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40% of your 2016 Milwaukee Brewers – Inconsistent Offense Yields Mixed Results

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Through June 13th (64 games)

Record: 30-34

As a result of Monday night’s 11-5 loss to the Giants, the Brewers notched an 8-8 mark over their past 16 games. The offense has remained inconsistent at best, while the pitching has carried over its’ recent run of success. With Ryan Braun’s recent mini-slide, the offense has had to turn to other sources of production in recent weeks. The Brewers are rarely blowing teams out this year, and these past 16 games are no exception: the largest win was a 4-0 decision over the A’s at Miller Park. Conversely, when either the starting pitching or bullpen fails to show up, it has not been pretty. Of the Brewers 8 losses in the past 16, half have been by 6 runs or more. With the trade deadline now only 6 weeks out, I’ll have an added section at the end of the column profiling the most likely trade candidates. As luck would have it, most all of the potential trade pieces have performed at or above expectations set forth at the beginning of the season.

Cincinnati still toils away in the NL Central cellar, while a recent skid by the Pirates leaves them only 2.5 clear of the Milwaukee Nine in 3rd place. The Cardinals currently sit in the driver’s seat for the wild card standings while the Cubs remain the toast of the National League. Chicago finds themselves 8.5 games clear of the Red Birds, while sporting a +159 run differential, 74(!) runs clear of the second place Red Sox in that category.

Offensive Team Stats:

BA NL Rank OBP NL Rank Runs NL Rank HR NL Rank BB NL Rank K NL Rank SB NL Rank
Through 16 games 0.226 13 0.315 7 60 11 15 8 66 3 147 14 5 14
Through 32 games 0.246 8 0.328 7 144 7 39 5 126 4 290 14 18 7
Through 48 games 0.244 8 0.328 6 204 8 53 6 198 2 475 15 39 1
Through 64 games 0.245 9 0.327 5 264 10 68 9 256 2 601 15 56 1

The offense continues to find its level, which has it around the middle of the pack on balance in the National League. Batting average and on-base percentage remain virtually identical to the 48 game mark. The team continues to walk and strike out in large numbers. Courtesy of Jonathan Villar, along modest contributions from Hernan Perez and Keon Broxton, the Crew continues to lead the league in stolen bases. For all the (deserved) criticism Villar receives for his base running adventures, he maintains a modest 77% success rate on his stolen base attempts. While he has cooled off at the plate recently, Villar has already accrued 1.9 WAR on the year. Not too shabby of a trade when you consider he was acquired for Cy Sneed.

A player who has experienced starkly different fortunes at the plate recently would be Scooter Gennett. In his last 10 games, he has managed to raise his batting average by 33 points, courtesy of 6 multi-hit games over that span. He has also managed to collect his second home run off a lefty this year. If nothing else, he has helped to elevate his trade stock in recent weeks.

Ryan Braun’s production has taken a marked downturn in recent weeks. His average has fallen by 35 points over his last 10 games. While I don’t think that anyone expected Braun to flirt with a .350 average over the course of an entire season, he has most certainly regressed a bit here in June. His recent swoon notwithstanding, Braun’s name has started to come up more prominently in trade rumors for teams in need of a corner outfield bat, most notably and recently with the San Francisco Giants. After reading many of the comments to come out on BCB after Kyle’s story regarding these preliminary talks with the Giants, I’d have to side with a majority of the posters. Unless the Brewers are blown away by an offer for Braun, there’s not a ton of incentive to trade him at this point. Contrary to offensive weapons like Jonathan Lucroy (free agent in 2018) and Chris Carter (free agent in 2019), Braun’s contract extends past 2018. This is a significant year in that it most likely represents the earliest the Brewers could expect to be contending for a playoff spot. Since Lucroy and Carter will most likely not be a part of the next playoff-bound Milwaukee squad, trading them in the near-term makes sense. As many others have already pointed out on BCB, with exploding contracts, the remaining money due to Braun is not as untenable as it once seemed for an aging slugger with a history of PED use and nagging injuries. The last point is the one that carries the greatest measure of risk by not trading him: injury history. Trading him at this point would be a wise move if he cannot hold up through age 36. Obviously this is impossible to know or even reasonably predict. However, if he’s hitting third with a .290 batting average, 25 HR’s and 85 RBI’s at age 34 in 2018 for the 87-75 Brewers, no one around here would be complaining.

