Tha Sports Junkies 101

Milwaukee Brewers: New Year, New Team

Milwaukee Brewers: New Year, New Team Image via Sportsgraphics36


Milwaukee Brewers

The Milwaukee Brewers finished the 2016 season with a record of 73-89. They scored 671 runs and allowed 733 last season. The win/loss total pegged the Brewers at 4th place in the NL Central at the end of the season behind the Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals, and Pittsburgh Pirates. While the Cubs ran away with the division in a virtual wire to wire run, the Cardinals and Pirates stayed close to one another before the Pirates eventually faded. Against those three teams and the cellar dwelling Cincinnati Reds, the Brewers managed just a 31-45 record. They fared much better outside the NL Central, finishing just two games under the .500 mark against non-division opponents, including an 11-9 record in inter-league play despite a -4 run differential in games against the junior circuit teams. They had only two winning months (May and September) and went 38-49 with a -66 run differential in the first half, but showed improvement in the second half with a 35-40 record and a +14 run differential.

Despite the overall struggles, the second half was much better for the Milwaukee Brewers, and with some nice young talent and a strong farm system, the team looks to continue to improve while attempting to compete in 2017.

Manager Craig Counsell enters his second full season after taking over for Rob Roenicke in 2015 after a 7-18 start. The Milwaukee Brewers improved by five games last season compared to 2015 and look to continue that trend.

Junior Guerra was quietly one of the best stories in baseball in 2016. He was signed as a 21-year-old amateur free agent in 2006 by the Atlanta Braves. He spent one year with the Braves, was picked up by the New York Mets in 2008, and then spent 6+ seasons pitching in the Mexican League until the Chicago White Sox signed him in 2015. He made a few appearances for the Sox in Triple-A, and he eventually got a ‘cup of coffee’ that same season and logged four innings in three appearances.

The results at the big league level weren’t great, but you really can’t judge a sample size that small. Guerra was snagged off waivers by the Brewers in October of 2015 from the White Sox. He began the 2016 season in Triple-A, where he put up a pretty solid performance; making five starts and logging 26.2 innings. Milwaukee promoted Guerra to the Major League club, and he made his debut on May 3 against the Los Angeles Angels. Although he earned the win, he gave up four runs on seven hits in six innings pitched with one walk and three strikeouts. Not terrible, but not indicative of what the rest of the season would hold for Guerra (four runs in six innings=6.00 ERA).

The 31-year-old would go on to finish the season sporting a 2.81 ERA with a respectable 3.70 FIP. He struck out 100 batters vs. 43 walks and surrendered 94 hits in 121.2 innings pitched, accumulating a 2.5 WAR in the process. While he may be 31, his arm is definitely not the average 31-year-old Major League pitcher’s arm. Guerra has never taken on a very heavy workload. The most starts he’s made in a season was 21 in the Mexican League. Last year, was only the fourth time he’s logged 100+ innings in a season (154.2 innings in 2011, 142 innings in 2013, and 140 innings in 2015).

Guerra has totaled 841.1 innings over 10 seasons. A big part of his recent success has been his ability to throw more strikes and control the walks. He averaged almost five walks per nine innings in parts of seven seasons before his last full season in the Mexican League, where he basically cut his entire average over those seven seasons in half to 2.5 walks per nine innings. Guerra is projected to slot in the number two spot in the rotation behind Matt Garza to open up the 2017 campaign. If he keeps the control issues under….control, he should give himself a chance to build on a strong rookie showing.

A repeat by Guerra is not guaranteed, and the rest of the rotation turned in “not so great” performances last season. While the bullpen was solid for the Brew Crew, the rotation was a problem. The entire staff last year ended eighth in ERA, eighth in walks, last in strikeouts, and 11th in batting average against. Matt Garza, projected to start opening day, was able to make only 19 starts due to injuries, and hasn’t made 30 starts in a season since 2011 with the Cubs. Garza has been very hittable the past two seasons, and the Brewers need a performance closer to his 2014 season (his first in Milwaukee), if they hope to compete.

Zach Davies turned in a solid season after a strong rookie year. His strikeout and walk totals both improved. He did give up 166 hits in 163.1 innings pitched, but turned in a respectable 3.97 ERA with a solid FIP of 3.89 (3.81 in ’15). Jimmy Nelson managed 32 starts, while Chase Anderson turned in 30. They both finished with FIPs over five (Nelson – 5.12)(Anderson – 5.09), while Wily Peralta made 23 starts and finished with a FIP of 4.70. Taylor Jungmann (6 starts), Tyler Cravy (2 starts) and Brent Suter (2 starts) also made contributions in starting roles.

Offensively, the Milwaukee Brewers were tied for fourth worst in the NL in runs with the New York Mets. They did show some pop, hitting the sixth most home runs in the NL, but they were below league average in batting average and OPS. Ryan Braun had another solid season while Jonathan Villar had a breakout season in his first with the team. Villar’s 3.0 WAR at the shortstop position (according to FanGraphs) was tied for fourth in the NL with Asdrubel Cabrera. Primarily a shortstop, he’ll be the Brewers everyday third baseman this year. The move to third base should help his defensive metrics. His offensive game is doing just fine as he displayed good pop last year (19 home runs and .457 slugging percentage), and he is also a terrific baserunner (62 stolen bases, 3.2 BsR).

Chris Carter was a big part of the Brewers power last year. The easy swinging masher belted 41 home runs, but the low contact and high strike out rates coupled with less than stellar defense earned him only a 0.9 WAR (according to Baseball Reference). Carter was DFA’d and later officially non-tendered on December 2nd of last year.

