Jays From the Couch brings you 2016 MLB Warp Ups. This time, we sit down with Chris Zantow to get insight into the Milwaukee Brewers
Jays From the Couch is kicking off a little series of wrap ups of teams around MLB. We’ll sit down with writers from all over the league to get their thoughts on teams we might not have been paying attention to in Blue Jays Land. This time: Milwaukee Brewers!
This MLB Wrap features some great insight into a team we might not have been paying much attention to in 2016. Chris Zantow does a nice job of wrapping up the Milwaukee Brewers 2016 season for us. The Brewers finished well back of the race in the NL Central division at 73-89, 30.5 games back of the Cubs. They were also 14 games back of the Wild Card. That said, we can’t really call the season a disappointment if expectations weren’t that high to begin with.
You can follow Chris Zantow on Twitter @zantow_chris. Check out his writing at Zantow Author where he discusses the Brewers and more!
JFtC: If you could sum up Milwaukee’s season in a paragraph, what would you say?
Chris: The season was all about development of young players and seeing what General Manager David Stearns and Manager Craig Counsell could do with a full year in their roles. After a 68-94 record in 2015 the team didn’t have any concrete goals of getting to .500, but it was nice to see them improve by five wins. A lot of questions were answered about the roster along the way and it looks like we have a number of players in place that may take the team back into contention.
JFtC: What went right for the Brewers this year?
Chris: Uncovering a couple starters that may become fixtures in the rotation in the coming year, plus auditioning a number of relievers. A number of the trades that Stearns made in 2015-16 created openings that freed up younger players to step into. An example is trading Jean Segura away so shortstop prospect Orlando Arcia was no longer blocked, and could be brought up.
Trading off the popular (and higher cost) Carlos Gomez opened center field so we could see what our up-and-coming outfield talent could do. Stearns isn’t nicknamed “Slingin’ Stearns” for nothing! Many of his trades have brought back multiple prospects to restock the once-depleted farm system, and his work has paid off. By August, MLB Pipeline had the Brewers farm system ranked as #1 in baseball. A number of the top prospects have potential to join the big league Crew in 2017 and beyond.
JFtC: What went wrong for them?
Chris: The team not only led the league in strikeouts, they set a major league record – and I’m not talking about the pitching staff! The hitters whiffed a total of 1543 times, but it could be argued they are seeing more pitches as they improved to third in the league in drawing walks at 599 – up from 423 in 2015. They hit .238 with runners in scoring position and were sixth lowest in total runs scored – and a number of those came as a result of an increase in stolen bases.
The team committed 136 errors and we haven’t seen that level in Milwaukee since the mid-70’s. Pinch hitting was a woeful .178 which ranked 24th out of the 30 big league clubs. A lot of TOOTBLAN (thrown out on the bases like a total nincompoop) examples happened this year – the team ranked pretty high at getting gunned down at the plate. A lot can be blamed on youth and inexperience for what went wrong this year.
JFtC: Who stood out on the roster?
Chris: Zach Davies in his age-23 year had 28 starts and posted an 11-7 record with a 3.97 ERA. Junior Guerra is a 31-year-old rookie that no one expected much out of – in fact, most didn’t even know his name when Stearns snagged him off waivers from the White Sox. He was shut down in mid-September after working to a 2.81 ERA in 20 starts and a 9-3 record. The bullpen had some consistent performers like Tyler Thornburg (who stepped into the closers role mid- season), Jhan Marinez, and Carlos Torres, among others.
On offense Jonathan Villars early became one of those rare 20/60 guys, but fell short with 19 homers/62 steals. Hernan Perez stepped into a super-utility role and played every spot but pitcher and catcher, hitting .272 with 13 homers over just 400 AB’s. Keon Broxton emerged as an outfield option after struggling early, working his swing out in the minors, and then returning to the Crew for the second half. Ryan Braun made it through a whole season healthy and had 30 homers, 91 RBI’s, and a .305 BA. Chris Carter led the league with 41 dingers
JFtC: Who went under appreciated?
Chris: I’m not sure anyone really went under appreciated just because it was a development year with low expectations. I think a couple of the guys in the bullpen like Marinez and Torres flew under the radar a bit. Martin Maldonado did a great job handling the pitching staff in the second half after Jonathan Lucroy was traded to Texas, but sometimes that part of game gets overlooked since he has a hard time staying over the Mendoza line at the plate. Counsell and his coaching staff were underappreciated for remaining consistent in stressing fundamentals – even though some of those lessons didn’t sink in with the young players. Counsell also was forced to use 122 different lineups this season due to injuries and auditioning players.
JFtC: Who underperformed?
Chris: I can’t necessarily say that second baseman Scooter Gennett underperformed as his BA was similar to 2015 – and he increased his homers from 6 to 14. But I can say his days are probably numbered in a Brewers uniform. Villar will probably go to second base – his more favorable position – and Gennett traded due to a lack of versatility (can only play second). This will open up third for Hernan Perez and/or an acquisition to play more. Chris Carter hits a ton of homers – but also strikes out a ton with a low batting average to offset the pop. The pinch hitters and most everyone running the bases underperformed.
For pitching, this club has had high hopes for starter Jimmy Nelson, who was absolutely painful to watch after about mid-June. He had the most innings pitched but a combination of giving up a hit per inning and a 4.62 ERA led to an 8-16 record. Matt Garza continues to be underwhelming and luckily he’s in the last year of his overpriced contract. Keon Broxton underperformed off the field this past weekend by getting arrested in Tampa on a misdemeanor trespassing charge. He didn’t help matters by lipping off to police.
JFtC: Where does Milwaukee go this offseason? What do they do?
Chris: Having dealt Lucroy and restocking the farm, Stearns is to the point of being able to plug holes with free agents or simply seeing what the minor league talent can do. The team came in around $60 million last year in salary, and it isn’t expected this number will increase much until the Brew Crew are close to contending. The offseason will probably determine if Braun is a Brewer for life or traded. This is probably the best time for Stearns to make a deal since Braun’s veteran status will kick in this coming season and his health hasn’t been better in some time.
The tough part is finding a trading partner – and perhaps the near-miss deadline deal with the Dodgers for Yasiel Puig and Brandon McCarthy could be revisited. Scooter Gennett, as mentioned above, could be moved. Don’t be surprised if Garza is dealt away if the Brewers decide to eat some of the $12.1 he’s owed, plus they could possibly include him in a package deal with Gennett.
JFtC: What can fans expect from the Brewers in 2017?
Chris: A lot more development and auditioning for the future. Top prospects will be entering the conversation for the future such as outfielder Lewis Brinson, outfielder Brett Phillips, lefty Wei- Chung Wang, lefty Josh Hader, righty Jorge Lopez, and catcher Jacob Nottingham. Some, like Nottingham, are further away – but it’ll be interesting to see who steps up to claim a job with the big league Crew while the opportunity is there.
With the club in a state of rebuild, it remains to be seen if Stearns tenders Maldonado a contract, as the thinking is he and Counsell may want to take a longer look at Andrew Susac at catcher along with either Jasmil Pinto or Manny Pina as backup. All three had a shot to play a bit last year after the Lucroy trade. Counsell wants to win, so it would be surprising to see the team backpedal in the standings in 2017.
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Shaun Doyle is a long time Blue Jays fan and writer! He decided to put those things together and create Jays From the Couch. Shaun is the host of Jays From the Couch Radio, which is highly ranked in iTunes, and he has appeared on TV and radio spots.