FanPost

Meet Your 2011 Milwaukee Brewers (2021 version)

I’ve been going nuts waiting six weeks for the next game that actually matters. It reminds me of the only other time I ever spent September knowing the Brewers were going to win the division, which was exactly ten years ago. I will always remember 2011 as the first team with a real shot to win it all since before I was making memories. If the good people of eastern Missouri had guarded their infants a little more closely, they might have done it, too.

Ten years no longer seems like the vast expanse of time it did when I was younger. The average MLB career is shorter than that, but there are plenty of players who play 12, or 15, or even 20 years here and there. And as we enter a postseason that includes Albert Pujols, Nelson Cruz, and a Giants starting lineup that orders off the discount menu at Denny's, I got to wondering how many of those guys from the '11 Brew Crew are still around? Most of us know off the top of our heads there are no players from that team still *playing* in Milwaukee, but how many are still kicking around a major league roster, and what happened to the rest? (The answer is four, one of which is a gimmie, but if you can name all of them without looking at the next paragraph, kudos to you).

Presenting your 2011 Milwaukee Brewers:

Starting Lineup

With an average age of 28 and nobody over 30, this Brewers lineup was a fairly young one. Put another way, the oldest Brewer to lead the team in ABs for his position was either 1, 3, or 4 years younger than Pujols depending on who you talked to. Yet none of them remains on a major league roster today. (The four 2011 Brewers who do are Zack Greinke (duh), Martin Maldonado (Astros’ starting catcher), Mike Fiers (A’s back-of-rotation guy, injured most of the year) and, technically, John Axford (best and worst comeback story of 2021). Lucroy and Brandon Kintzler played in the majors this year, but were both released mid-season and were not on a roster when the regular season ended).

C - Jonathan Lucroy

If you defended your dreams of a Brewers dynasty following the 2011 season, you likely spent a lot of time talking about Lucroy. 2011 was Lucroy's first season as the team's primary catcher, and he was still very much a work in progress at the time. He was a below average hitter by OPS+ that year, striking out three times for every walk, though he put up decent numbers in the NLCS.

It was the next year that he hit his stride. Luc was not only an excellent hitter (especially for a catcher), it turned out he was very, very skilled at convincing umpires to call strikes on pitches that maybe weren’t actually strikes. Baseball Reference estimates that, in the three seasons following 2011, Lucroy was worth 12.6 wins more than a replacement-level catcher. Fangraphs, which now factors in catcher framing date, thinks he was worth 21.2 wins. In the last of those seasons he finished fourth in the MVP voting, but by the current version of fWAR he was tops in the NL (8.2) and just a hair below Mike Trout for the highest in baseball at any position. When the 2015 season began, Luc was 29 and very much on track for an interesting argument between the Cooperstown voters over how to compare modern catchers to the ones from before the pitch tracking era.

And then, he wasn’t. He fought through minor-ish injuries in what was a rock bottom season for the team in 2015, and while he rebounded to be All-Star in 2016, that would be his last cameo in the "best catcher in baseball?" conversation. Finally resigned to a full (and wildly successful!) rebuild, the team traded him at the deadline (more on that below) where he teamed up with Carlos Gomez to head into the playoffs with the suddenly Prince-less Rangers. Lucroy went 1-for-12 in an ALDS drubbing by the Blue Jays, and it was downhill from there.

Luc has played for eight teams since leaving Milwaukee (including a brief stint in a Cubs uniform – barf), and he looks to be done. He played a few games for the Nats and Braves this year and hit fine (114 OPS+ in 23 PA), but neither team wanted to keep him around. The Braves DFA'd him in August in favor of fellow Old Friend Steven Vogt as their backup instead, and he declined the assignment to become a free agent. No one else picked him up for their playoff run. In a postseason featuring Buster Posey and Yadier Molina, sending Luc to the showers at age 35 seems like a shame.

It would be easy to blame the 2019 broken nose/concussion (not his first) he suffered in one of the dirtiest plays at the plate you will ever see (Jake Marisnick went so far out of his way to clobber Lucroy – who had not yet even received the ball when Marisnick took aim – that he missed home plate to the infield side). https://www.mlb.com/video/lucroy-leaves-game-with-injury

Yes, that injury was the end of his regular playing time anywhere, but the truth is Lucroy has not been an adequate hitter in years. I expect we’ll see him pouring brews at a certain retractable-roof ballpark before long.

