The Milwaukee Brewers are in first place at the All-Star break.
It still defies logic a bit, but if you take a peek at the official standings you’ll see the Brewers right there atop the National League Central. It’s not “early” anymore, and one can’t really deny that this team is pretty darn good. Through 91 games they sit at 50-41 with a +45 run differential, and Milwaukee ranks in the top-5 in the NL in both runs scored (451 - 4th) and ERA (4.08 - 4th).
Much of the credit for assembling this surprising contender goes to GM David Stearns. It seems like almost every move the young executive has made has turned to gold for the Brewers; from trades like the one for Travis Shaw, to free agent signings like Eric Thames, and even waiver claims like Stephen Vogt, nearly every transaction has paid positive dividends for the Brewers in 2017. Slingin’ Stearns’ early successes have earned him the full trust of principal owner Mark Attanasio, who has said that “his batting average is so high now, we're going to listen to anything he recommends” when it comes to the team’s direction at the trade deadline and beyond.
Stearns has been so good at the helm for the Brewers that some national writers have even mistakenly attributed moves to him that were made by the prior regime. With that in mind, perhaps this is a good time to reflect on the impact that previous GM Doug Melvin has made on this year’s competitive ball club. Melvin stepped down as general manager at the end of the 2015 season after a dozen seasons at the helm and moved into the role of senior adviser, a job that he remains in today. But in the years before he handed the ball off to Stearns, he made some lasting contributions to the big league roster and kick-started the rebuilding effort that helped propel Milwaukee to the position they are in today. As a matter of fact, a good chunk of the current active roster can be traced back to the mustachioed veteran exec:
RHP Jacob Barnes
A 14th-round draft pick by Melvin’s front office back in 2011, Barnes has been a key setup man in the bullpen this year while posting a 3.63 ERA/3.43 FIP and 46:17 K/BB ratio in 39.2 innings this season.
RHP Michael Blazek
Blazek was the PTBNL in the August 2013 trade made by Melvin that sent John Axford to the St. Louis Cardinals. He was a key member of the bullpen in 2015 before struggling with injuries and performance last season, but was recently recalled to the big league roster and has thrown 4.0 scoreless innings so far.
RHP Zach Davies
The Brewers acquired Davies from Baltimore at the trade deadline in 2015 in exchange for Gerardo Parra, who would become a free agent after that season. He was outstanding during his rookie year in 2016 and this season owns a 4.90 ERA/5.00 FIP in 97.1 innings as a member of the starting rotation.
RHP Matt Garza
Garza signed a 4-year, $50 mil deal to join the Brewers as a free agent prior to the 2014 season. He’s dealt with injuries and inconsistent performance since coming to Milwaukee, but has been a steady presence in the rotation this year with a 3.98 ERA/3.96 FIP in 72.1 innings pitched.
LHP Josh Hader
Hader was one of the pieces that came back in the summer 2015 deal that sent Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers to Houston, where David Stearns was working at the time. He’s since become regarded as one of the top pitching prospects in baseball and has posted an 0.73 ERA and 13:10 K/BB ratio in 12.1 innings since being called up to join the bullpen.
RHP Corey Knebel
Some point to the move that sent Yovani Gallardo to Texas in January 2015 as the first of the “rebuilding” trades made by the Brewers in the last several years. Corey Knebel was one of the main pieces that Milwaukee got in return in that deal. Knebel was named as the Brewers’ lone All-Star representative this year, posting a 1.70 ERA/2.44 FIP and 75:26 K/BB ratio in 42.1 innings. He’s saved 14 games as Milwaukee’s closer and set an MLB record with 43 straight (and counting) relief appearances with a strikeout to begin the season.
RHP Jimmy Nelson
Jimmy was a 2nd-round pick by the Brewers back in 2010 and was considered a top prospect coming up through the minors. He’s finally making good on that early promise this season, having authored a 3.30 ERA/3.17 FIP and 118:27 K/BB ratio through 109.0 innings pitched in 2017.
LHP Brent Suter
A 31st-rounder by Milwaukee back in 2012, Suter has been a valuable swingman and replacement pitcher for the Brewers this season. He’s yo-yo’d back and forth to the minors a handful of times, but the Harvard grad is currently filling in quite admirably for the injured Chase Anderson in the starting rotation. He’s compiled a 2.96 ERA/2.78 FIP with 25 strikeouts and 8 walks in 27.1 innings this season.
SS Orlando Arcia
The wunderkind shortstop signed with the Brewers as a 16 year old out of Venezuela back in 2010 for a paltry $95,000 bonus. After struggling during his debut season in 2016, the former top prospect has really come into his own this year, batting .283/.323/.418 with 8 homers in 317 plate appearances while ranking as one of the league’s top defensive shortstops.
UTIL Hernan Perez
Perez initially came to Milwaukee as a waiver claim by Melvin back in 2015. After largely failing to impress with the Brewers that season, he was granted free agency and came back to the club on a minor league deal. Hammerin' Hernan found his way back to the big leagues early last season and has since become invaluable to manager Craig Counsell as a super utility player. This year Perez is batting .266/.299/.443 with 10 home runs in 298 plate appearances and has seen time at second base, third base, shortstop, and all three outfield positions.
INF Yadiel Rivera
Rivera was a 9th-round pick by the Brewers back in 2010 and has a reputation as a defensive specialist in the infield. He was only recently recalled after an injury to Eric Sogard, and is hitless in 2 plate appearances this season.
LF Ryan Braun
The Brewers’ franchise player, Braun was the 5th overall pick in the 2005 draft and signed two separate contract extensions that could keep him in Milwaukee through at least 2020 (barring a trade). Braun has dealt with a nagging calf issue this year but has produced when healthy, batting .259/.342/.545 with 10 home runs in 161 plate appearances.
RF Domingo Santana
Another component of the Gomez/Fiers deal in 2015, Santana has blossomed into a legitimate everyday corner outfielder this season. He’s been a key member of Milwaukee’s vaunted offense, batting .291/.384/.497 with 15 home runs in 346 plate appearances (though his defense in right can be a bit of an adventure).
Doug Melvin tends to get a bad rap from plenty of fans around the state, but he was a pretty solid general manager during his 12+ years at the helm for the Brewers. There’s 13 players, or more than half of the current 25-man roster, whose roots with the NL Central-leading Brewers can be traced back to the Doug Melvin era. Another six players who have appeared on the big league roster this season but aren’t currently active - Brett Phillips, David Goforth, Jorge Lopez, Taylor Jungmann, Brandon Woodruff, and Wily Peralta - are products of the Melvin regime as well.
David Stearns has certainly done an excellent job during his tenure as general manager and deserves all the praise in the world for his deft handling of the roster. But make no bones about it - the Milwaukee Nine wouldn’t be in first place right now without the moves executed by Doug Melvin, either.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference