Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
TOM HAUDRICOURT AND TODD ROSIAK’S 2019 MILWAUKEE BREWERS TEAM GRADES
In adding Mike Moustakas and Yasmani Grandal as late off-season free-agent signings, the Brewers hoped to build an elite offense that would make up for any pitching shortcomings. In terms of home runs, the Brewers were successful, knocking 250 balls out of the park, third-most among National League teams. But the offense too often was all-or-nothing, and scoring runs became more of a chore than expected. The Brewers finished ninth in the league with 769 runs scored. The primary issue was situational hitting. The Brewers batted .237 with runners in scoring position, worst in the NL. The Brewers batted .232 with the bases loaded, 12th in the league, and .249 with runners on base, ranking 13th. The reason they had trouble scoring runners was they too often failed to put the ball in play, ranking second in the NL with 1,563 strikeouts. They couldn’t anticipate the season-long slumps of Travis Shaw and Jesús Aguilar, who eventually was traded, nor the significant drop in production of injury-plagued Lorenzo Cain. Christian Yelich did his part with another MVP-caliber season but too often didn’t get the help he needed. The Brewers were 77-27 when scoring at least four runs, so they did that often enough to succeed. Grade: C.
The Brewers rolled the dice by giving three rotation spots to inexperienced pitchers Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta and paid the price quickly as Burnes and Peralta didn’t make it through the first month before being removed. Thus began a season of flux in the rotation, with 2018 ace Jhoulys Chacín going from 15-game winner to designated for assignment in August, and Jimmy Nelson making only three June starts in his long comeback from shoulder surgery before the plug was pulled. Chase Anderson and Zach Davies became the workhorses, with Woodruff emerging as the best starter before being sidelined by injury. Adrian Houser showed promise when moved from his relief role, and the addition at the trade deadline of Jordan Lyles proved huge. The rotation ranked ninth in the NL with a 4.40 earned run average but last with 7882⁄3 innings. The total of 736 strikeouts ranked next-tolast in the league, and for the second straight year no starter completed a game. Grade: C.
You were in big trouble if you fell behind the Brewers in the late innings in 2018, primarily because the “Electric Dudes” – Josh Hader, Jeremy Jeffress and Corey Knebel – could strike you out with games on the line. But Knebel was lost for the season in the spring when he blew out his elbow, necessitating Tommy John surgery, and Jeffress never caught up after beginning the year on the injured list with shoulder weakness. That put the onus on Hader to close games, often being asked to record more than three outs. He succeeded far more often than not (37 saves in 44 opportunities with 138 strikeouts in 752⁄3 innings), but a heavy reliance on fastballs in the first half led to too many homers (15) that flipped the outcome of games. Even before manager Craig Counsell began “bullpenning” games with a fury in September, relievers were asked to carry a heavy load as starters failed to go deep into games. The Brewers relievers led the NL with 6702⁄3 innings pitched and also ranked first with 761 strikeouts. They issued far too many walks (287, second in the NL), making their jobs more difficult. The relievers ranked ninth in the league with a 4.39 ERA, but considering how often they were used and how effective they were in September, that figure is a bit misleading. Grade: B-minus.
The Brewers put an emphasis on playing better defense in 2019 and improved their fielding percentage from 26th in the NL to 18th (.983), lowering their error total from 108 to 97, which still rated only 13th. Shortstop Orlando Arcia (16), rookie second baseman Keston Hiura (14 in 84 games) and third baseman Mike Moustakas (12) all finished with double-digit miscues. Hiura, in particular, showed there is much work to be done in the field. On the flip side, Lorenzo Cain again was sublime in center field (2.2 dWAR, fourth in the NL), robbing home runs with amazing catches. The Brewers’ 135 double plays tied for fourth in the majors. As a unit, they shifted 2,119 times, or 34.1% of the plays – third-most in the NL behind the Dodgers (50.6%) and Marlins (36.4%). The Brewers shifted 55% of the time against left-handed hitters, way up from 29.4% in 2018. Grade: C-plus.
The Brewers were one of the worst pinch-hitting teams (.190, 13th) in the National League, with Eric Thames (.200 in 40 at-bats) and Ben Gamel (.194 in 36 at-bats) seeing the bulk of the action. Gamel was valuable as a backup outfielder capable of playing all three positions (65 starts) and did deliver more big hits than his .248 batting average would indicate. Rookie outfielder Trent Grisham was a solid contributor after coming up on Aug. 1, particularly after Yelich was lost Sept. 10 with a broken kneecap. Utility infielder Hernán Pérez contributed so little off the bench in the first half he was designated for assignment and went to the minors before returning in August. Backup catcher Manny Piña was most effective when used against left-handed pitchers (.965 OPS). Grade: D.
The Brewers had been written off as postseason contenders as September began but surged to a 20-7 record over the final month to secure the second wild-card berth with 89 victories. They made that improbable surge without Christian Yelich over the final 21⁄2 weeks and with Mike Moustakas, Keston Hiura, Lorenzo Cain and Ryan Braun missing time with injuries, a testament to the leadership and in-game managing ability of the even-keeled, never-panic Craig Counsell. New pitching coach Chris Hook was the target of external criticism when the staff struggled early, but the critics quieted after the additions of starter Jordan Lyles and reliever Drew Pomeranz stabilized the staff. New hitting coach Andy Haines also heard about it when sluggers Jesús Aguilar and Travis Shaw fell into season-long slumps and the team’s situational hitting never improved (.237 with RISP, last in the NL). But he also helped guide Yelich to another MVP-caliber season. Grade: B.
When the opportunity arose to sign Yasmani Grandal and Mike Moustakas late in the off-season, owner Mark Attanasio provided the funds to do so, and the Brewers opened the season with a $125 million payroll, highest in franchise history. The plan to go with young starting pitchers Corbin Burnes, Freddy Peralta and Brandon Woodruff backfired, with only Woodruff succeeding. When the Brewers needed pitching help at the trade deadline, president of baseball operations David Stearns made two unheralded pickups that reaped huge benefits, acquiring starter Jordan Lyles and reliever Drew Pomeranz, both of whom played significant roles in the team’s late-season surge. Grade: B.
Without that final-month surge, their season would have been considered a disappointment. The September to remember salvaged the season and raised the team’s overall grade. After pushing so hard to make it, letting the wild-card game slip away was a true disappointment. Grade: B-minus.