than we should, but my biggest concern is with runners in scoring position with less than two outs, not being able to put a ball in play. That's where it becomes problematic.

"We work on these things systematically in batting practice every day. The accountability falls squarely on me. I don't shy away from it. I think there are some things that we, as a core group, need to clean up to allow our offense to be more potent day in and day out."

Beyond the raw count, a dive into the strikeout numbers reveals the good and bad of the Brewers' 2016 offense.

Besides the addition this season of strikeout-prone hitters like Carter and Villar (who is fifth in the Majors with 164 strikeouts despite ranking 25th of qualified hitters with a .368 on-base percentage), Milwaukee's whiff rate is partly a byproduct of being more patient at the plate. The Brewers are second in the Majors with 3.99 pitches per plate appearance and swing at the third-lowest percentage of pitches outside the zone (28.1 percent). But that patience does not always produce a positive result; they lead the Majors with 364 called strikeouts.

The Brewers also rank among the top half of Major League teams in plate appearances with runners in scoring position, but near the bottom in batting average in those situations, and tied for 23rd of 30 teams in runs per game. Strikeouts are one reason why; Milwaukee's 25.5 percent strikeout rate with runners in scoring position is worst in the Majors. It is essentially equal to the team's overall strikeout rate (25.4 percent), which also ranks last.

One situation riles Coles and manager Craig Counsell the most: strikeouts with a runner at third base and fewer than two outs. The Brewers have compiled 315 such plate appearances, tied for ninth most in the Majors -- just behind the potent Texas Rangers. That's a good thing.

But that runner has scored 43 percent of the time, worst in the Majors. The league average is 50 percent.

"So there's two ways to look at that," Counsell said. "We haven't been good in that situation. But because we've also walked a lot, we've produced a lot more opportunities than other teams. …

"If we're putting a really young team on the field, we're walking a lot, there's going to be something else there that you don't like. It's part of what this group of guys is about. It's certainly something we work toward improving. I think experience will improve that. Some of these guys getting at-bats under their belt will improve that."

Their remaining schedule gives the Brewers a fighting chance to avoid breaking the 2013 Astros' record for whiffs. The staffs of Milwaukee's remaining opponents -- the Pirates, Reds, Rangers and Rockies -- all rank in the bottom third of MLB teams in strikeouts per nine innings.

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.