2013 record: 74-88, 4th place NL Central
Corey Hart didn’t play at all in 2013 but was lost to free agency nonetheless. Aoki was a solid contributor, however, Ryan Braun will replace him in right field and the up-and-coming Khris Davis will remain in left field after taking it over once Braun’s suspension went into effect.
As a team, the Brewers OPS’d .708, good for 9th in the league but not equal to the .713 OPS their opponents hit against them.
Led by Carlos Gomez, who broke out in 2013, the Brewers offense held up reasonably well without Braun and Hart, who were big contributors in seasons past. Gomez, 28, is right in his prime and could have an MVP-type season. An All-Star and Gold Glove, Gomez finished 9th in the MVP vote last season. His total WAR was behind only Mike Trout in all of baseball, largely due to his defense. In offensive WAR, Gomez finished 35th.
The lineup lost the leadoff hitter in Aoki but young shortstop Jean Segura is poised to take over the top spot. Segura had a tremendous first half and made the All-Star team but followed that up with a terrible second half. He did steal 44 bases against 13 times caught but overall, the Brewers just don’t know what to expect from him.
Can Ryan Braun return to MVP form? Will Khris Davis suffer a sophomore slump? Can Aramis Ramirez stay healthy? Will Jonathan Lucroy have another career year or was 2013 just an outlier? Rickie Weeks was terrible in 2013, can he bounce back or is he done? Scooter Gennett looks ready to take the second base job from Weeks but will he be any good over a full season?
The Brewers were third worst in baseball in fielding percentage with a .981 overall mark. However, some of that is due to them getting to balls other teams didn’t. They turned the 5th most double plays in the league while ranking 4th in defensive runs saved. Certainly Carlos Gomez covers plenty of ground in CF and so does SS Segura, despite his high number of errors.
In 2013 the Brewers had 12 different guys start games for them, compiling a 1.32 WHIP (tied with the Phillies starters), a 6.61 K/9 (4th worst in all of baseball) and a league high 120 HR given up.
The Brewers top five starters are right-handed, which explains their trade of Aoki for big lefty Will Smith. But Smith isn’t an established big leaguer yet and won’t be enough to balance things out. Bullpen lefty Tom Gorzelanny logged ten unimpressive starts for the Brew Crew last season and he may serve as a swingman again in 2014, but he is much more effective out of the pen.
The ace of their staff is Yovani Gallardo, who is more of a #3 than an ace. Matt Garza could become the ace of the staff before too long, but he, too, is more of a #3. Kyle Lohse is a solid #4, though he’ll be counted on as a #3. Marco Estrada had a decent campaign in 2013 and with a 1.08 WHIP in 21 starts and likely will be the #4. Wily Peralta was not especially good as the #5, compiling a -1.1 WAR in 2013. He will probably have to make way for Will Smith or another lefty unless the Brew Crew wants to repeat the mistake of being exclusively right-handed.
The Brew Crew blew 23 of 66 save opportunities, tied for 5th worst in all of baseball. However, Jim Henderson was a good closer and if K-Rod can be an elite set-up man all season long the bullpen could improve. The middle of the pen is suspect, though, and the starters aren’t exactly innings eaters: only the Colorado Rockies starting pitchers managed fewer innings. Matt Garza could help by pitching deeper into games as long as he’s healthy.
If Matt Garza has a strong season, if the unproven Will Smith can hold his own as the lone lefty in the rotation and rest of the starting pitching can improve upon their second half in 2013, maybe the starting pitching won’t be the sore spot it was for the Brewers in 2013.
But much more will have to right for the Brewers to contend.
Can Ryan Braun re-invigorate the offense after the drama of his awkward lies and suspension? Can K-Rod recapture past glory out of the pen? Can they really contend with Will Smith as their only lefty starter? Can Gomez repeat his breakout season? Will Segura repeat his first half or second? Will they get any real production from first or second base?
If all goes right, the Brew Crew could hang around the Wild Card race until mid-summer before giving way to the vastly more talented Cardinals, Pirates and Reds. The biggest problem is depth. If anything goes wrong, the Brewers don’t have much help on the Farm. In fact, The Brewers farm system is widely regarded as the worst in baseball. Keith Law recently ranked them dead last in baseball, so there isn’t a lot of help if guys are injured or ineffective.
If Braun is a shell of the player he was while juicing, if Carlos Gomez can’t match the performance of his breakout season, if the defense can’t reduce the number of errors, if the starting pitching unravels or if two or three key players go down to injury, things could go south quickly.
Once injuries hit this team there isn’t anywhere to go but down. Carlos Gomez was a revelation last season and he could carry the team along with a healthy Braun and Ramirez but more likely he’ll regress a bit and Braun and Ramirez will have some serious rust. There is no cavalry ready to ride to the rescue, either, which is why I see a last place finish and a team ready to sell off assets at the deadline in exchange for improving the farm.