1. This was a very good baseball team with a really, really bad bullpen and some awful timing.
2. The Brewers don't need Prince Fielder to be a top-tier offensive team. It should be obvious to anyone watching the Brewers regularly, but the numbers need to be written out for full effect. Through 160 games the Brewers led the NL with 766 runs and were 4th in the majors, so they actually beat 11 teams who get to play a designated hitter every day (including the Detroit Tigers). It wasn't just a case of "clutch", either; they also led the NL in the best overall single-number measure of hitting, wOBA, through 160 with .332. Factor in defense and non-stolen base baserunning with the measure of position player WAR and they also lead the NL and trail only the Angels in the majors.
3. Carlos Gomez played mostly against lefties in 2011 and his fWAR, prorated to 600 plate appearances would have been 4.65. This year he played much more regularly over 447 plate appearances and his WAR again prorated to 600 was 4.69. The takeaway is that Gomez is a well above-average centerfielder and 4.6 would have placed him 6th this year among major league CFs. For the record, Josh Hamilton has put up 4.6 fWAR this year in 627 PAs. Prorated to 600, Matt Kemp comes out around the same. We've been saying for years that if Gomez could just be an average or slightly above-average hitter, his defense would make him elite. Well, he is there.
4. Ryan Braun is really, really good.
5. Norichicka Aoki is an average rightfielder. And that has value!
6. Corey Hart can put up the offensive numbers necessary to play first base.
7. Rickie Weeks is good (we knew this and forgot it for a while).
8. The Brewers have 2 capable pre-arbitration catchers. Most teams have 0.
9. There's a lot of hope for the rotation next year. Even if they are unable to get the the single-season strikeout record, even threatening it is an awfully impressive accomplishment for a pitching staff that has been extremely mediocre. The 160 starts by Brewers this year have the most strikeouts per batter faced in the majors. By FIP, this staff was 4th in the NL in pitching runs above replacement. By another good measure of pitching skill, tERA, the Brewers place a bit lower at 7th in the NL among starting staffs. They also have allowed the 6th fewest walks per batter in the NL. Unfortunately, that all added up to the starting staff being in the lower half of the NL in results, 9th overall, with a 4.0 ERA. Why was that? Even though they had an above-average defense by UZR, they allowed the second most hits on balls in play in the NL (BABIP). Bad luck? Poor positioning? Weird UZR results? Regardless of what caused it this year, if the starting pitchers pitch the same way next year as they have in 2012, we would expect that they will allow fewer runs.
10. In the past couple of years the Brewers have filled the starting rotation with trades and free agents, banking on a group of 6 or so starters to produce throughout the year, using all the available resources to create an excellent frontline but skimming on depth. Next year will be a different story. Behind Yovani Gallardo, we could see a wide variety of low-salary pitchers make the rotation out of next spring training, and there's no lock that those final four will spend the entire season in the rotation. Just look at the list of names: Marco Estrada, Mike Fiers, Wily Peralta, Tyler Thornburg, Mark Rogers, Chris Narveson, and you have to think there will be at least one name (maybe even Marcum) added to that list before the offseason is over. There's also a second wave approaching, including the two pitchers acquired from the Angels in the Greinke deal.
11. The bullpen was not quite as bad as we thought it was in mid-August, but it was still bad. This was a unique case of a bullpen with cumulatively good stuff (4th in NL in K/9) who caught the walks disease (2nd last in NL in BB/9), saw an extremely high rate of fly balls turn into home runs (worst in MLB in HR/FB ratio), and had a ton of their balls put in play turn into hits (2nd highest BABIP allowed in the NL). You can't blame all of their failures on luck, but it's worth noting that the two most common measures of things that pitchers don't have much control over worked hard against the Brewers bullpen. You could bring back the entire bullpen and expect a significantly better performance, not that it would be a particularly good idea.
12. Aramis Ramirez, by just about any measure you want to use, had a better year than Prince Fielder in 2012. If you want to pick an argument with a relative or friend about why the Brewers didn't live up to the expectations this year (and who doesn't), that'd be a good myth to debunk.
13. Most importantly, we learned that we are not in for a big-time rebuilding job. This team can contend in 2013 with the right moves (and probably could with 0 moves). They managed to get a year of Zack Greinke and a Division Championship, and then flip him for just about the same package they gave up to get him, and made a meaningful run in September anyways. This is a well-run franchise that had a tough year; that's how baseball goes. Can't wait for next year boys.