Up to this point in the season, Aaron Hill has acquitted himself rather nicely. With a batting average of .265, an on-base percentage of .350 and an OPS+ of 103, Hill has eclipsed his full-year numbers from the past few seasons up to this point. As Arizona is picking up $6.5M of his $12M salary in 2016, his remaining salary at this point in the season should not pose a problem in dealing him. We should not get too excited about the return a Hill trade will provide, but it should not be difficult to unload him. He has to be the player most likely to be traded away from the crew this season. Depending on when he is eventually traded, Hill’s departure should open the door for more consistent at-bats for Hernan Perez at third. If nothing else, Perez should be playing every day at third until Orlando Arcia is called up from Colorado Springs. Perez has hit well so far this year in limited at-bats, though his lack of walks, while true to form, has been mildly concerning.

Pitching Team Stats:

ERA NL Rank HR NL Rank BB NL Rank K NL Rank
Through 16 games 5.52 14 27 14 66 13 99 15
Through 32 games 5.59 15 49 14 132 13 217 15
Through 48 games 4.52 12 67 14 184 11 353 12
Through 64 games 4.52 10 86 14 221 9 472 12

The starting pitching has continued its strong recent run through 64 games. With Matt Garza replacing the underwhelming Wily Peralta in the starting rotation, 3 of the remaining 4 starters now have an ERA under 4.00. While Jimmy Nelson has been regarded as the de facto staff ace, Zach Davies has been even better his past few turns through the rotation. In his last 3 starts, Davies has averaged 7 innings, less than 3 hits and less than one earned run per start. He has won his last four starts and his 1.181 WHIP leads all starters. When he was acquired in a trade for Gerardo Parra last year, his ceiling was thought to be that of a #4 or 5 starter. With his recent run of dominance, he could slot in as an upper-mid rotation arm.

Junior Guerra continues his strong performance, courtesy of his split-fingered fastball. Between Davies and Guerra, the starting rotation has really been stabilized over the last month. As the season progresses, I’ll be interested to see if the quality of their starts begins to taper off in September. Neither pitcher has thrown much more than 150 innings in a season up to this point in their careers, so it’ll be interesting to track their performance if they can both surpass that threshold this year. If they don’t tail off and/or the rest of the league does not figure them out, both Davies and Guerra could be valuable members of a formidable rotation for the foreseeable future.

Throughout the first month and a half of the season, I only felt confident the Brewers could win the game with Nelson on the bump. As it sits today, I think you can reasonably expect to be in the game with Nelson, Davies and Guerra on the hill. With Josh Hader’s recent promotion to Colorado Springs, you don’t have to squint too hard to see a competitive rotation out of the players currently in the Brewers organization within a year or two. Augment those 4 starters within a significant free agent acquisition in 2018 and you could potentially be looking at a top-eight rotation in the National League.

The Brewers bullpen has been a group in flux over the past few weeks. Corey Knebel and Will Smith, thought to be mainstays within the bullpen before the season, have both finally made their season debuts in 2016 with opposing early returns. Smith has been sharp, though his velocity has been a bit down in the early going. Knebel has gotten knocked around a bit to this point, but with only 3 1/3 innings under his belt, it’s too early to draw any absolute conclusions. Jeffress continues to be a bit uneven, with a perfect example being the Brewers 5-4 victory over the A’s. He still managed to notch the save, yet gave up 2 runs in the ninth and did not look particularly sharp. Tyler Thornburg continues his strong 2016 performance, with a 0.788 WHIP coupled with 12.8 strikeouts per 9 innings. If the Brewers due end up offloading Smith and Jeffress as part of the rebuild over the next few seasons, Thornburg could be next in line to assume closer duties.

40% awards

MVPP – Most Valuable Position Player

Jonathan Villar: While Braun has cooled off at the plate, Villar has maintained his strong start. He leads the team with a .387 on-base percentage. His propensity to draw walks has increased significantly when compared to his 3 partial seasons in Houston. Maybe all he needed was the opportunity to get consistent at-bats over a long stretch of games. While his base running is always an adventure, he’s a real weapon on the base paths with an MLB-leading 23 thefts. He has shown good doubles power as well, leading the team with 15. Coupled with the occasional home run, Villar’s .813 OPS is good for third on the team. Not bad offensive production from your shortstop.

