Rebuilding or not, this year has been incredibly frustrating as a fan of the Milwaukee Brewers. Sure, no one was really expecting the Brewers to do great things; I forecasted 76 wins out of the 2016 team, and that was one of the more optimistic totals out there. That doesn’t make losses like the past two games any easier to swallow, however.
Particularly irritating was last night's affair, where Josh Harrison walked the Pirates off with a triple and an error following Hernan Perez's game-tying RBI single in the top of the ninth inning. Poor defense plagued the Crew throughout the game, especially in the outfield. Ramon Flores's poor route on a single to right field in the first inning likely cost Junior Guerra one of the two runs he allowed during the game. On the game-ending play, had center fielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis made a better effort to get his glove up as he neared the wall, it appeared as though he could have made the catch to retire Harrison.
Coming into the season it looked like the outfield could be a strength on this Brewers ball club, even in spite of the loss of the slugging Khris Davis. Ryan Braun had figured out how to manage his thumb injury and had become a force at the plate once again. Domingo Santana impressed during his audition at the end of 2015 and figured to be a defensive upgrade in right field. Spring training began with nine players competing for a spot in center field, surely one of them would have produced enough to capture the lion's share of the playing time.
Unfortunately with over half the season now in the books, that has been far from the case. Sure, Braunie has had an excellent campaign thus far, narrowly missing out on an All-Star Game appearance after falling short as a final vote candidate. Beyond the former MVP, however, production from the Brewers' collection of outfielders has been essentially nonexistent.
Collectively, Milwaukee's outfield boasts a .238/.318/.369 batting line and ranks 28th in the league with a cumulative 81 wRC+. They've also combined for just 32 home runs, tied for 24th in the MLB. Things aren't much better on the defensive side, either, as the club ranks tied for 19th with both -1 outfield DRS and a -4.1 outfield UZR.
As I mentioned above, Ryan Braun has certainly been pulling his weight with 13 home runs and a 129 wRC+. Domingo Santana hasn't been great, but his 99 wRC+ is at least serviceable (though his defense hasn't been as good as hoped). The issue with Santana has been a troublesome shoulder injury that has limited him to just 40 games thus far. Once we get their production, we encounter a sad assembly of players that are not performing at a level that is acceptable to merit a spot in the big leagues:
(Note: Perez and Elmore are utility infielders who have made cameos in the OF this year, Presley has been released and Broxton is currently in the minor leagues.)
None of the players on this list are producing even close to league average offensively (100 wRC+), yet at least two of them - usually Nieuwenhuis and Flores - are forced into the starting lineup each day.
No one down in the minor leagues has really been forcing the issue, either. I was and still remain a big fan of Michael Reed, but his .242/.364/.326 slash in Colorado Springs has certainly been a disappointment this year. Kyle Wren has played quite well with a .931 OPS in AAA, but he's not on the 40 man roster and his upside is probably that of a fourth of fifth outfielder. Shane Peterson and Rymer Liriano, two players who were angling to make an impact at the big league level when spring training began, have been bitten by the injury bug and may not see the field again this season.
Scoring an average of just 3.92 runs per game, the Brewers' offense ranks as the fourth-worst in the MLB this season. They've lost 18 games by one run, with 16 of their last 33 defeats coming by a single tally. The Brewers have definitely been competitive this season inasmuch as they have had plenty of chances to win games; perhaps if they were getting any semblance of offense from their outfielders they would boast a better record than their current 39-52 mark.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs