In one fell swoop, Slingin’ David Stearns drastically altered the projected starting infield for the 2017 Milwaukee Brewers. The acquisition of Travis Shaw as a part of the Tyler Thornburg package from Boston gave the Brewers their starting third baseman for next season, shifting Jonathan Villar across the diamond to a more permanent home at second base, where the club expects his defensive skills and athleticism to shine. That should give Milwaukee an alignment of Eric Thames - Villar - Orlando Arcia - Shaw from right to left, which is unfortunate news for the Crew’s incumbent second baseman.
Scooter Gennett has held down the fort at second base for the Milwaukee Brewers for the better part of the last three and a half years. A former 16th-round pick back in 2009, the left-handed hitting Gennett burst on to the big league scene in 2013, taking the place of an injured Rickie Weeks and giving fans hope that another All-Star caliber second baseman had arrived. Although he’s been a solid producer overall since then, Scooter has never matched that level production from his first taste of The Show and will now have to “battle for playing time” while coming off the bench next season.
In that aforementioned 2013 season, Scooter batted an outstanding .324/.356/.479 (129 wRC+) with six home runs in 230 plate appearances. That slash was was propped up by a .380 BABIP, however, which has proven to be unsustainable in the few years since. In 1,407 plate appearances over the past three seasons, Scooter has hit .272/.311/.411 (91 wRC+) with 29 home runs, which equals out to a combined 91 wRC+. That’s still solid production from a second baseman, which as a position has averaged a 94 wRC+ league-wide over the past three seasons, but is a bit short of league-average overall.
This past season, Gennett got off to a hot start out of the gates but cooled off a bit as the season went along and wound up finishing with a .263/.317/.412 slash line (91 wRC+), right in line with his production from the last several years. Gennett’s 14 home runs and 8 steals this past year were career-best totals. Long considered as strictly a platoon bat, Scooter actually managed a usable .708 OPS in 96 plate appearances against same-handed pitching in 2016. His walk rate improved to the best mark of his career, although that was still below-average at 7.0% and his manager noted that the plate discipline he had shown in the early months of the 2016 season had “regressed” and that it’s something he needs to continue working on. He did strike out at a career-high rate of 21.0%, too.
Defensive metrics have never been particularly fond of Gennett’s work at the keystone. Defensive Runs Saved has registered him as having two net positive seasons in 2013 and 2015 with two net negative seasons in 2014 and 2016, with the total coming out to -4 DRS in 3334.2 career innings. Fielding Runs Above Average thought Gennett’s 2013 and 2015 seasons were slightly below average, but that his 2016 season was much improved and gave him a +4.9 mark, which jives with comments made by Counsell that Scooter’s defense had improved over the past year. He’s by no means a Gold Glover at second, but he’s probably about a slightly below average defender at the keystone and isn’t a great detriment to the team in that manner. Unfortunately for Gennett, his fringey arm strength limits him to that position, and that sort of inflexibility really limits his value as a bench player.
Overall, Scooter Gennett has proven that he can be a serviceable regular second baseman in this league, the kind you can count on for between 1-2 WAR, but he’s a limited player who has likely reached his ceiling. He doesn’t offer any sort of defensive versatility and despite his modest success against lefties in 2016, he’s probably best suited as the strong side of a platoon. He signed a one year, $2.525 mil deal to avoid arbitration last week and is controllable for another three seasons, including 2017. He doesn’t figure to bring back much more than a couple of low-level lottery ticket types, but there should be some interest in his services and it seems rather unlikely that the Brewers go into spring training with Gennett still on the roster.
The Angels are reportedly bargain shopping for second baseman and would seem to be a logical fit for Gennett. Even their arid farm system should have a player or two in the back end of their top 30 prospects that could pique the Brewers interest. The Athletics, Royals, Braves, Blue Jays, and Dodgers are all teams that struggled for production at second base last season as well, though their levels of motivation to add at the position aren’t as clear as Anaheim’s.
Now that Milwaukee has got their starting roles set around the infield, there’s no real place for Scooter Gennett on the Brewers’ roster unless he can somehow learn how to passably play the outfield corners and become a left-handed hitting utiltyman off the bench. Stearns should be motivated to move on from Gennett this winter and despite his status as a favorite among fans (my wife included) it appears that Scooter’s days in Milwaukee are numbered.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball-Prospectus