Newcomers Coming Big for the Brewers: 2017’s Crop of First-time Brewers Could be a Historic One
The unlikely success of the Brewers this season has been in large part the result of big contributions from players new to Milwaukee. While the impact of rookies like Lewis Brinson, Josh Hader and Brett Phillips will likely determine if the Crew remains a contender, the play of off-season pickups like Eric Thames, Travis Shaw, Eric Sogard and Jett Bandy has been vital to the team’s hot start. Looking back through franchise history, 2017 will likely rank as one of the greatest for Brew Crew newcomers. Let’s take a look at some other seasons in which first-time Brewers came up big.
1972: It was the first blockbuster trade in franchise history that brought a little life to the otherwise forgettable 1972 season. In exchange for star outfielder Tommy Harper and pitchers Lew Krausse and Marty Pattin, the Brewers acquired former Cy Young Award winner Jim Lonborg and Gold Glove first baseman George Scott. Scott anchored the lineup for the young Brewers team, slugging 20 homers with slick defense play. Lonborg was the staff ace, winning 14 games with a 2.83 ERA and a team-leading 143 strikeouts. The newcomers were also the respective team leaders in position player and pitcher WAR.
1978: The first winning season in franchise history would not have been possible without the contributions of some key newcomers, including one (technically) on his second tour with the Crew. Front and center in ’78 was prize free agent acquisition Larry Hisle, who belted 34 homers with a .285/.374/.533 slash line on his way to a third place finish in AL MVP voting. Ben Oglivie was acquired in a trade from the Tigers in December and quickly established himself as a star in Milwaukee, batting .303 with an OBP of .370 and 18 homers. Paul Molitor wasn’t even expecting to be on the big league team, let alone a catalyst of one of the league’s most potent offenses. The rookie batted .273 with 30 steals and contributed as a plus defender at three positions. Including Gorman Thomas on this list is a bit of a cheat, as he had already played parts of four years in Milwaukee and his 1977 “trade” to the Rangers (he was sold back to the Brewers before ever appearing with Texas) was only to satisfy an outstanding player-to-be-named Milwaukee owed Texas. Still, Thomas broke out in ’78, smashing 32 homers as the team’s everyday centerfielder.
1981: If the Brewers ever made an off-season splash, it was after the 1980 season. In a blockbuster swap with St. Louis, the Crew acquired Rollie Fingers, Ted Simmons and Pete Vuckovich. Simmons’s Milwaukee debut was rather low-key, he batted just .216 with a .262 OBP, but did hit 14 homers), but Fingers and Vuke pumped new life into a weak pitching staff. Vuckovich emerged as the team’s ace and Fingers was otherworldly in the ‘pen, registering a 1.04 ERA over 78 innings in the strike-shortened season. Fingers won the AL’s MVP and Cy Young awards and helped the Brewers to their first-ever postseason berth.
1992: No one expected the Brewers to do much in 1992 and their offseason consisted mostly of bargain-bin pickups. Scott Fletcher was coming off a terrible year with the White Sox and didn’t sign with the Brewers until the beginning of spring training. Fletcher rebooted his career in ’92, batting .275 with slick defense at second base and shortstop. Kevin Seitzer was cut by the Royals at the end of spring training and caught on with Milwaukee the day before the season opened. Fletcher and Seitzer would combine for 6.6 WAR with Milwaukee. Two rookies also had a major impact that year: Pat Listach, who emerged from obscurity to win the AL Rookie of the Year award, and Cal Eldred, who won 11 times in 14 starts and recorded a 1.79 ERA over 100 innings. The rag-tag Crew won 92 games and finished second to the eventual World Champion Blue Jays.