The All-Time Brewers 50th Anniversary Edition

Aug. 30, 2016
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The deadline trade of Jonathan Lucroy and the recent end to Prince Fielder’s career have many fans debating the place of each within Brewers history. Back in 1994, as a part of the team’s 25th anniversary celebration, a fan vote was held to determine the club’s all-time team. Not surprisingly, it was the 1982 pennant-winning club that dominated the voting, with all but one spot on the team going to 1982 alums. Behind the plate was Ted Simmons, the infield – around the horn – was Don Money, Robin Yount, Jim Gantner, and Cecil Cooper. The outfield was Ben Oglivie, Gorman Thomas, and the then-active Greg Vaughn. The DH was Paul Molitor and Pete Vuckovich, Mike Caldwell, and Rollie Fingers made up the pitching staff.

Obviously a present-day vote would produce much different results and would have to seriously consider Lucroy and Fielder among the team’s all-time elite. With the Brewers set to celebrate their 50th anniversary in either 2019 or 2020 (1994 celebrated their 25th Anniversary, but was actually their 25th season, while their 40th anniversary was honored in 2010), I’m going to use this week’s post to come up with my own all-time Brewers team to predict what the 50th Anniversary squad might look like.

 

Catcher: Ted Simmons is one of the more underrated catchers in MLB history and he certainly had an impact in Milwaukee. He was twice an all star and powered the franchise’s first two playoff teams. He was probably the best backstop in Brewers history as of 1994. But still, in Milwaukee, he was clearly an aging star whose best days were behind him (and for three of his five years in Milwaukee, he was only a part-time catcher). Lucroy, however, gave the Brewers his peak years and easily bests Simmons in batting average, on base percentage, and slugging percentage. A brilliant defender in his younger days, Simmons also compares poorly to Luc in advance defensive numbers while in Milwaukee. Baseball Reference WAR, while not a perfect measure, leaves little doubt as to who had the better Brewers career: Simmons rWAR in Milwaukee was 5.9 – a total Lucroy topped in 2014 alone and far behind his career Milwaukee total of 18.7.

50th Anniversary Catcher: Jonathan Lucroy

 

            First Base: Although George Scott actually racked up a higher rWAR than Prince Fielder in Milwaukee, the two best options here are Fielder and Cecil Cooper. While Cooper hit for a higher average, Fielder drew 200 more walks and hit 30 more homers than Coop, and did it with 2,000 fewer plate appearances. At his peak, Fielder was actually less likely than Cooper to make an out and far more likely to go deep, although he did strike out at a much higher rate. But their play in the field seals it for Coop – who was worth far more with the glove than Prince.

            50th Anniversary First Baseman: Cecil Cooper

 

Second Base: The obvious pick here seems to be Jim Gantner. But Gumby was never really more than a marginally below-league average starting second baseman. He had exactly one season with an OPS+ better than 100 (league average) and broke the 2.0 rWAR mark just three times – players below 2 generally being considered bench or role players. Most of Gantner’s value came from his glove. He didn’t walk much and had almost no power, although he did steal bases, especially later in his career, at a pretty good clip. The other option here would be Rickie Weeks (no, really!). Although his peak was short, he was one of the best hitting second sackers in the league from 2009-11 – three seasons when his typically abysmal fielding was actually not that bad. If you are picking for peak performance, then Weeks is your man. If you want longevity, then it’s Gantner. I’ll stick with Gumby here (unless Scooter Gennett starts winning MVPs), but it was much closer than I expected.

            50th Anniversary Second Baseman: Jim Gantner

 

            Third Base: Sorry, Don Money, but the clear pick here is Jeff Cirillo. For two of the best seasons Money had in Milwaukee, 1977 and 1978, he was not the team’s regular third baseman and for his Brewers career, he actually played better as both a second baseman and a first baseman. Even taking the overall numbers, Cirillo still comes out on top in average, OBP, and SLG. He was also the superior fielder.

50th Anniversary Third Baseman: Jeff Cirillo

 

            Shortstop: Taking ONLY the years that Robin Yount was a shortstop, he still compiled more career rWAR than any other player in team history except for Paul Molitor. His rWAR as an outfielder is higher than any OF in team history except Braun and would still rank 6th overall. He makes a solid case for being an all-time shortstop and outfielder – but that is against my rules for this list, so we get him here and here only.

