While David Stearns continues to put his touches on the 2018 Milwaukee Brewers roster, I thought it would be fun to put together a 25-man crew of Brewers over the last 25 seasons. Though Milwaukee hasn’t had a ton of team success, they have had plenty of terrific individuals don the jersey since 1993. So how would a 25-man roster of Brewers look if you only took players’ single season performances to create this club?
As you look at the group below, keep in mind it only takes into account the player from the season listed. For example, we could take 2016 Jonathan Villar (.369 OBP, .826 OPS) for the team and not be “hurt” by the 2017 version (.293 OBP, .665 OPS).
In building the 25-man roster from the past 25 years (1993-2017), I was looking to form the best team that would be successful over the course of a season. So, this went beyond just taking the best bWAR seasons or automatically picking the player with the “best stats” at all times. The goal was to make everything fit like an actual ball club.
1. Jeff Cirillo (1998) - 3B
This might seem like a strange fit for leadoff, but his .402 OBP in 1998 is huge in front of the fantastic power hitters behind him. This lineup doesn’t need speed as much as guys getting on base. This version of Cirillo also comes with a 1.9 dWAR, an important edge over the other options as the other side of the infield lacks defensive prowess.
2. Jeromy Burnitz (1999) - RF
He has the same .402 OBP, but throw in a .561 slugging percentage with 33 HR, 33 doubles, and a .963 OPS (143 OPS+). Burnitz was slightly below-average in right field, but the bat plays too well there to leave him out of this starting lineup. His 103 RBI and 87 runs scored in 1999 contributed to his All-Star selection.
3. Ryan Braun (2011) - LF
Braun delivered one of the best years in team history with a 166 OPS+, tied for the all-time record in franchise annals. That year earned him an All-Star, a Silver Slugger and the MVP. Controversy with PEDs or not, Braun’s 7.8 bWAR that season is the 3rd-best mark in club history, leading the league in slugging (.597) and OPS (.994).
4. Prince Fielder (2009) - DH
Milwaukee didn’t move to the NL until 1998, so we get a DH - and Prince Fielder fits perfectly. The 2009 version also had a franchise-best 166 OPS+, posting a .412 OBP and a .602 slugging percentage. With 46 HR and a league-high 141 RBI, Fielder was the ultimate run producer, earning him an All-Star nod and a 6.3 bWAR that season.
5. Richie Sexson (2003) - 1B
This was Sexson’s second 45 HR season in three years, and he added 124 RBI (one off his career high). It was his second consecutive All-Star campaign, playing in all 162 games at first base while posting a .927 OPS (140 OPS+). Sexson’s 98 walks and .379 OBP in 2003 were his best marks in his career.
6. Jonathan Lucroy (2014) - C
The team’s starting backstop shouldn’t be a surprise as Lucroy’s 6.7 bWAR in 2014 tied for 9th-best in Brewers’ history. Lucroy also led MLB with 53 doubles, with 46 of them coming as a catcher to give him the all-time record. He owned an .837 OPS, a career-best 73 runs, and he was phenomenal defensively with a 2.0 dWAR.
7. Bill Hall (2006) - SS
If we’re just looking at single-season performances, you can’t overlook Hall’s amazing (and surprising) 2006 campaign. With 35 HR, 39 doubles and an .899 OPS mostly as a shortstop (127 games), Hall put up a 5.8 bWAR. Most surprisingly may have been his 2.2 dWAR on the season to go with his 101 runs and 85 RBI offensively.
8. Rickie Weeks (2010) - 2B
Despite his defensive issues, Weeks’ quality on-base skills (.366) and power (29 HR) from an often weaker position gets him the nod here. Durability was another problem for Weeks, but he played 160 games in 2010, helping him to easily reach career-highs in runs (112) and RBI (83).
9. Carlos Gomez (2013) - CF
His offensive numbers were strong for his position (.843 OPS, 24 HR, 40 SB), but it was his unbelievable defense that gave Gomez incredible value. His 4.6 dWAR in 2013 ranks as the 7th-highest dWAR in MLB history! Gomez’s 8.5 total bWAR in 2013 is the 2nd-best in club annals, and his power/speed combo is frightening hitting 9th in this lineup.
C - Dave Nilsson (1999)
Manny Pina got some consideration, but I went with the powerful, left-handed complement as the backup. He only played 115 games that year, but we don’t need more from him. Having a .554 slugging percentage and .954 OPS on the bench is huge. He can also survive at the corner outfield spots, so his versatility is a plus.
OF - Corey Hart (2007)
Hart had a few similar seasons to choose from, but ultimately as a bench guy, his 2007 season fit best. He played 34 games in center that year, so he can back up Gomez. Plus, the 24 HR, .353 OBP, .892 OPS, and 23 stolen bases mean he can impact games in different ways.
3B - Aramis Ramirez (2012)
He almost got the starting spot at the hot corner with his league-leading 50 doubles and a terrific .901 OPS. However, with his defense a bit shoddy at times, a part-time role as a third base backup, DH and pinch-hitter felt right. Seen as a “professional hitter,” he’s the kind of guy you can go to late in games to deliver.
UT - Jonathan Villar (2016)
Could this be the most controversial pick? Maybe. The thing is, with only four bench spots, we need a guy who can play all over. He can effectively play short, second and third for short periods - a valuable weapon. Plus, he’s a switch-hitter for matchups, owned a .369 OBP, and stole an MLB-best 62 bases in 2016 - all huge late in games.
