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Five things Milwaukee Brewers fans need to accept in 2019

In the long run, the pros far outweigh the cons of these facts.

MLB: New York Mets at Milwaukee Brewers Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

While we’d like our favorite players and teams to be perfect, the reality is that even the greatest groups and individuals have negative components. It’s the basic idea of taking the good with the bad. The 2019 Milwaukee Brewers are no different. In order to enjoy the club’s success over the course of a long season, you’ll have to endure some frustrations as well.

With that in mind, here are the five things that Milwaukee Brewers fans simply need to accept during the 2019 season, because in the end the good outweighs the bad and the net result is another great year.

Yasmani Grandal allowing passed balls

The number of people that complained about the Grandal signing was stunning. About 90% of them cited his inability to receive or catch the ball very well in last year’s NLCS as a reason for their distaste for the move – plus his struggles with the bat. Judging a player based on seven games is extremely dangerous; though there was a bit of truth.

Grandal will allow his fair share of passed balls throughout the year. Over the last three seasons, Grandal has the 2nd-most passed balls (35) in MLB. While he does have his issues effectively blocking pitches in the dirt – and a few will clank off his glove – also keep in mind Grandal has caught the fourth-most innings over that span. But what is the real reason you need to accept this flaw of his?

A portion of his passed balls are because he is so good at framing pitches. Grandal is focused and adept at limiting his movements, keeping part of the glove in the strike zone, and “sticking” the mitt when he receives the ball. That means sometimes a pitch catches the edge of his glove and bounds away. The Brewers understand that a few of misplays mean nothing compared to Grandal’s day-to-day impact when it comes to preventing runs.

Since 2016, Grandal leads all catchers in a stat called Catcher Framing Runs Above Average (FRM). The gap between his 58.7 FRM and the 3rd-best catcher is 29.9 – a huge margin. Grandal often turns balls into strikes at the top, bottom, and edges of the strike zone. He also rarely catches a pitch so poorly that an ump incorrectly calls a “should-be strike” a ball. It’s a skill that is challenging to recognize and value, but makes a world of difference.

Many catchers would have “lost” this strike. Grandal catches it with his glove still. If he turns it, the ump calls it a ball.

Fangraphs lists Grandal as the best catcher since 2016 based on WAR (14.9). So when combining all his attributes as an overall player – such as his 116 wRC+ (3rd among catchers) and his .342 wOBA (5th) – your new catcher is the best backstop over the last three seasons. Try to keep that in mind when he lets a runner advance to second on a passed ball in July.

Ryan Braun getting days off and a stint on the injured list (IL)

Braun is 35 years old and about to play his 13th season in the majors, all while enduring a number of nagging injuries later in his career (e.g. thumb). All this needs to be kept in mind when fans want to whine about Braun sitting today when the team has a day off tomorrow. The season is a grind and his production is linked to his health. You must accept the fact that in order for Braun to be at his best, he will need days to rest and likely a longer stretch on the IL to feel fresh.

At this point in his career, a strong 110-120 games brings more value than a run-down 140 contests. Craig Counsell and company know how important it is to limit extended periods of ineffectiveness or unavailability in order to get the most out of Braun. Look at just two years ago when he had 28 doubles, 17 home runs, and an .823 OPS in 104 games. That is a solid contribution the 2019 club would take.

If you’re really optimistic, the Crew could get production somewhere between his 2017 and his 2016 campaign when he blasted 30 bombs and posted a .903 OPS. With ideal rest management and the changes to his swing, could Braun hit 25 homers to go with an .840 OPS? It definitely wouldn’t happen if you expected him to play 150 or more games.

Josh Hader will not be available to pitch in some important spots

We all went through this last year and it is time to accept it: Hader will be used in an extremely calculated way to ensure peak performance and health - and he won’t always pitch when you want. Like Braun’s load management, the Brewers handle Hader’s outings similarly and you have to accept it. Clearly, it worked out fantastically well in 2018.

Hader’s 143 strikeouts were the most of any left-handed relief pitcher in MLB history and he needed only 81.1 innings to do it. Milwaukee was 48-7 when Hader pitched, winning their last 17 regular season games in which he appeared – including two scoreless innings in game 163 to take home the NL Central crown.

In September, Hader held opponents to a .157 average while striking out 18.8 per nine innings. He showed he was just as strong at the end of the season as he was in the beginning – a testament to his usage. If Counsell used him more often or pitched him on back-to-back days consistently, you may have seen a major issue down the stretch. Accept the fact that Hader will occasional sit in big spots, like losing the battle to win the war.

The Brewers will allow a few hits because of their shifting

Nearly 100% of the time, when a slow roller gets through where the shortstop or third baseman normally plays, fans go crazy about how the shift is stupid. But you just have to accept it, people. Milwaukee will give up some hits by shifting, but take away far more. The Brewers had the 2nd-most Shift Runs Saved (rTS) in the NL last year, another quiet advantage in Milwaukee.

Brewers shifts at home vs. lefties (no one on base). Red indicates greater frequency.
Baseball Savant

There are a number of different measures for shifting, but all of them show the Brewers are among the most aggressive in utilizing shifts. One number from Baseball Savant ranks the Brewers 8th in percent of shifts (23%) as defined as “when three or more infielders are on the same side of second base.” Of course, Milwaukee also goes extreme with second basemen in short-to-mid right field or the first baseman starting in the middle of the 3-4 hole on the right side.

Regardless of how they set up their “optimal positioning,” the club believes in its enormous value, with GM David Stearns saying last September, “We are dramatically ahead of the break-even point.” Few seem to appreciate it when a line drive that is usually a hit, “somehow” finds a glove. Shifting will continue to be a benefit – accept the random hits.

Milwaukee will lose more games in 2019 than in 2018

This upcoming season in the National League is going to be a lot of fun…and an absolute beast. The Brewers are actually a better team this year than they were in 2018 when they went 96-67, but the amount of high-quality clubs in the NL in 2019 means more frequent tough nights. It’s a long season and you will need to accept stretches of losing.

Everyone in the NL Central is competitive this season. The St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs have plenty of talent that they either added (Paul Goldschmidt, Andrew Miller) or expect healthier seasons from (Kris Bryant, Yu Darvish). The Cincinnati Reds added some pitching and the Pittsburgh Pirates have a lot of young talent that could begin to bloom. There are no nights off in the division.

Then you add in the NL East with the defending champion Atlanta Braves, the newly-stocked Philadelphia Phillies, the still uber-talented Washington Nationals, and the “if their pitching is healthy” New York Mets, and suddenly you struggle to find any breaks. I didn’t even mention the two-time defending NL champs yet, the Los Angeles Dodgers.

This isn’t to say Milwaukee can’t make the playoffs or reach the World Series. They are among the top teams, it’s just crowded. The fact that the Milwaukee Brewers might only win 89 games is actually a positive. If the club was average or worse in terms pure talent, they wouldn’t even sniff a .500 record. Just accept right now that the Crew will lose 4 of 6 games more regularly in 2019 and they’ll find it harder to run off longer winning streaks.

Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs, Baseball-Reference, and Baseball Savant