The Brewers franchise got it's start way back in 1969 (nice, sex joke, much with the funnies). In that time they've had 402 position players and 420 (nice, drug joke, mucher with the funnieries) pitchers don the uniform. Today we're going to look at the four best (as defined by fWAR for no other reason than it's just way easier looking this stuff up on FanGraphs than anywhere else). We're going to look at 3 hitters and one pitcher. Two players are from last century and the other two are from this century. One of them is still active.
Number One: Robin Yount - 66.5 fWAR
Did you know the guy behind that delightful summer treat Robinade actually used to play baseball? It's the truth! I'm joking of course. Even if you're a newer Brewers fan you know who Robin Yount is. And for good reason. He's the best player in franchise history and if you look down a bit you'll see it's not even close.
The Brewers grabbed Yount with the third overall selection in the 1973 draft. He made his major league debut the following season appearing in 107 games. From 1975 on he was a full time player for the Crew, but he didn't produce a 2+ WAR (which is considered average) until 1977. He hit his stride in 1978 when he popped a 4.4 WAR season. This just goes to show you that no matter how good a player is, even the best of them can struggle right out of the gates. That's something every Brewers fan should keep in mind as we watch the rebuild unfold.
All told he played in 2856 games for the Brewers logging 122459 plate appearances. He started 1469 games at shortstop and 1139 in center. He hit 251 home runs and stole 271 bases. His career slash line is 285/342/430. His best season came in 1982 when he hit 331/379/578 with 29 home runs and 14 stolen bases. He was worth a staggering 9.8 fWAR that year.
Number Two: Paul Molitor - 56.0 fWAR
Paul Molitor, unlike Robin Yount, did not spend his entire career as a Milwaukee Brewer. He began his career in Milwaukee, But played three seasons for the Blue Jays followed by three seasons with the Twins at the end of his career. When you add up those final six seasons, he actually tops Yount with a 67.6 fWAR.
But his best years were with the Brewers. He played 1856 of his 2683 career games in Milwaukee. The majority of his starts came at third base. But he also spent a lot of time at second. He actually played all over the diamond for the Brewers. The only two positions he never played were pitcher and catcher.
For his career (12160 PA) he hit 306/369/448 with 234 home runs and 504 stolen bases. As a Brewer (8443 PA) he hit 303/367/444 with 160 home runs and 412 stolen bases. In the final 6 years of his career (3724 PA) he hit 313/374/457 with 74 home runs and 92 stolen bases.
Number Three: Ryan Braun - 35.4 fWAR
Ryan Braun is under contract at least through 2020 with a mutual option for 2021. But there is a distinct chance that the Brewers deal him as part of their current rebuild. So he may not be with the Brewers much longer. There's also a real chance the PED suspension and recent injuries (thumb and back) conspire to keep him in Milwaukee. But even if he does stay, there's no longer a chance he can pass Robin Yount in cumulative fWAR. He probably won't pass Molitor either.
He would need 20.6 fWAR to tie Molitor and 31.1 fWAR to tie Yount. If we assume Braun only plays through 2020 with the Brewers that's about an average of 4.1 to match Molitor and 6.2 to match Yount. Neither seems realistic any longer.
Braun did have a nice season last year that saw him hit 285/356/498 with 25 home runs and 24 stolen bases. That's quite good and if we got five straight seasons of that kind of production I'd be pretty jazzed about it. But he was also only worth 2.8 fWAR last season. Multiplied by five and you get 14 fWAR which is well short of Molitor.
None of that really matters though. Ryan Braun is still the third best Brewer in history and he only figures to widen the gap between him and fourth place. The only question I have is how long he remains with the team.
Number Four: Ben Sheets - 31.8 fWAR
Oh Ben Sheets. I gave you my heart and you broke it. Just like pitching broke your body down.
Sheets debuted for the Brewers in 2001. He made 34 starts in consecutive season from 2002 to 2004, ramping up his innings pitched total in every success season. He pitched in 237 innings in 2004. Then he never reached the 200 IP plateau ever again.
The following seasons saw him struggle with injury after injury. Only once again did he make 30+ starts for the Brewers and that was in his final season with the team in 2008. When he was able to pitch he was still good. He had a pair of 4+ win seasons after that 2004 high of 8.0. He just never was able to reach that lofty height again.
He didn't pitch in the majors again until 2010 and he wasn't the same. He wouldn't pitch again until 2012 in what will always be my favorite sports come back. He made 9 starts for the Braves from July through October (and you're damn right I had him on every fantasy team I was running that year). He actually finished with a respectable 3.47 ERA that season too. Then he retired. On his own terms, which he said at the time was all he wanted.