As the Milwaukee Brewers continue to lead the NL Central (or at least stay in contention), the hopes and dreams of fans become stronger. Most still expect some sort of dip or all-out free fall, but baseball can be strangely unpredictable. Milwaukee’s early success, coupled with an expected tumble, have some people comparing the 2017 club to the 2014 Brewers.
In terms of an overall production comparison, and one part of the team having a detrimental impact, you should take a look at the 2012 Milwaukee squad for a better match. This isn’t to say they’re 100% identical. Instead, it’s more about what the team does (did) well, average, and poorly that connect the two.
Start with the offense. Fans and pundits alike were skeptical of the 2017 lineup. There were a number of question marks entering the season, including an “aging” Ryan Braun, a couple one-season wonders, and a few complete unknowns. Safe money was on this group ending up below league average in offense (though some had positive projections).
Despite the usual injuries and slumps, the Milwaukee Brewers’ offense has largely carried the club to its 38-34 mark, residing among the top third of MLB in a number of categories.
If you look at the raw statistical numbers, the 2017 team has the slight edge. In the case of home runs and wRC (weighted runs created), they’re on pace to top the 2012 club. But, the overall production of the pair are as close as it can get. The 2012 team had four qualified players with an OPS of .800 or better, while this year’s squad currently has five players above that mark. Assuming Braun qualifies later, that could be six. In theory, the 2017 lineup is deeper and more dangerous one through eight.
C: Jonathan Lucroy vs. Manny Pina
1B: Corey Hart vs. Eric Thames
2B: Rickie Weeks vs. Jonathan Villar/Eric Sogard
3B: Aramis Ramirez vs. Travis Shaw
SS: Jean Segura vs. Orlando Arcia
LF: Ryan Braun vs. Ryan Braun/Hernan Perez
CF: Carlos Gomez/Nyjer Morgan vs. Keon Broxton
RF: Norichika Aoki vs. Domingo Santana
As for the pitching comparison, you really have to break it down into a couple of parts: starters and relievers. It’s no secret that the 2017 bullpen has been a hot mess from day one. Manager Craig Counsell and GM David Stearns have made moves here and there, but the relief corps has cost the Brewers dearly through the first 72 contests. Part of the onus does go on the starters as they’ve struggled to eat up many innings on a consistent basis. Still, it comes down to production, and the starters are around average for the most part - both now and in 2012.
Although the 2017 rotation has a better MLB rank in a few categories (ERA, WHIP, HR/9), the 2012 starting staff owns the better statistics. That rotation certainly had more of a track record, especially coming of a fantastic 2011 campaign. Though Zack Greinke was traded halfway through the 2012 season, he made 21 starts for the Brewers and was backed by four other arms with ERAs under 4.00 for the year. However, these two groups again are relatively even, despite the 2012 rotation sounding a lot better on paper.
1: Zack Greinke vs. Junior Guerra
2: Marco Estrada vs. Chase Anderson
3: Yovani Gallardo vs. Jimmy Nelson
4: Shaun Marcum vs. Matt Garza
5: Mike Fiers vs. Zach Davies
Keep in mind, the idea of this exercise is to show you the apt comparison of the 2012 and 2017 clubs. Thus, you shouldn’t be surprised to know - or remember - that the relief corps half a decade ago was also to blame for most of the agony. In fact, had the Milwaukee Brewers won a number of those blown games early in the year, Greinke might not have been dealt and that crew may have been in a postseason hunt once again. As for the statistical comparison of the current team to 2012.
Look at all those rankings of 28th-30th in MLB in both seasons. The 2017 group is actually on pace to rack up more losses by season’s end. While losses aren’t generally a great stat to use for pitchers, it does say something if your bullpen has the most defeats in baseball. Clearly, that 2012 team had the offense and starting pitching to be a threat; unfortunately, the bullpen was like an anchor dropped through the heart of the ship. Thus far in 2017, despite much lower expectations, the Brewers are following the same pattern.
CL: John Axford vs. Corey Knebel
SU: Francisco Rodriguez vs. Jacob Barnes
RP: Kameron Loe vs. Jared Hughes
RP: Jose Veras vs. Neftali Feliz
RP: Manny Parra vs. Oliver Drake
RP: Tim Dillard vs. Tommy Milone
RP: Livan Hernandez vs. Rob Scahill
The expectations weren’t the only difference between the clubs. In 2012, Milwaukee was 35-42 at the end of June as they failed to have a month over .500 until August.. By the time July had hit, the Brewers were eight games back in the division and seven games behind in the wild card race. Thus, instead of looking to add to the team, it was time to deal away veterans for help in the future.
This year, with just over a week left to play in June, the Brewers find themselves atop the NL Central. They also have a favorable schedule leading into the All-Star break (only one opponent over .500). Both these factors make things rather interesting as the trade deadline approaches. No one is suggesting Stearns deal away highly-touted pieces for rentals, but adding some controllable talent for some cost has to be explored at this point.
The 2012 team finished the year 83-79 on the back of a 36-23 run to end the season. Before 2017 began, I was one of the few (if only) to see the Brewers as a “winning” club at 82-80. It’s likely this year’s crew is comparable to the 2012 group in terms of average talent. However, with just a few breaks and a move or two, the Milwaukee Brewers could hang around into September. Will the organization use 2012 as a chance to learn from history? Probably not. But as fans, it’s fair to wonder if a moderately improved bullpen can make 2017 the year that 2012 could have been.
Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.com