GM’s Corner: The Brewers got nearly all of Jonathan Lucroy’s 17.7 career bWAR (or, if you prefer, nearly all of his 37.0 career fWAR) in exchange for just a quarter of his career $26 million earnings. Either way that’s highway robbery. The Brewers got all or part of all four of Lucroy's four seasons in which his OPS+ exceeded 100, on his way to a career OPS+ of 101 (to date). It’s hard to admit for such a likeable player, but we traded him at exactly the right time.

If you need any proof of David Stearns’ brilliance, look no farther than the Lucroy trade. Yes, we all know he turned pumpkin-in-disguise Lewis Brinson into Christian Yelich before anyone else was the wiser, but I mean have you checked up recently on Stearns’ first choice for the Lucroy trade?

Before Luc exercised his no-trade clause, it was reported that Cleveland would part with some four of Francisco Mejia, Yu Chang, Greg Allen, Justus Sheffield, and Triston McKenzie, none of whom were higher than high-A ball at the time. You may not recognize these names, as none is an MLB star, exactly, but here’s the thing: all five of them logged significant innings in MLB this year, all of them with a positive bWAR except Sheffield (who was very solid in ten starts last year and may well rebound). That is utterly, completely insane. I should not be able to reach into your farm system, pick five guys from below AA level that you are willing to part with for 1.5 years’ control of a maybe-starter, maybe-backup catcher, and come up with five future major league ballplayers. Totally, fully bonkers.

(Note also that, had he not nixed the Cleveland deal, Lucroy would have gone to the World Series against the Cubs that year. Would his .500-slugging, I-hit-doubles-in-my-sleep bat in place of Roberto Perez (he of the .657 career OPS fame) and Yan Gomez (who had been injured/awful all year to the tune of a 7.6 K/BB ratio and who came in for Perez in the bottom of the eighth of Game 7 in the midst of a 3-run rally against a clearly struggling Aroldis Chapman with a runner first and the game tied only to, obviously, strike out to end the inning, and who then proceeded to let Bryan Shaw throw the same low-90s pitch fifteen consecutive times in the top of the 10th) have been the difference-maker that sent the Cubs back to Wrigley gnashing and wailing, extending for several more centuries my favorite streak in the history of sports? Did Stearns specifically plan that outcome in drawing up this deal, only to be thwarted by a no-trade clause he had no part in negotiating??? The world will never know.)

Lucroy accrued either 17.7 or 37.0 WAR across 12 seasons, and barring an extremely unlikely finish to his career, will not make the Hall of Fame. He has not won a World Series to date.

1B – Prince Fielder

We all remember the 50 dingers at age 23, the home plate bomb/bowling ball celebration, his two inside-the-park jobs, the six straight seasons with almost no missed games. I hope we also remember that it was Prince, more than anyone else, yes, more than Braun, who did so much to create the loose, gritty, tenacious attitude and team-first culture that persists at Miller Park to this day. I can’t be the only one who sees The Claws are just Beast Mode by another name.

Prince was a force in 2011, playing all 162 games to the tune of 164 OPS+ that was the second-highest of his career, leading all major leaguers in intentional walks with 32 and finishing third in the MVP voting. Those playoffs were the only good postseason performance of his career (he slugged .600 in the NLCS, plus four walks and an HBP), and you could just tell that despite knowing the Brewers would not make the winning free agency bid when the season was over, he wanted to bring a trophy to Milwaukee as much as anyone.

He had two solid seasons for a contending Tigers team (excepting the playoffs, lowlighted by a rough 1-for-14 with two GiDPs in his lone World Series appearance, a sweep at the hands of the Giants), and one AL Comeback Player of the Year season with the Rangers in 2015, but by 2016 (his age 32 season) a series of neck injuries forced him retire mid-season, reluctantly and in tears.

In nine healthy seasons he clobbered 300 homers, 1500 hits, and almost 1000 RBIs. Looking at the long careers of several contemporary sluggers, there’s no reason he couldn’t have doubled those numbers were it not for the neck, and been a surefire Hall of Famer. As it stands he only got to 23.8 bWAR, dragged down by three mostly injured years in Texas, and by being a generally abysmal first baseman.

