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The Dog Days are here again: The Brewers at Halftime

A recent skid has dispelled any dreams of contending this year, but as July opens the trade market is just starting to heat up.

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

50% of your 2016 Milwaukee Brewers – The Dog Days Arrive

Through July 3rd (81 games)

Record: 35-46

The Brewers had their worst 10% of the schedule yet, going 5-12 over their last 17 games (this 10% included an extra game as 81 games represents the halfway point of the season). A dismal West Coast trip coupled with a 1-5 finishing kick with the Dodgers and Cardinals closed out the first half of the season in disappointing fashion. If nothing else, these past 17 have essentially shut the door on any of the ‘delusional’ talk of competing this season. The rest of the season, especially the next month, can be focused on talent acquisition via the trading market. The silver lining is that the primary trade pieces for the Crew continue to perform admirably, headlined by Aaron Hill.

Cincinnati maintains its’ cellar stranglehold in the NL Central, even with the Brewers recent skid. St. Louis and Pittsburgh continue to toil at or slightly above the .500 mark, but appear to be two vastly different teams. Pittsburgh appears to be a team that can’t really get into gear this season, led by their cornerstone Andrew McCutchen. St. Louis appears to be on the brink of breaking out as they have underperformed their Pythag projections to this point. Plus, it would be just like the Cardinals to start the second half on a hot streak on its way to yet another playoff berth. Chicago still comfortably leads the NL Central, a full 8 games clear of the Red Birds. However, they have slipped back to the pack a bit, as the Giants and Nationals are closing in on the best record in the Senior Circuit.

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
Through 81 games 0.248 9 0.326 9 326 12 83 10 302 3 769 15 68 1

The offense continues to slide a bit as we work our way through the dog days of summer. The Brewers continue to slide down the National League ranks in runs scored, clocking in at a shade over 4 runs per game. When your offense is scoring such few runs, the pitching and defense need to be running on all cylinders in order to win consistently. As the pitching has fallen on hard times lately, a 5-12 run as we’ve seen recently is not unexpected.

Along with the runs scored, the power surge the Crew enjoyed in the early going has all but evaporated. In the past 49 games, the Brewers have hit only 4 more roundtrippers than they did in their first 32 contests. Central to this trend has been the big slugger Chris Carter, as his early power output has tailed off significantly in recent weeks. At least he maintains a good eye at the plate, with his on-base percentage nearly 100 points better than his batting average.

The Brewers continue to lead the NL in both strikeouts and stolen bases, with a lot of the heavy lifting in both courtesy of Jonathan Villar. He continues to lead the team with 26 stolen bases and is now second behind Carter with 91 strikeouts. Despite all the punchouts, Villar remains neck and neck with Ryan Braun for the team lead in on-base percentage at .382. Outside of Villar, Braun and Lucroy, there aren’t enough consistent performers to help augment the Brewers’ offensive attack.

Aaron Hill continues to perform at a better than expected clip over the first half of the season. His average has consistently risen throughout the season and now sits at .277. His on-base percentage is also solid at .354. He has played steady if unspectacular defense both at third and second base this season. As his play continues to improve, Brewer fans should also raise their expectations on what type of return they’ll be able to get at the trade deadline for Hill. To be clear, we aren’t getting any type of prospect that is knocking down the door at AAA. However, we should be able to up our gaze higher than the organizational filler they received last year from the Aramis Ramirez deal.

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
Through 81 games 4.53 11 101 13 286 10 595 13

The starting pitching’s recent run of success has come to a screeching halt in recent weeks. Chase Anderson has continued his downward trend, checking in with an ERA of 5.49. He has given up nearly 2 long balls per nine innings, and has not been unlucky with a FIP of 5.53. His inability to work deep into games has also put a strain on the bullpen as he’s only made it approximately 5.1 innings per start.

Matt Garza has not yet completely imploded, yet always appears to be on the precipice of doing so. His ERA sits at a respectable 3.74 but he’s been dancing around trouble in most of the 4 starts he’s made up to this point in the season with a WHIP of 1.66.

A bit of the shine was taken off of Zach Davies in his most recent start, as he gave up 6 ER in large part to 3 HR over 4.1 innings. It is important to note, however, that one start does not a season make. His most recent start was the first time he had allowed more than 3 ER in a start since May 21st. It was also his first loss since April 29th.

Junior Guerra continues to lead the staff with an ERA of 3.25 and ERA+ of 131. He has struck out nearly 8 batters per 9 innings, courtesy of his signature split-fingered fastball. His WHIP checks in at 1.07 which also leads the starting rotation. There has been much debate on the BCB message boards recently as to whether or not Guerra is a player that should be built around or dealt while his value is so high. While he may not pitch much better than his current performance, he also does not have the track record of this level of performance even over an entire season. As such, it’s difficult to believe he would fetch a very strong return at this point. He is conceivably under team control through 2021, so I’d advocate that the Brewers practice patience with Guerra. If he can continue this performance into and through next year, his trade value will certainly be enhanced as he builds up a baseline for his performance as a starter.