Center fielder Keon Broxton is a player the Brewers are very excited about, as they should be. Broxton is a very exciting player and had a strong rookie campaign. He did strike out 88 times in 207 at-bats, but drew 36 free passes on his way to a .354 OBP and a .784 OPS. He also stole 23 out of 27 bases and is an excellent defender. He was worth 2.1 WAR last year (Baseball Reference), with one full win coming from his defensive play.

Top prospect Orlando Arcia got a taste of big league action last year, playing in 55 games and getting 216 plate appearances. He was an international free agent signing by the Brewers in 2010, and will be the Opening Day shortstop in 2017. Arcia is another player the organization is high on. While the offense isn’t quite there, he’s a good defender and has solid base running skills. He’s still only 21, and should continue to develop.

The farm system is a great strength for the organization right now. Coming into 2016, they were rated ninth in baseball by MLB Pipeline ranked the system number one in August of last year after the addition of Phil Bickford. The farm system was vastly bolstered with the trade of Johnathan Lucroy mid-season, which brought in Lewis Brinson and Luis Ortiz from the Texas Rangers. Keith Law has ranked the system sixth coming into 2017. Quietly, the minor leagues has strengthened significantly over the past four years. The Brewers were ranked dead last in baseball by at the beginning of 2013. They now have eight Top 100 Prospects (led by Arcia, #13), matched only by the Houston Astros.

The biggest question for this team will be the continued Ryan Braun trade chatter. Teams have reportedly been gun-shy on any deal involving Braun given his past PED problems. If there was any time for the Milwaukee Brewers to deal the face of the franchise for the last ten years, that time is now. While his contract is very affordable with the production, the PEDs are definitely making it tough, if not impossible, for the Brewers to get full value in return. The star outfielder also has a no trade clause in his contract that allows him to block a deal to every team except the Angels, Arizona Diamondbacks, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants, Miami Marlins and San Diego Padres.

The off-season has been pretty quiet for the Milwaukee Brewers. They non-tendered Chris Carter in December and brought in Eric Thames from the Korean League. Thames was a 2008 seventh round pick by the Toronto Blue Jays, and spent four and a half years in their system before spending the rest of his 2012 season with the Seattle Mariners. He started 2013 with the M’s, moving to the Baltimore Orioles mid-season before going to the Korean League for three years starting in 2014. Thames went off, hitting 124 home runs in three seasons, while putting up high batting average and OBP numbers and producing an OPS of over 1.000 all three years.

Off-Season Moves:

In early December, Tyler Thornburg, who served as a set-up man last year, was dealt to the Boston Red Sox for third baseman Travis Shaw, minor league shortstop Mauricio Dubon, and minor league RHP Josh Pennington. The Rule 5 Draft saw the Brewers select LHP Caleb Smith from the New York Yankees and flip him to the Cubs for a PTBNL or cash. Ivan DeJesus Jr. was signed to a minor league deal and could compete for a utility role.

With Jeremy Jeffress departing last year in the Lucroy deal, the Milwaukee Brewers needed a closer. According to, they made an offer to Santiago Casilla (who eventually signed with the A’s) and had interest in Sergio Romo before signing Neftali Feliz to a one-year, $5.3M deal(worth up to $6.85 million with incentives). Feliz was solid in Pittsburgh last season, (3.52 ERA, 10.2 K/9, 3.5 BB/9 in 53 2/3 innings), but missed time late in the season with a not so clear arm injury.

RHP Ryan Webb was scooped up by the team and signed to a minor league deal. He spent last year with the Tampa Bay Rays and allowed ten earned runs on 27 hits in his 18 games. He has compiled 400 innings pitched with a 3.43 ERA in his big league tenure.

Catcher Jett Bandy was acquired from the Angels for fellow backstop Martin Maldonado and RHP Drew Gagnon, while the Angels also claimed RHP Blake Parker off waivers from the Milwaukee Brewers.

Other signings include LHP Tommy Milone to a one-year major league contract worth up to $2 million with incentives, infielder Eric Sogard, LHP Andy Oliver, first baseman Cody Decker, and RHP Hiram Burgos to minor league contracts with invites to Spring Training.

Expectations For 2017:

This season will be a transition year for the Milwaukee Brewers as they continue to build their core and look to make more deals for young talent. Trading Ryan Braun probably still remains a high priority, but it’s not going to go the way of moving him just to move him. The right deal would have to come along, and if one had to guess, you’d have to think they would take less than full value. They haven’t gotten anywhere near the offer they’re looking for and that is why Braun is still a Brewer. Braun, of course, is owed $76 million through 2020 with a mutual option for $15 million in 2021 with a $4 million buyout. While they may not be ready to be a truly competitive team, they will be a team worth watching with guys like Villar, Broxton, and a developing Arcia. They could very well surprise baseball if they can hit for more contact and the starting rotation improves, but barring a big surprise, they are still probably two years away from real competitive baseball.


The Milwaukee Brewers have spent the last four years building a top five farm system in baseball, which arguably, is the top farm system in all of baseball. The trade of Johnathan Lucroy last year was a huge add to an already good system, bringing Luis Ortiz and Lewis Brinson in return from the Texas Rangers. Trading Ryan Braun needs to happen for this team, but there needs to be fair value. The very talented, young trio of Jonathan Villar, Keon Broxton, and Orlando Arcia bring a lot to the table and are a very integral part of the Brewer’s success now and in the future. The bullpen looks like it should be solid with the addition of Neftali Feliz, but the starting rotation has question marks. With Matt Garza not being able to stay healthy or productive, and questions surrounding the back-end, even a repeat from Guerra and continued improvement from Zach Davies won’t be enough. The Brewers will stay on the rebuild track and look to really compete in the next couple of years.