GM’s Corner: 71% of Fielder’s bWAR (16.8/23.8) came in Milwaukee, who paid just $35M of his career $153M salary (23%). The Rangers paid 72 million dollars for 0.1 bWAR, and have not been back to the playoffs since the year he retired.

Prince piled up 23.8 bWAR (34.1 oWAR) over parts of 12 seasons, and barring a major change in how the voters view the importance of longevity, will not make the Hall of Fame. His career included three LCS appearances (all consecutive) and one trip to the main stage, but no rings.

After retirement, Prince had a short-lived cooking show called Fielder’s Choice (quick, someone with an Amazon Prime account check if it’s still available on streaming, that sounds amazing). Today you can find him enjoying a noticeably better relationship with his sons than he reportedly had with his dad most times, which is nice to see.

https://www.tigerdroppings.com/mlb/prince-fielders-16-year-old-son-is-already-a-beast-at-the-plate/95165357/

2B – Rickie Weeks

Quite a few people in this world know Rickie Weeks as the greatest baseball player they’ve ever seen. He was a lightly regarded prospect in the Orlando suburbs and received only one D1 offer, from Southern University. Upon arrival, he immediately proceeded to become the best college hitter in history. He still holds the D1 career records for batting average (.465) and slugging percentage (.927 – LOLOL). Legend has it all the scouts in central Florida were fired after Rickie’s freshman season.

The Brewers took him second overall in the 2003 draft (Delmon Young went to the Rays at #1), and with multiple college seasons under his belt he might have been ready for the majors quickly. There is a parallel universe not too many iterations over from ours in which Mike Trout is merely the second-best player of his generation. Unfortunately for Rickie the wrist/hand problems started almost right away, including the 2005 season that was his first non-cup-of-coffee time in the majors. He averaged only 100 games or so the next four seasons, then missed most of 2009 to his most serious wrist injury at that point.

2011 was the latter of Rickie’s only two truly good years in MLB, and the only year he made the All-Star team. Even then, he was hurt for much of the second half of the season. He recovered in time for the playoffs, and hit a couple dingers with a decent .772 OPS in the losing NLCS effort, to go with a very-respectable-for-a-second-baseman OPS+ of 121 on the season.

What I remember most about Rickie’s post-2011 time with the Brewers is that no home run ever got out of the yard faster than a Rickie Weeks home run. Like it was being pulled into the stands on an invisible zip line. What I remember second-most is a lesson in contract construction. The Brewers gave him a four-year contract laden with service time incentives needed to vest a fifth-year player option (or something like that), because of his injury history. I can’t point to a specific memory, but I recall openly questioning more than once whether he was hiding injuries in order to meet his incentives, because he sure looked hurt most of the time. I came to the conclusion that it’s never a good idea to mitigate risk of injury with this kind of contract; it puts the player in a terrible conflict of interest between what’s best for the team and what’s best for the player, during that limited window most players have to make their real money in baseball. Either take the risk on an injury-prone player and pay him the guaranteed money he wants, or convince him to take a short-term deal, or cut him loose to let someone else take the chance on him.

Rickie got back to an OPS+ over 100 one more time in the [year redacted] season, but that was on just half a season’s worth of plate appearances in a platoon with Scooter Gennett. The Brewers declined the final year of Rickie’s contract to go with Scooter full time for 2015 instead.

Rickie signed a couple minor league deals after that, and actually had a decent 200-PA go with the Diamondbacks in 2016, but was out of baseball mid-2017 following one last trip to the IL. He did not attempt a career in any lesser leagues as far as I can find, which given his injury history was probably a good idea.

Apart from his bat, Weeks produced some quirky stats worth noting. He didn’t steal a ton of bases, but he really knew how to pick his spots, getting caught just 32 times on 164 career attempts, one of the top 100 steal rates of all time. He was also an HBP god, racking up the 35th most HBP ever despite his injury-shortened career. I suspect he is top ten in HBP per PA in league history, and sabr.org has him top twenty in their era-adjusted HBP+ metric. Although come to think of it, all those beanballs may have contributed to his injuries.