The Brewers bullpen has most settled in the past few weeks in terms of everyone’s role. Jeremy Jeffress continues to lock down the 9th inning, with 21 saves to his credit. His 1.3 WHIP is mildly concerning, as he seems to put a runner on via the walk or base hit at will in seemingly every close game. If he can continue to dance around trouble, the Brewers will have a valuable trade piece come the end of the month. Will Smith has been his dominant self while serving in high-leverage situations in either the 7th or 8th innings. He has an ERA below 2.00 and a WHIP below 1.00. Additionally, we’re finally starting to see a few more ticks on his fastball, which is an encouraging sign that he’s returning to full strength. Even though he doesn’t come attached to Jeffress’ closer profile, he could net a similar return on the trade market as there is a dearth of power lefty arms in the bullpen across the major leagues. Carlos Torres and Blaine Boyer have been solid acquisitions by David Stearns, as they soak up middle inning relief with an ERA near 3.50 for both. Tyler Thornburg’s numbers still look sterling across the entire season, although it has been puzzling as to why he had such a large appearance drought recently.

50% awards

MVPP – Most Valuable Position Player

Jonathan Lucroy: This is really splitting hairs between Villar and Lucroy, but Luc gets the slight nod from me due to catcher being a more offensively challenged position in baseball right now. The position of shortstop has experienced an influx of offensive punch this year, with talents like Xander Bogaerts, Francisco Lindor, Corey Saeger and Carlos Correa scattered across Major League Baseball. At the midpoint of the season, only Buster Posey and Wilson Ramos can match the power, batting average and on-base percentage of Jonathon Lucroy. He is only pace for 20 HR’s and 78 RBI’s with an even .300 batting average. While the advanced metrics say that Lucroy’s pitch framing skills may have slipped this year, it’s hard to argue that he’s not among the top 3-5 catchers in baseball when you consider the total package. This factor makes him slightly more valuable than Villar.

When discussing Jonathan Villar, it’s tough not to mention Orland Arcia. He has not struggled this year at AAA but hasn’t flourished either. He has yet to develop a patient eye at Colorado Springs, so you’d like to see him bring his average up before getting called up to the big leagues. Fans should not be up in arms if Arcia doesn’t make it to Milwaukee until the final month of the season. Villar is more than holding his own at short and there’s no rush to throw Arcia into the flames in the middle of a rebuilding season. Should he continue to progress in AAA and acquit himself well in September in Milwaukee, he should be seen as the incumbent at shortstop heading into 2017.

Honorable Mention: Jonathan Villar, Ryan Braun

LVPP – Least Valuable Position Player

Kirk Nieuwenhuis: With the Brewers cycling through much of the end of their bench throughout the first half, this category is becoming much more difficult to pin down. I settled on Captain Kirk because he’s been one of the most underwhelming ‘semi regulars’ in the lineup this year. While he has flashed the leather on a number of plays in the field, his offensive leaves a lot to be desired. His average has slipped to .219 and he’s third on the team with 72 strikeouts. The strikeout total is particularly concerning as he’s only soaked up the 7th most plate appearances on the team. At least his on-base percentage is 100 points higher than his dismal batting average.

Dishonorable Mention: Martin Maldonado

MVP – Most Valuable Pitcher

Junior Guerra: There isn’t much more to be added here that hasn’t already been discussed above. He has shown the ability to work deep into games and miss bats. Despite his advanced age and lack of experience in the major leagues, I believe he’s exactly the type of player the Brewers should be looking to stockpile: cheap, controllable talent that has been overlooked by other organizations.

Honorable Mention: Jimmy Nelson, Zach Davies

LVP – Least Valuable Pitcher

Chase Anderson: Again, much of this has been discussed above. Anderson has not been good. While troubled by the long ball and short starts time and again this year, Anderson does still serve a purpose to this team. His ability to take the ball every fifth day and work through (at least) 5 innings is valuable. It allows the Brewers to avoid further major league exposure to Wily Peralta or Taylor Jungmann this year, which is clearly a good thing. Until the starters at AAA become more seasoned, Anderson will continue to hold down a rotation spot.

Dishonorable Mention: Michael Blazek

Highlight of the Season (so far): Winning the series at home against the Cubs. Until the club goes on some sort of extended winning streak (think 6 games or more), this will remain the highlight of the season.

Top 5 Trade Candidates:

1) Aaron Hill: Done about as well as could be expected through the first half of the season. (As this article is being penned on July 7th, we have the benefit of knowing that Hill has indeed been dealt to the Red Sox). The return of a 20 year old second baseman just breaking into AA and a swingman candidate putting up decent numbers in AAA has to be more than the Brewers could have dreamed of at the beginning of the season. That Segura trade just keeps getting better and better.

2) Jonathan Lucroy: It’ll be hard to watch Luc don another team’s uniform within the next year, but it’s nice to dream on the talent that he’d net in a trade. While you don’t necessarily want to zero in on a particular position when setting up potential trades, it’d sure be nice to snag a starting pitcher that has at least performed well at the AA level or above and profiles as a #2 starter.

3) Jeremy Jeffress: Jeffress should be at or slightly above 25 saves when the trade deadline comes around at the end of July. As long as he can avoid a run of blown saves, he will remain an intriguing trade asset for those teams looking for a hard throwing 8th or 9th inning reliever.

4) Will Smith: While Smith may turn a bit more expensive once he enters arbitration next season, count me in the minority that would like to see him stick with the Brewers. His fastball/slider combination has proven to be filthy at the major league level. Thanks Nori Aoki!

5) Ryan Braun: This all depends on the trade package. If the Brewers aren’t blown away by the offer for Braun, they shouldn’t move him. We don’t really have a first baseman of the future. Assuming fan favorite Chris Carter is traded within the next few years, it might as well be Braun.

All statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference