If we take a step back and look from a distance, it's hard to argue the fact that this is one of Doug Melvin's best seasons as general manager of the Brewers. He took a team that looked like a rebuilding year was ahead in December and has turned them into a near lock to make the playoffs.
Even before this season, though, Melvin had a reputation as being a pretty good GM when in regards to finding relatively cheap talent that can help his team. Just look at some of these key contributors to the 2011 squad:
Nyjer Morgan, 3.9 fWAR
I'll be the first one to admit I thought the Brewers were making a mistake when they acquired Tony Plush, and I wasn't the only one: Only 64% of tracking poll voters thought the Brewers made the right decision when they gave up Cutter Dykstra, who had never played above A ball, for the center fielder with a history of personality issues in his past.
Morgan, though, has been outstanding as a Brewer and has quickly become one of the faces of this team. By fWAR, only Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun have been worth more.
Francisco Rodriguez, 0.5 fWAR
K-Rod had been very good for the Mets this season, posting 23 saves and a 3.16 ERA over 42 appearances, but had worn out his welcome. Some legal issues during his time in New York and a vesting option that would have paid him $17.5 million next season made the Mets all too eager to be rid of him, and the Brewers took advantage. They got Rodriguez and almost $6 million in cash to cover his salary from the Mets in exchange for two very unlikely long term contributors: Relievers Adrian Rosario and Danny Ray Herrera.
Rodriguez hasn't been thrilled with his role in Milwaukee (he'd like to close), but he's been very effective as a setup man: Opposing batters are hitting just .213/.286/.303 against him and he's struck out 24 while walking just nine over 23.1 innings. Having him around has really steadied a Brewer bullpen that was wobbling a bit before his acquisition.
Marco Estrada, 0.7 fWAR
The Brewers claimed Estrada off waivers from the Nationals before spring training in 2010, and the move didn't immediately pay off: Estrada appeared in just seven games for the 2010 Brewers and spent most of the season on the DL with vague injury issues. He returned to the team in 2011, though, and has been one of the team's biggest surprises.
Estrada is one of just six pitchers who have started a game for the Brewers this season, and he's been excellent in that role. He's posted a 3.70 ERA over seven starts, and kept the Brewers on track while Zack Greinke and Chris Narveson missed time. He wasn't a likely candidate to contribute to this team, but the 2011 Crew would be much worse off without him.
Casey McGehee, 0.8 fWAR
Admittedly, this hasn't been a very good season for McGehee. Many would probably like to see him put back in the box he came from. But, rough 2011 aside, McGehee has returned far more than any of us could have expected when he was claimed off waivers from the Cubs following the 2008 season.
FanGraphs estimates McGehee has been worth 6 fWAR in 416 games over 2+ seasons as a Brewer, where he's hit 51 home runs. Even if he contributes nothing else going forward, Melvin and the Brewers got a pretty nice return on their investment here.
At the end of the day, the moral of the story in Moneyball is that
you can build a surrounding cast of just about anyone when you've got young, elite pitching teams can find a way to be successful if they do a good job of locating undervalued commodities and using them to fill gaps in their roster. The Brewers' success both this season and in past years can be at least partially attributed to Doug Melvin's ability to do just that.