His value as a hitter was also muted by being perhaps one of the worst second basemen ever. He made errors at a rate nearly double the average second baseman for his career as a whole, and twice made more than 20 errors in a season despite playing less than 100 games, which is really hard to do at second base. DRS liked Rickie even less, pegging his career defensive contributions at -15 runs per 1200 innings (i.e. his shoddy defense cost his team roughly 1.5 wins for each full season’s worth of innings he put in at second base). This had a severe negative drag on his overall value, leaving a career bWAR of only 11.5 that belies how good a hitter he was in his few healthyish prime years. In one of those parallel universes, the Rays take Weeks over Young and plug him in at DH, sparing his wrists (and his team) the needless throwing and catching he wasn’t any good at anyway, and maybe he’s headed to the playoffs with them this year as the old man off the bench instead of Nelson Cruz, at the end of a long, productive career.

GM’s Corner: The Brewers got a little more than 100% of Weeks’ career bWAR (12.4 out of 11.5), for which they paid a little less than 100% of his career salary of $48 million. He was worth a combined -1.0 bWAR for three teams after the Brewers cut him loose.

Rickie obliterated baseballs to the tune of 11.5 bWAR (24.7 oWAR) across parts of 14 seasons, and will not make the Hall of Fame. He did not get a World Series ring. I reckon he’s okay with his overall baseball legacy, though. He was inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame last month. The grandson of a pro ballplayer denied any chance to play in the AL/NL because of the color of his skin, it’s kind of cool that a scouting oversight landed Rickie at an HBCU like Southern to set those all-time college records instead of say, Miami (a far more likely destination for a top Florida high school prospect, and the place where his brother Jemile and future Brewers teammate Ryan Braun played).

Weeks was last seen tending taps at Miller Park. At other times, you can find him running baseball camps with his brother in their native Florida.

SS – Yuniesky Betancourt

I ended up having way too many thoughts about Yuni and the era of Yes, We Have No Shortstops to fit here. Long story short he no longer plays baseball for money, and has returned to Cuba, which is more interesting than it sounds.

P.S. You may remember Yuni as the worst regular-playing major leaguer of all time, which I won’t fight you on, but it’s hard to blame him for losing the 2011 NLCS, where he went 8-for-24 and turned five double plays. Others might have gotten to a few more grounders, but that wouldn’t have cut into the series run differential of 17 by all that much.

3B - Casey McGehee

It's pronounced "McGee", you may remember, but the rest of the league has probably forgotten. When you get to The Show late-ish and bounce around seven teams in eight years until you’re too old-ish to continue, people tend to forget you. Which is a shame, because Casey had quite the interesting baseball journey!

An OPS+ of 126 was enough to place fifth in Rookie of the Year voting, and he was almost as good his sophomore season. But 2011 was a different story, as Casey’s bat went down to Mudville (an OPS 26 points below Yuni’s already sad .652, if that gives you an idea). By the time the playoffs arrived, Casey had been off his former pace for long enough that Jerry Hairston got the starting nod at third instead (probably a good call; Hairston OPS’d .886 for the playoffs that year on the strength of six doubles). McGehee notched a single and a walk off the bench in what would be the only six PA in his MLB postseason career.

We signed A-Ram in the offseason and unceremoniously traded Casey to the Pirates for journeyman reliever Jose Veraz, who ate several dozen innings for the team the following year. By the end of 2012 Casey was out of MLB . . . and into the Nippon League, where he mashed 28 dingers for the Tohuku Rakuten Golden Eagles and (with a little help from Andruw Jones!) led them to their first Japan Series Trophy ever! (which, sadly, is not a giant sword). https://www.cbssports.com/mlb/news/nc-dinos-celebrate-first-korean-series-win-with-enormous-sword-trophy/#:~:text=On%20Monday%20morning%2C%20the%20NC,Yes%2C%20a%20gigantic%20sword.&text=As%20the%20sword%20was%20revealed,take%20photos%20of%20the%20piece.

That got him another MLB contract in 2014, where he won NL Comeback Player of the Year by amassing nearly a full point of bWAR across a career-high 160 games for the Fish. He bounced into an NL-leading 31 double plays, but swatted nearly 150 singles, earning him the hilarious nickname Hits McGehee! (Fun fact: before they noticed Casey’s body of work in Japan, the Marlins were reportedly going to bring Betancourt back to MLB as their third baseman – LOL).