1. Ben Sheets (2004) - RHP
When talking about Brewers’ season-long dominance, it starts with Ben Sheets’ 2004 performance. Where to begin? Franchise-record 264 strikeouts. League-best 8.25 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Sheets owned a 2.70 ERA (162 ERA+), a 0.98 WHIP, 28.2% strikeout percentage, and a 7.2 bWAR. Oh...and the most strikeouts in a game in Brewers’ history with 18 exhilarating punch outs at Miller Park in May.
2. CC Sabathia (2008) - LHP
If there was an award for most spectacular half-season pitching, it would be named after Sabathia. Dominance in 2008 is an understatement. In 17 starts, Sabathia tossed seven complete games with three shutouts - both the most in the NL. He finished with a 1.65 ERA (255 ERA+), a 4.9 bWAR, and a one-hitter in Pittsburgh (which should have been a no-no). He carried the Brewers to the playoffs for the first time since 1982.
3. Jeff D’Amico (2000) - RHP
The 6-foot-7 hurler mostly suffered with injuries, but he was strong in 2000. His 2.66 ERA was 3rd in the NL behind Kevin Brown and the 2000 Cy Young winner, Randy Johnson. D’Amico didn’t whiff as many guys as the other pitchers in our rotation, but his 5.0 WAR showed his consistency that year on a horrible pitching staff.
4. Jimmy Nelson (2017) - RHP
I had to essentially choose between Nelson and Chase Anderson from 2017, and Nelson had better overall numbers. Nelson’s 3.49 ERA (125+) isn’t great, but his FIP read 3.05, so he may have been hurt by defense. He struck out 10.22 batters per nine innings, the 2nd-best mark in Brewers’ history. It all made his injury hurt even more.
5. Zack Greinke (2012) - RHP
Though Greinke had a solid 2011 season, his 123 frames in 2012 (before getting traded) were on pace for a big step up. Like Nelson, his FIP (2.53) spoke louder than his 3.44 ERA. His home runs-per-nine-innings (HR/9) allowed was 0.5 in 2012 (a key part to our rotation - low HR/9), after a 1.0 mark in 2011.
Closer: Trevor Hoffman (2009) - RHP
Maybe there are better options, but I want a closer who knows how to get those final three outs - and we only need Hoffman in one-inning save situations. His 2009 was terrific: he held opponents to a 32 OPS+, posted a 1.83 ERA (226 ERA+), and owned a 0.91 WHIP. At 41 years old, Hoffman saved 37 games and was named an All-Star.
**Note: For the rest of the relievers, I’m going matchups only**
RHP - Corey Knebel (2017)
Knebel was electrifying in 2017, striking out an astounding 40.8% of batters faced - 3rd only to Craig Kimbrel and Kenley Jansen (min. 20 IP) in MLB. His big fastball and bigger curve complement Hoffman’s devastating changeup. With a 1.78 ERA (248 ERA+) and 3.7 bWAR, Knebel really was of the best in baseball in 2017.
RHP - Doug Jones (1997)
Back to an old, soft-tossing closer whose age-40 season was phenomenal. In 80.1 innings pitched, Jones had a 2.02 ERA (232 ERA+), a 0.88 WHIP, and 36 saves. His changeup repertoire baffled hitters to the tune of a 41 OPS+ and a 9.1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, the best mark in all of baseball. He even nabbed a few MVP votes.
LHP - Josh Hader (2017)
The bullpen needs a guy to give multiple innings and put out fires, especially against tough lefties. Hader’s 36.2% strikeout percentage is 2nd to Knebel among Brewers’ relievers since 1993. He allowed opponents to hit .156 and post a 55 OPS+. In 72 plate appearances against Hader, lefties had a .454 OPS and did not hit a HR.
RHP - Francisco Rodriguez (2015)
K-Rod had a few trips back to Milwaukee, but his final year with the Brewers may have been his best. Using a knockout changeup, he owned a 5.64 strikeout-to-walk ratio, which was the highest of his career. Rodriguez held batters to a 52 OPS+ with a 0.88 WHIP, en route to his final All-Star game berth and 38 saves in 40 chances.
RHP - John Axford (2011)
While saves can be meaningless, Axford did lead the NL (2nd in MLB) with 46, setting the franchise record in the process. With a 1.95 ERA (202 ERA+), Axford proved to be one of the most reliable arms in the league and posted a 3.2 bWAR. He even picked up 2% of the MVP vote and ended 9th in Cy Young voting. On a side note, left-handed hitters hit only .188 against the righty with a .481 OPS.
LHP - Zach Duke (2014)
This team has to have a lefty specialist, too, so you can save Hader for tougher situations and multiple batters. Duke held lefties to a .195 average and .302 slugging percentage. Of course, Duke also handled righties in 2014 as he struck out 31.1% of all batters he faced while putting up a 2.45 ERA (155 ERA+).
There is plenty of room for debate within all aspects of this 25-man roster, but it’s the best overall team in my mind. A mix of power, on-base skills, speed and versatility fuels the lineup. Dominating starters with mostly high strikeout numbers, low home run rates, and the ability to hold down opponents’ overall ability to hit. And finally, a bullpen of veteran closers, power arms and ridiculous changeups, tons of strikeouts, and a pair of lefties with varying skill sets.
I’d love to see your 25-man Brewers roster from the past 25 years. You might find some surprising stats and long-forgotten names. Perhaps we’ll see some of the current guys make their way into the next rendition of this creation.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference