As part of SB Nation United, you're going to be seeing some new voices at Brew Crew Ball, SBN "Designated Columnists" writing about issues both local and national. Think of them as guests in the community. Today's guest is friend of the site Bill Parker, better known as one of the minds behind The Platoon Advantage.
"Addition by subtraction" is a phrase I always dislike. It's most often used when a team gets rid of a guy who is perceived to be a clubhouse or personality problem, and more often than not, I don't think the people who say those things know enough to make those kinds of judgments.
In the case of Nyjer Morgan (who refused his minor-league assignment on Friday to become a free agent), that phrase really applies, or would have applied in 2012.
I'm speaking exclusively about his play on the field; while Morgan's had his share of well-publicized personal problems, I generally enjoy his personalities (both of them, or all of them) and have no reason to believe his personality has been detrimental to the Brewers...but his bat sure was. Morgan's 64 OPS+ was worst on the team among everyone with 170 or more plate appearances, yet he nonetheless somehow got 322 plate appearances over 122 games. He's known as a defender more than a hitter, and the three major metrics all agree he remained above-average in that area; nevertheless, his bat was so bad that his average among the three wins above replacement methods (Baseball-Reference's, FanGraphs' and Baseball Prospectus') was 0.1 wins below replacement level.
That's a lot of playing time for a team to give to a guy who, by these methods, performed about as well as you'd expect your average Double- or Triple-A starting outfielder to. It's the kind of playing time that can really make a difference -- giving regular time to even one replacement-level player can have a powerful affect on a team's place in the standings. Consider the impact of the following hypotheticals, in which Morgan's playing time is given to the best and worst outfielders that 2012 had to offer.
By Baseball-Reference WAR, Jeff Francoeur was the worst outfield regular in baseball last year, at -2.7 WAR; if you reduce his PA to Morgan's 322 and put him on the team in Morgan's place, we'd expect the Brewers to lose nearly a win and a half (1.44, more accurately). Mike Trout was the best; adding 322 PA of him would give the Brewers 5.4 more wins and a likely playoff berth. Shane Victorino was roughly an average outfielder, and giving Morgan's PA to him gives the Brewers about 1.1 extra wins. Nothing short of adding Trout would likely turn have turned the whole season around, but a more competent fourth outfielder in Morgan's place would certainly have helped, possibly enough to make the Brewers deadline buyers rather than sellers and save the season that way.
Not to rip on Morgan, who had been a very productive player in two of the preceding three years, and may well catch on with some other team and be a very productive player again. It's just the simple truth that Morgan did as much as anyone, in his 122 games, to kill the 2012 Brewers, and his being gone is, in itself, a reason to have some hope for the 2013 squad. The team got above-average offense out of every single position except for second base (where Rickie Weeks put up an .800 OPS over the second half) and shortstop, where Jean Segura appears ready to take over and improve things significantly. The Brewers' newly Morgan-less offense figures to be even better than it was in 2012, when they scored more runs than any other NL team. Pair that up with a quality bullpen -- which they seem well on their way to doing -- and you've got something very close to a preseason favorite in the NL Central.
It matters with whom they replace Morgan, of course. There has been some talk of the Brewers pursuing top free agent Josh Hamilton, but that makes little sense when you've got Ryan Braun and Norichika Aoki more than holding their own in the corners and Carlos Gomez finally seeming to reach some of his potential in center (where Hamilton probably shouldn't play anyway). The Brewers should be in the market for a solid fourth outfielder -- someone like Scott Hairston, perhaps -- and simply hope that Gomez is healthy more than he was in 2012. If you remove Morgan, and instead give Gomez 100 extra plate appearances (552 rather than 442) and Scott Hairston his remaining 222, that would have given the 2012 Brewers about 1.3 extra wins -- again, not enough to get them to the playoffs by itself, but a big deal, especially in the tight wildcard race.
Adding a top free agent like Hamilton sure would make things interesting, but the Brewers already made the biggest outfield addition they're likely to make -- and the biggest one they'll need -- in shedding themselves of the mess that was Nyjer Morgan 2012.