He then went to the Giants a year too late to participate in the even-years-only dynasty, and after one more go in Miami and a brief stint in Detroit, was out of baseball again . . . until he signed with the Yomiuri Giants in the Nippon League and got back to OPSing .900! He hung ‘em up for good after the 2018 season, finishing with exactly 67 home runs on each side of the Pacific.

You can catch up with Casey in a recent episode of the central California-centric baseball podcast "Hit or Die" (Episode 125).

GM’s Corner: The Brewers got 2 of McGehee’s only 3 seasons as an above-average hitter by OPS+, and paid just 13% of his eventual MLB salary total of about $10M, in exchange for 314%(!) of his career bWAR (2.2 out of 0.7). The Giants, in contrast, paid him almost $5M for his post-CPOY season alone, wherein he somehow managed -0.8 bWAR in just 138 PA (and to get him they gave up a young Luis Castillo, currently in the Reds’ rotation and sitting pretty so far at a career ERA+ of 123).

Casey McGehee totaled 0.7 bWAR over 8 MLB seasons, and will not make the Hall of Fame. He ended with zero World Series rings. But I bet he wouldn’t trade that championship parade in Miyagi Prefecture for the world.

LF – Ryan Braun

Braunie had himself a year in 2011. He led the league in slugging and OPS, was a 30/30 man for the first time, won the MVP. It was the year when he and Fielder both seemed destined to break records and probably make the Hall, and maybe bring a World Series title home to Milwaukee for the first time since the Braves. They fell short of that in 2011, through no fault of Braun’s, who went 9-for-18 in the NLDS and smacked 14 total bases in the NLCS. With Prince moving on in free agency, Ryan was the face of the franchise heading into the 2012 season.

Then he got caught doing a bad thing, and like roughly ten billion humans before him, made it much worse trying to lie about it. It was a doozy of a lie that was ugly and dragged out forever, and cost him quite a lot in the end. I’d rate it a 4 or 5 on the scale of zero to Lance Armstrong.

Braun was probably the most consistent hitter in Brewers history (far moreso than Yount, and even more than Molitor, to my eye comparing the stat sheets). Apart from [the year that shall not be named] he never had an OPS+ below 130 until he got old, his BABIP was never less than .300 or more than .360 until he got old. He got old a little early, I guess, which I am inclined to blame on nagging injuries more than the dropoff in, uh, "biogenetics."

For some reason he gained a bit of a reputation among a handful of Brewers fans for not being clutch, but his career OPS with runners in scoring position is a silly .945 (well above his overall OPS of .891). In 147 career plate appearances with the bases loaded, he hit almost as many grand slams (8) as he grounded into double plays (9). He wasn’t great against the Dodgers in 2018, but he wasn’t supposed to be The Man anymore at that point either. Upon his retirement last week, Braun became the only player not named Yount to play the entirety of a 10+ season career for the Brewers (I think that’s right?). In Braun’s 14 seasons, the Brewers made the playoffs five times, assuming you count 2020 (I do).

GM’s Corner: The Brewers got 100% of Braun’s career bWAR for 100% of his career $140m salary. At the time, no matter the cost I wanted the team to re-sign Prince even if it meant getting rid of Braun, but if you look above at the note on the Rangers’ post-Fielder/Gomez/Lucroy years, you can’t escape the fact that the Brewers’ management is either really lucky or really good.

The Hebrew Hammer forged 47.1 career bWAR, and for multiple reasons discussed at length in many other places, will not make the Hall of Fame. He finished his playing career without a ring, though I have a sneaking suspicion Attanasio will have one made for him if the Brewers win it all this year.

CF – Nyjer Morgan

If you thought Carlos Gomez was the Brewers’ primary centerfielder in 2011, you likely forgot that he began the season in a platoon with Morgan and then broke his collarbone on a diving catch in July. Tony Plush was, I think it’s fair to say, an enigma to Brewers fans when the team traded Cutter Dykstra (Lenny’s kid who never quite made the majors) for him just before Opening Day. Drafted in the 42nd round out of high school and only moving up to the 33rd after an aborted attempt at a hockey career, Morgan was a longshot to make the MLB, but he did it by playing all the outfield positions competently and doing his best Ichiro impression at the plate, especially against righties. And, of course, by introducing his teammates to Plushdamentals wherever he went.

