The Milwaukee Brewers Midseason Report
We’re still a week away from the All Star break, the unofficial divider between two halves of the MLB season, but over the last week the Brewers passed the 50% mark in their schedule. They’ve crossed into the month of July and still remain in first place in the National League Central, even setting a new high water mark for the season when they extended their lead over the Cubs to three games with a win on Saturday.
Even with that three game lead, however, FanGraphs still gave the Brewers just a 9.7% chance to win the division entering play on Sunday. There also wasn’t much Brewers love shown on Sunday night, when just one member of the team (Corey Knebel) was selected for the All Star Game.
A quick glance at Brewers candidates, however, reaffirms what you may already have suspected: the 2017 Brewers have found success by being good but not exceptional at a variety of positions. To illustrate this, take a look at how individual Brewers’ FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement (fWAR) compares to the league’s median player* at each position.
Brewers: Manny Pina 1.4 fWAR (tied for #9 overall)
Median player: Four tied with 1.0 fWAR
Pina has been a nice surprise for the Brewers but he’s caught ten or more fewer games than nearly every player above him on the fWAR list, largely due to the fact that he’s frequently sat down to allow Jett Bandy or Stephen Vogt to play. Entering play Sunday 21 MLB teams had a player that had caught more games than Pina (46).
Brewers: Eric Thames 1.5 fWAR (tied for #13 overall)
Median player: Lucas Duda (Mets), 1.4 fWAR
A month ago this may have been a very different conversation, but Thames’ cold streak has pushed him back towards the middle of the pack among MLB first basemen. Thames is also hurt for the purposes of this conversation by a relatively poor defensive ranking: FanGraphs estimates he’s cost the Brewers 7.4 runs at first base, tied for fourth-worst in all of baseball.
Brewers: Eric Sogard 1.3 fWAR (tied for #12 overall)
Median player: Bryan Dozier (Twins) and Dee Gordon (Marlins), 1.2 fWAR
Among baseball’s top 22 second basemen Sogard is the only one that has played fewer than 58 games, and he’s played just 41. He’s made a remarkable impact since joining the MLB roster, but didn’t make his first appearance of the season until the Brewers’ 36th game and didn’t really become a regular in the starting lineup until the 49th. If he could somehow keep up this torrid pace the rest of the way he’d be on pace for something like 3.8 fWAR, the best mark for a second baseman in a partial MLB season since 2015.
Brewers: Orlando Arcia 1.4 fWAR (tied for #12 overall)
Median player: Freddy Galvis (Phillies), 1.0 fWAR
Arcia’s ranking will likely climb a little higher once FanGraphs takes his 2-for-4 day with a home run on Sunday into account. He already contributed a good deal of value defensively (FanGraphs estimated him as having saved 5.3 runs in the field before Sunday’s game), but Arcia has also taken a roundabout path to becoming a roughly league-average offensive contributor: He was batting just .216 with a .262 on-base percentage and .355 slugging on May 11 but hit .331/.368/.469 in the 46 games that followed.
Brewers: Travis Shaw 2.1 fWAR (tied for #9 overall)
Median player: Manny Machado (Orioles) and Kyle Seager (Mariners), 1.4 fWAR
Shaw was an interesting fringe All Star candidate but put up his numbers in the wrong place at the wrong time: No less than six National League third basemen are ahead of him on the fWAR list, and both of the players he’s tied with also play in the Senior Circuit with him. If this group stays on this pace, it could be a Golden Age for the hot corner in the NL.
Median player: Five players tied with 1.5 fWAR
Brewers: Domingo Santana 1.1 fWAR (#21 overall)
The outfield didn’t project to be a weakness for the 2017 Brewers, but Santana leads a group that has been worse than the middle of the pack at all three positions. For FanGraphs Santana doesn’t do enough offensively to make up for poor defense: They estimate he’s cost the team 6.1 runs in the field, tied for sixth worst among right fielders with at least 100 plate appearances.
Median player: Five players tied with 1.4 fWAR
Brewers: Keon Broxton 0.9 fWAR (tied for #26 overall)
Broxton’s numbers are still a work in progress due to his slow start and he’s certainly prone to slumps (he’s mired in an 0-for-11 funk right now), but even when you factor in his rough games recently he’s still batting .300 with a .368 on-base percentage and .717 slugging in his last 20 games. So, at least he’s passing the “What have you done for me lately?” test.
Median player: Three players tied with 1.3 fWAR
Brewers: Hernan Perez 1.0 fWAR (tied for 20th overall), Ryan Braun 0.4 (#37 overall)
Clearly these numbers would be different if not for Braun’s injury. If anything, the most notable thing to see here is the fact that the Brewers remain competitive despite a near-negligible performance to date from the player who was almost certainly expected to be their best hitter.
Brewers #1: Jimmy
Nelson 2.5 fWAR (#12 overall)
Brewers #2: Chase Anderson 2.3 fWAR (tied for #13 overall)
Median pitcher: Three pitchers tied with 1.3 fWAR
Brewers #3: Matt Garza 1.2 fWAR
Brewers #4: Zach Davies 0.7 fWAR
Brewers #5: Junior Guerra -0.5 fWAR
Credit the Brewers with something like one and a half starting pitchers above the MLB median, depending on the duration of Chase Anderson’s DL stint with his oblique strain. This group likely poses the largest challenge to the Brewers remaining in contention: Until Anderson’s return they’re going to have to get by with a rotation that’s largely been below average to date and their one exception, Nelson, has already provided more value this season than in any of his other MLB campaigns to date.
Brewers #1: Corey
Knebel 1.7 fWAR (#5 overall)
Brewers #2: Jacob Barnes 0.5 fWAR (tied for #47 overall)
Brewers #3: Oliver Drake 0.4 fWAR (tied for #55 overall)
Median pitcher: 11 pitchers tied with 0.4 fWAR
Brewers #4: Jared Hughes 0.3 fWAR (tied for #66 overall)
Brewers #5: Carlos Torres -0.1 fWAR (tied for #105 overall)
As most of baseball has noticed by now, Knebel has been one of the game’s elite relievers through the season’s first few months. Brewers fans have likely also noticed, however, a largely average group behind him. Their accomplishments haven’t always been celebrated but it’s worth noting that the Brewers acquired two roughly league average bullpen arms this season (Drake and Hughes) for almost nothing.
Meanwhile in addition by subtraction, Neftali Feliz ranks 116th among 116 MLB relievers with at least 30 innings pitched with -0.7 fWAR. No other reliever is below -0.3.
* - For the purpose of this exercise “median player” is defined as the 15th best at each position, the 37th best among 73 starting pitchers qualified for the ERA title and the 58th best among 116 MLB relievers with greater than 30 innings pitched. Unless otherwise noted, all statistics do not include results from Sunday’s games.