50th Anniversary Shortstop: Robin Yount

 

Left Field: Ben Oglivie was a fearsome hitter at his peak, but he cannot really compare to Ryan Braun, who easily bests Benji in pretty much every offensive category. Neither were anything special in the field, but Braun also has a distinct advantage on the basepaths as well. It also helps that Braun’s down years coincided with his time in right field – when in left as opposed to right, his average and OBP are both nearly 40 points higher and his slugging percentage is nearly 90 points higher. Braun has also shown that is still one of the league’s better hitters and will only build on his overall numbers by 2020.

            50th Anniversary Leftfielder: Ryan Braun

 

            Center Field: With Yount out of the picture, it comes down to Gorman Thomas and Carlos Gomez. Both had brief peaks in Milwaukee and each were exciting in different ways. Gomez was the more complete player, but Thomas had the longer stretch as a regular. Both swung big and played all-out, produced low batting averages and high strike out totals. I’ll give the advantage to Gomez, his defense and speed making up for Thomas’s longer career. This decision will be solidified after the Brewers resign him before next season and he wins comeback player of the year.

            50th Anniversary Center Fielder: Carlos Gomez

 


Right Field: As the 25th Anniversary team didn’t distinguish between outfield positions, Greg Vaughn got an OF spot and (most likely) kept Sixto Lexcano off the roster. Since ’94, Jeromy Burnitz has also made a case for the spot. As hitters, it’s a close call. Their OPS+ numbers are nearly the same, Lexcano 125, Burnitz 123. Their OBPs are very close while Lezcano has a better batting average and Burnitz the higher slugging percentage. Burnitz has a clear lead in doubles (163-130), homers (165-102), and RBI (525-374), but played in a much better offensive era. Although Lezcano won a Gold Glove and Burnitz was never regarded as a great fielder, advance stats indicate that both were closer to average in the field. I’ll give the nod to Burnie here, his durability being the tiebreaker.

            50th Anniversary Right Fielder: Jeromy Burnitz

 

            Right Handed Starter: Pete Vuckovich was not a good pick here. He was highly-regarded pitcher when the win was the dominant stat for pitchers and his two seasons leading the league in winning percentage turned an above-average starter into a mythologized ace. The best option at the time was probably either Chris Bosio or Bill Wegman, which shows just how thin the ranks of successful Brewers righties were at the time. The choice for the 50th team, however, is pretty clear. Ben Sheets spent eight years with Milwaukee – three as a league-average workhorse and four as a brittle borderline ace with his glorious 2004 season – when he was healthy and dominant – sandwiched in between. Of course, I’m going to look like an idiot if Junior Guerra and Zach Davies start co-winning Cy Young Awards, but I’ll take that risk.

            50th Anniversary Right Handed Pitcher: Ben Sheets

 

            Left Handed Pitcher: This was another one the voters boned pretty good, as there really wasn’t any part of Mike Caldwell’s career line that didn’t look better on Teddy Higuera’s. Teddy had a better winning percentage, a lower ERA, and nearly one more strikeout per walk. He actually struck out nearly TWICE as many batters as Caldwell did, and in over 200 fewer innings. Looking at the two with advanced stats, its really not even close, as Teddy ran up nearly twice the rWAR as Iron Mike. But, back in 1994, Higuera was still on the roster, in the final year of a disastrous 3-year, $10.5 million contract that yielded 20 starts and ERA north of 7.00. But regardless of his sad demise, Higuera is clearly the pick.

            50th Anniversary Left Handed Pitcher: Ted Higuera

 

            Reliever: I gotta stick with Rollie here. Although Dan Plesac deserves some consideration due to his longevity – he pitched nearly twice as many innings with Milwaukee as Fingers – no other Brewers reliever can match the Fingers’ dominance. His first four seasons in Milwaukee, he struck out 172 batters to just 34 unintentional walks and posted a 1.86 ERA. His overall Brewers numbers are sullied a bit by a blow-up season in 1985 when he posted an ERA of 5.04, but he remains the man when it comes to a Brewers call to the ‘pen.

            50th Anniversary Reliever: Rollie Fingers

 

            Designated Hitter: It’s a bit a cop-out to put Molitor here, I’ll admit. But it prevents me from having to dig too deeply into the advance stats on Joey Meyer.  It was 1987 before Molitor started more than 15 games as a DH and only in 1991 and 1992 did he spend a majority of his games in the spot. Even at the end of his Brewers career, he was still seeing semi-regular action at first base (131 games over three years). Oddly enough, for his career, Molitor hit for a higher average as a first-sacker than at any other position. Furthermore, looking at his overall Brewers career, Molitor was probably the best second baseman and third baseman in team history, meaning that if I allowed for multiple appearances, five of the nine position player spots would be occupied by Molitor and Yount.

         

   50th Anniversary Designated Hitter: Paul Molitor

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