He wasn’t great in the 2011 playoffs, except when it mattered most, producing two doubles, two singles, and one franchise-altering tickle. The team kept him around to platoon with Gomez one more year, but his bat vanished into thin air. After a productive 2013 in Japan, he got one more try in MLB (.868 OPS in 52 PA for Cleveland), but it wasn’t enough to keep him in the league.

Plush kept playing pro baseball after his MLB days, teaming up with fellow ringers Carlos Quentin and Willy Taveras in 2016 to bring Puebla its first Mexican league championship in decades. If anyone has video of him doing a postgame press conference in Spanish, PLEASE share.

GM’s Corner: The team paid about 70% of Morgan’s career salary of $4 million in exchange for about 40% of his career 6.8 bWAR. But almost all of that came in 2011, when he was worth 3.0 bWAR and helped fill a primo defensive position in a title-contending year.

"Tony" scampered his way to 6.8 career bWAR in eight seasons, and will not make our Hall of Fame. He got no World Series rings. He was last seen teaching baseball to the cat-children of his home dimension, Omicron VII. Aaaaaaah, gotta go!

RF – Corey Hart

No, not that Corey Hart. The baseball player. No, he didn’t play infield for the 2005 Sounds, he played outfield … wait, what? There were two different guys named exactly "Corey Hart" who played for the 2005 Sounds, who were unrelated to each other? That’s pretty damn weird . . . I’m getting off track here. Blond guy, super tall? Looked a teensy bit like Tom Brady if you gave him a scraggly beard and stretched him a whole bunch? Hit plenty of long bombs and ran the bases surprisingly well for such a big guy? Played for the 2011 Brewers? Stay with me.

Unlike, say, Nyjer Morgan, Hart knew he was likely to play pro ball by the time he was a teenager. The Brewers drafted him in the 11th round straight out of high school, and he was a regular major leaguer at age 23. He hit a home run in his first ever start in the majors, and by the 2011 season was as well established as his flashier teammates, with two all-star appearances under his belt and a long expected career still mostly ahead of him.

He didn’t hit well in the NLCS, save for a too-little, too-late three singles and a homer in the final two games. But through a solid 2012 (his third straight 25-homer season) he continued his steady, mid-.800s OPS play that seemed effortless and that Brewers fans generally took for granted. Then one of his knees spontaneously exploded; then six months later the other one.

He never played another inning for the Crew, never got to enjoy most of those really big free agent contract years that had long seemed a foregone conclusion, and after two not-even-close comeback attempts with the Mariners and Pirates (during which time he later admitted to checking Brewers scores daily and cheating on his current teams with his heart), he was done after the 2015 season, at age 33.

He went home to his four kids in Arizona and founded the club baseball team his son plays on and that he coaches to this day. Corey discovered the joys of Twitter during the pandemic, which is how I can tell you that Matthew Hart is up to 89 mph on his fastball, and that the dog the family has had since before the ’08 playoff run died last month.

Despite growing up in Kentucky, Corey loves the Badgers, Packers, Bucks, Uecker, and all the current Brewers players. He’s doled out beers at the ballpark recently along with some other guys who also clearly think this is the year and don’t want to miss the party, and as much as I love me some Rowdy/Vogey heroics, I kinda wish he never got hurt and was our first baseman right now.

GM’s Corner: The Brewers paid 75% of Corey’s career $33 million salary and got 107% (15.5/14.4) of his career bWAR. Since the team had no clear answer at first base at the time (a problem that continues to this day), it must have been very tempting to bring him back after his missed year of knee surgeries, but when you look at the combined $8.5 million the Mariners and Pirates paid for 300 PA of sub-replacement level performance, it was once again a savvy call by the brass to go with their head and not their Hart (sorry).

Corey "I only wear my sunglasses during day games, moran" Hart cruised to 14.4 career bWar over parts of 11 seasons, and will not make the Hall of Fame. He never won a World Series.