Are the Milwaukee Brewers a sabermetric team?

Ben Baumer recently wrote a terrific piece for ESPN.com in which he ranked Major League Baseball teams based on their openness (or reluctance) to using advanced analysis and statistics. According to Baumer, the Boston Red Sox are on top of the sabermetric food chain while the Philadelphia Phillies, as expected from a caveman-esque team, writhe on the bottom.

The Milwaukee Brewers, meanwhile, fell under the “One Foot In” category. Baumer writes:

Despite GM Doug Melvin’s background in scouting and old-school reputation, the Brewers are definitely not in the dark on analytics. Melvin calls himself “a big believer in ballpark effects,” challenges his analytics staffers to bring him useful information, and cites their work when they’ve helped him make a move.

Still, the Brewers aren’t all the way in the sabermetric movement.

All of this does not mean the Brewers live on the cutting edge. Melvin and manager Ron Roenicke could hardly be described as true believers. While the Brewers have a relatively large analytics staff, including two analysts and three programmers, the overall approach in Milwaukee appears to be less sophisticated than that of the top sabermetric teams.

Baumer also talks about how the team values Jonathan Lucroy‘s pitching-framing abilities and their knack for infield shifting. But their lack of analysts and programmers troubles me. As a big believer of sabermetrics, I want my team to believe as well, and it frustrates me to see them tripping over their shoes when they completely ignore the stats (i.e. signing Francisco Rodgriguez). Maybe it’s time to hire more stat nerds, Doug. Yet, as Baumer mentions, the Brewers do somewhat utilize sabermetrics, just on a much lesser scale than their competitors.

So, based on the information I have available to me — which is the same information you have — I’m going to see in what instances the Brewers have used sabermetrics and what instances they’ve ignored it. I’m sure I’m missing a ton, but here are few I can think of.

The Brewers used sabermetrics when…

  • When they shift, and they shift a lot. In fact, as of Sep. 9, 2014, Milwaukee had shifted 634 times, which was ninth-most in Major League Baseball and second among National League teams.
  • When they signed Lucroy to a five-year, $11 million contract extension in 2012. They locked up a phenomenal pitch framer and OBP-guy for way less than what he’s worth.
  • When they platooned Scooter Gennett and Rickie Weeks last season. The two combined for 3.0 WAR.
  • When they reeled back on steal attempts in ’14. However, Ron Roenicke has recently said he intends to implement aggressive baserunning once again.
  • When they refused to match Zach Duke‘s $33 million offer from the White Sox. He had a career year and is sure to regress at least a little.

The Brewers didn’t use sabermetrics when…

  • When they signed K-Rod to a two-year, $13 million deal. His WAR has declined in four consecutive seasons, not to mention the Brewers already have at least two capable closers.
  • When Doug Melvin said he’s not smart enough to figure out WAR. He went on to say he doesn’t really believe in it.
  • When they bunt their non-pitchers. Since 2011, Milwaukee’s position players have bunted 380 times (second-most among MLB).
  • When they brought back Yuniesky Betancourt after he posted a 0.0 WAR with them in 2011 and a -1.0 WAR with the Mariners in 2012. After the ’11 season, Melvin said he thought Betancourt played “better than what the critics said.” Betancourt accumulated a -1.9 WAR in 409 PA over the course of his return.
  • When they preach a swing-first approach. Yes, this helps Carlos Gomez, but taking pitches and working counts is Sabermetrics 101.
  • When they batted Gennett leadoff (23 times) and in the two-spot (43 times) during the ’14 season. A team’s leadoff hitter and two-hole hitter are supposed to be either the first- or second-best hitters on the team, something Gennett is nowhere near.

For the most part, as Baumer stated, the Brewers don’t seem to be a team that relies too heavily on sabermetrics. Melvin believes in certain aspects of it, but clearly isn’t all-in. Roenicke is an old-school guy who likes bunting far too much, particularly suicide squeezes. But at least he shifts his players quite often.

I’d like to hear your thoughts on if the Brewers are a sabermetric team. Am I missing anything from my list?

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