It will be interesting to see what the Brewers choose to do with Villar whenever Orlando Arcia makes his major league debut. His bat does not seem to profile at third from the power standpoint. However, Scooter has started to come around at the plate. Perhaps once Hill is dealt, you’ll see a third headed monster manning second and third base: Gennett at second and Villar at third against righties, and Villar at second and Perez at third against lefties. One thing is for sure, Villar will find his way on to the field. His ability to switch hit allows the Brewers to insert him at leadoff or second in lineups everyday regardless of the pitcher they will face.

Honorable Mention: Jonathan Lucroy, Ryan Braun

LVPP – Least Valuable Position Player

Alex Presley: It’s beginning to get a lot tougher to pick the most deserving player in this category now that Colin Walsh was DFA’d and sent back to the A’s. With Domingo Santana being shuffled back and forth off the disabled list, Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Ramon Flores have seen a lion’s share of the opportunity to play every day in right and center field. As the 5th outfielder, Presley has not found much work lately, outside of pinch-hitting duty. With a batting average sitting at .210 and an OPS+ of 62, Presley is essentially a singles hitter right now. If Domingo Santana can ever shake the injury bug this year, Presley would appear to be the most likely candidate sent back down to Colorado Springs….or Broxton.

Dishonorable Mention: Martin Maldonado

MVP – Most Valuable Pitcher

Zach Davies: The champ has been dethroned. In recent weeks, Jimmy Nelson has sputtered a bit while Zach Davies has really shined. In Nelson’s last two starts, he has failed to get out of the sixth and lost both games. Although one of those losses was more directly related to a poor offensive output, Jimmy has clearly not been as sharp as he was in May. As mentioned above, Zach Davies last 3 starts have gone deeper than most of his previous starts this season. Additionally, Davies has seen an uptick in his strikeouts. While his fastball only sits in the low-90s, Davies has effectively mixed his pitches as well as exhibiting pinpoint control. With such a slight build, it’ll be interesting to see if his body can hold up to the rigors of the long season year after year. With his recent surge, one thing is for certain: Davies has found himself squarely in the mix for a spot in the Brewers’ starting rotation for years to come.

Honorable Mention: Jimmy Nelson, Junior Guerra

LVP – Least Valuable Pitcher

Chase Anderson: This is more a result of trimming the fat with Wily Peralta being shipped down to Colorado Spring s than an indictment of Anderson over a full season. With no dead weight toiling away in the bullpen either, there was really no obvious choice for this award there either. All in all, the Brewers should be fairly satisfied with the work they’ve gotten out of Chase Anderson. His ERA sits in the mid 4’s and his 1.19 WHIP is solid if unspectacular. As I’ve alluded in prior articles, his biggest problem continues to be the long ball, as he’s given up 1.8 home runs per 9 innings. Anderson clearly serves a purpose on this rebuilding squad, however. He’s not arbitration eligible until 2018, so he can cheaply soak up innings as a back-end starter for the next few years until reinforcements arrive either via free agency or the minor leagues.

Dishonorable Mention: Carlos Torres

Highlight of the Season (so far): Still gotta be the series win at home against the Cubs. It was interesting to see two teams at opposite ends of the rebuilding spectrum: the Brewers just beginning their rebuild while the Cubs are on the very tail end of theirs. If nothing else, this series injected some life into Miller Park during a season which figures to see its share of crowds struggling to push past 15,000.

Top 5 Trade Candidates:

1) Aaron Hill: Aging free agent after this season. No reason to keep him.

2) Jonathan Lucroy: Due to positional scarcity and Lucroy’s offensive production, he has to be one of the primary trade targets this year. Whether or not the Brewers can get a fair return will likely determine whether or not he’s moved in-season.

3) Jeremy Jeffress: As Jeffress closes in on 20 saves, he has clearly been the bullpen arm that has enhanced his trade value the most this season.

4) Will Smith: With the trade value of relievers growing in recent years, if Smith can knock off the injury rust and turn to prior form he’d net a healthy return.

5) Ryan Braun: He’s the most interesting case on this list as his contract runs the longest. His salary is not prohibitive to the Crew building their next contender, but if they receive fair value, they should jump at the chance to trade the former MVP.

All statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference