The 2017 Brewers First-Half Awards: The Top Players of a Surprising Season
The Brewers cruise into the All-Star break with a 50-41 record and a five and half game lead on the second place Cubs. With the possible exception of the Cubs themselves, on pace for one of the biggest letdown seasons in recent memory, the Brewers have been the most surprising team of the first half. To recap these memorable past months, Brew Crew Confidential is going to hand out some First-Half hardware.
Most Valuable Player: Travis Shaw, 3B. Eric Thames drew the headlines with his bonkers month of April, but Shaw’s steady performance has been the most indispensible contribution overall. Shaw’s 19 homers and .299 batting average and team-leading marks in total bases, hits and RBI have helped to solidify a position at which three different players saw significant playing time last season. If the Brewers hang on to win the division, the Tyler Thornburg-for-Shaw trade of last December (Thornburg was injured in Spring Training and will miss the entire year) will go down as one of the greatest swaps in team history.
Most Valuable Pitcher: Jimmy Nelson. Although Chase Anderson has been a bit better in ERA and WHIP, Nelson paced the starting rotation in strikeouts, strikeouts-to-walks ratio, and innings pitched and bests Anderson in fielding-independent ERA. Even with a less-than-sterling final outing against the Yankees on Sunday, Nelson turned in a gutty performance in what might have been his biggest start of the year. When Anderson returns in a month or so from an oblique injury, he and Nelson should make for an effective one-two punch down the stretch.
Rookie of the Year: Manny Pina, C. This could just as easily go to Jesus Aguilar, who has proven himself as a valuable bat off the bench and spot starter and whose huge grand slam against the Yankees this weekend was one of the highlights of the first half (see below). But Manny Pina gets the nod thanks in large part to his emergence as one of the top defensive catchers in the league. He is tied with the Dodgers’ Yasmani Grandal for the lead in defensive WAR among NL backstops and is tied for the fifth-best dWAR output of all NL fielders. His contributions to the Brewers pitching staff, fourth in the league in team ERA, also cannot be overlooked. He has also held his own at the plate, slashing .278/.328/.457.
Mr. Quickly Forgotten: Chris Carter, 1B. It’s always a surprise when a team dumps a reigning league home run champion but, in hindsight, the Brewers absolutely made the right choice in swapping out Carter for Thames. Despite his 41 homers last season, Carter offered little else, posting a .222 batting average and few other extra-base hits. Thames bested his 0.9 WAR just weeks into the 2017 season. Carter put up putrid numbers for the Yankees in 2017 before being designated for assignment last week. In 63 games this year, Carter hit 8 homers. Thames hit 8 homers in his first 15 games.
The One Who Got Away: Scooter Gennett, 2B. With Jonathan Villar penciled in as the everyday second baseman, the Brewers felt comfortable in releasing Gennett just before the start of the season. It’s safe to say that no one saw Gennett putting up the type of numbers he has so far this year, batting .317 with a ridiculous .615 slugging percentage an already career-high 15 homers. Gennett also made history this year when he became 17th player ever to hit four homers in a single game. Oddly enough, the loss of Scooter was mostly made up for by the acquisition of Eric Sogard, another light-hitting middle infielder who has suddenly become an offensive force.
Defining Moment of the Half: Jesus Aguilar’s Grand Slam in the Bronx. Although the Crew’s wild comeback against the Mets on Mother’s Day was more fun, Aguilar’s July 7th slam was the exclamation point on a frantic stretch of games that saw the Brewers go from a novelty act to legit contenders. It embodied the new-hero-every-day attitude Manager Craig Counsell has instilled in his team and showed that, despite their many doubters, this Brewers club will not be intimidated.