Breaking Down the Milwaukee Brewers' Recent Slump

The Milwaukee Brewers started the season on fire with an 18-6 record, but have since gone 7-9. What's happened to the Brew Crew?

Back on April 26th, the Milwaukee Brewers had the best record in the majors at 18-6, and a dazzling run differential of +26 to back it up. Since, they’ve gone 7-9 with a run differential of -13. With such a sizzling start, and what’s been a disappointing NL Central, the Brewers still have a five game lead in the division, and only the San Francisco Giants have a better record in the National league. But is it time to start worrying about the Brewers?

Pitching Woes

The first major change from their April performance to their performance in May is the team ERA. In April, they were third in the league with a 2.82 ERA. The starters were good for the Brewers, but the real strength was their bullpen. They ranked in the top 10 in almost every major category:

MLB Rank4th6th3rd2nd1st3rd2nd

Francisco Rodriguez and Tyler Thornburg had a lot to do with that. The duo combined for 30.2 innings, and both had sub-1.00 ERAs in April. In May, those numbers have flipped.

MLB Rank27th20th15th16th26th27th29th

So what happened?

K-Rod has a 6.00 ERA in May after seeing his K% drop from close to 40% in April down to 20.8% in May, and his HR/9 went from 0.0 to 1.5. Thornburg has been even worse, with an ERA of 9.82, and a BB% of 19.1%.

Those numbers are from a very small sample size - 9.2 innings combined for the two - but their April numbers were also unsustainable. K-Rod had a BABIP of .233 and a perfect LOB%, in addition to the incredibly high K%. Thornburg also had a crazy low BABIP at .182, and a K% at 30.9% after posting a 17.8% last season and a 25.7% in AAA.

Lack of Run Support

There has also been a noticeable drop in hitting. Here are the numbers from April and May.

April (Rank).254 (13)114 (11)95 (15).151 (9)29 (7).310 (21)6.3% (29)
May (Rank).247 (20)45 (23)88 (22).134 (22)11 (19).304 (21)7.4% (21)

The Brewers dropped from the 11th most runs scored to the 23rd. The best explanation is a severe drop in home run numbers and isolated power. Both figures were in the top 10 in April, and have dropped to the bottom half of the league in May.

The easy explanation is a DL stint for Ryan Braun, who’s only logged seven plate appearances so far this month. All he did in April was hit seven home runs with a .273 ISO.

But Mark Reynolds and Carlos Gomez have cooled off too. After hitting six home runs in April, Reynolds is on pace for four this month and has seen his ISO drop from .276 to .182. Gomez also started the season on fire with seven home runs and a .276 ISO in April. In May, those numbers have dropped to two home runs and a .231 ISO. The numbers are still good, just not what they were.

Will They Compete?

So what do we take from all of this?

The Brewers are not the 18-6 team that started the season, but they’re probably better than the sub-.500 team we’ve seen so far in May. That shouldn't be all that shocking. This is the same team that went 74-88 last season, and weren't really expected to get off to the start they did.

Their bullpen should improve. Both Will Smith and Zach Duke have been good for the Brewers all season. Smith has pitched 19.1 innings and has an ERA of 0.47 and Duke has pitched 17.1 innings with a 1.56 ERA. It’s also likely that the team’s unlucky May BABIP of .343 will even out, meaning better performances for K-Rod and Thornburg - who had a 2.03 ERA in 66.2 inning for the Brewers last season. And Ryan Braun returned to the lineup on Tuesday.

The best news for the Brew Crew is the current state of the NL Central. Only the St. Louis Cardinals are currently above .500, and even they're just 21-20. Until a team runs away with things, the Brewers should have no trouble remaining in the division race.