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What went right for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2019

An MVP, big free agent signings, youngsters, and savvy trade deadline additions

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MLB: Chicago Cubs at Milwaukee Brewers Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The Milwaukee Brewers were a team that fought adversity and, more often than not, overcame. They won 89 games and captured a National League Wild Card berth, giving the Brew Crew their second consecutive playoff appearance for only the second time in its history. A lot had to go right to achieve what the Brewers achieved this season. While the list of all the things that went right for Milwaukee is numerous, here are four that rise to the top.

Just say NO to regression

In 2018 Christian Yelich finished the season in historical fashion leading the Brewers to a postseason berth and within one game of the World Series. Many in the baseball world, most especially those in the Sabermetrics community, felt that Yelich was due for a regression in performance in 2019. Historical numbers demonstrated the likelihood as the chart below shows (chart was taken from an article written by Ben Lindbergh of The Ringer).

Others used the discussion point for fodder for their articles and sports broadcasts indicating skepticism that he was capable of such a performance again. With history against him, the 2018 MVP put up numbers that could net him the MVP again in 2019, and he just may have used all the regression talk to motivate him. Responding to a question about pressure and repeating similar results attained in 2018, Yelich said, “You can use it to drive you and prove that it wasn’t a fluke.” The questions about his inevitable regression were met by a very motivated individual dead set on proving his doubters wrong, and he did just that in 2019 sometimes carrying the Milwaukee Brewers as they remained in contention for the NL Central all season long.

Two big free agent signings have career years

Yasmani Grandal signed a one-year contract for $18.25 mil on January 14. On February 17, Mike Moustakas inked a one-year pact for $10 mil. Those two deals the Milwaukee Brewers demonstrated how serious they were about contending for a World Series title.

With Yasmani Grandal, the Brewers brought in one of the best pitch framers as well as one of the best offensive catchers in the game. He did not disappoint. Grandal delivered offensively to the tune of .246/.380/.468, 28 home runs and 109 walks. He was strong defensively as well, netting a +17.0 rating in his catching framing runs. According to Fangraphs, he was worth 5.2 WAR.

Mike Moustakas came back to Milwaukee and delivered one of the best seasons of his career. He slashed .254/.329/.516 while crushing 35 home runs. He played solid third base, and volunteered with enthusiasm to start the season as the Brewers second baseman. Moustakas also provided a toughness that is necessary for teams to compete at the highest level.

Grandal and Moustakas were vital to the fortunes of the Milwaukee Brewers in 2019. Without them, the Brewers would not have fared as well, and that was on display most after Christian Yelich went down with his season ending injury.

Baby Brewers play huge role

Coming into the 2019 season, Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta were thought to be the young Brewers’ players to take the next step. Instead they faltered, but four baby Brewers did play big roles for the Brew Crew in 2019 — Brandon Woodruff, Adrian Houser, Trent Grisham, and Keston Hiura.

Brandon Woodruff tasted success in 2018, but only briefly. He pitched reasonably well to open the first part of the 2019 season, and then Woody took a step that had him being discussed as an ace. From May 16 through July 16 (the start prior to going down to an oblique injury for two months), Woodruff pitched to a 3.16 ERA, 3.03 FIP, and was striking out more than 10 per 9. The future is bright for the budding ace, and Milwaukee is the beneficiary.

Adrian Houser stepped up big as well. When the Brewers gave Houser starts earlier in the season, he did not fare well. When he appeared out of the bullpen, however, he was dominant. As a reliever, opponents hit a measly .180/.254/.270. Unfortunately the injury bug hit the Brewers’ starting staff, and Brewer Nation held their collective breaths as Houser went into the rotation down the stretch. But he did his job admirably. From July 30 until the end of the season, Houser posted a 3.28 ERA and a 3.42 FIP while pitching as a starter. He struck out almost 10 per 9 during that stretch and solidified the rotation as the Brewers went on their September streak.

Trent Grisham got the call to the big leagues and made his first start on August 1. Grisham earned his way onto the major league roster by crushing minor league pitching across two levels. When Christian Yelich went down, Grisham’s role became more pronounced. The rookie played well in his first go-round. He slashed .231/.328/.410 while handling the leadoff role in the line up most nights.

Keston Hiura got the call early in the season and played well, but once Travis Shaw came back from injury, he was sent back to San Antonio. With the futility of Shaw this season and Hiura’s preternatural ability to hit, the rookie second baseman came back to the big league club. For all intents and purposes, he crushed big league pitchers. Hiura slashed .303/.368/.570 with 19 home runs over 348 plate appearances. During both times Hiura was up with Milwaukee, the Brewers’ offense performed better.

Adding Pomeranz and Lyles at the trade deadline

All seemed lost when Christian Yelich went down for the year, and then the improbable occurred. For the second straight season, the Brewers went on a September run that catapulted them to the playoffs. Without the addition of Drew Pomeranz and Jordan Lyles, that September run might not have happened.

Drew Pomeranz has been a good to not good starter for some time. Yet in the bullpen, his stuff plays up, and did it ever after the Brewers acquired him at the deadline. As a Brewer, Pomeranz posted a 2.39 ERA and a 2.68 FIP while striking out more than 15 per 9. He was one of the best relievers in baseball down the stretch.

Jordan Lyles might have been the top starting pitcher acquired by a team at the trade deadline. He not only solidified the starting rotation from August on, he replaced the loss of Brandon Woodruff and pitched like an ace, at least in terms of wins and losses (6-1) and ERA (2.52). The true outcomes delivered upon as a Brewer in 2019 were special.

A lot went right for Milwaukee in 2019 beyond the list above. Josh Hader struck out the world. Brent Suter came back and pitched out of the pen as well as anyone. Jimmy Nelson actually pitched in MLB games. Zach Davies and Chase Anderson were solid in the rotation as were Junior Guerra, Alex Claudio, and at times Matt Albers in the pen. Gio Gonzalez stabilized the starting rotation at a critical spot in the season. Ryan Braun and Eric Thames were really good. The list could go on and on. What we do know is the Milwaukee Brewers had a good season and returned to the playoffs for the second consecutive season. To do that, a great deal must go right.

Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs