We are over a month into the season and the Brewers are barely over .500 and are 3rd in the NL Central. This may come as a disappointment considering the great season of 2018. While a handful of key contributors in 2018 have struggled thus far in 2019, it is yet to be seen if Stearns and Co. will address these issues via free agent signing, trade, or within. Let us look at this third option.
Here is a current look at the Brewer’s offensive production:
Take Yelich out of the lineup (not literally, he is much needed) and the offense is below average. Currently, the Brewers rank smack dab in the middle of the league in terms of wRC+ which only will dip down to below average if it were not for Yelich. That being said, the Brewers could find valuable pieces in the minors.
Keston Huira is the obvious pick here. After tearing up the Arizona Fall League this past fall, he has not lost a step. So far this season he is hitting .312/.350/.688 with a league-leading 8 home runs in just 100 plate appearances. Now if the Brewers decide to give Hiura a chance in the Bigs, how would the lineup shuffle? I like Shaw. I think he could turn it around, but he is whiffing at a career-high rate right now. Despite a couple of hot games from Aguilar, the end of last season seems to have infiltrated into this season. Those are the two who would be affected most by bringing Hiura up. Moose would move back over to 3rd base due to Hiura getting the starting role at 2nd base. Shaw meanwhile would be a bench player. Another option would be to put Shaw at 1st base and see if he can figure out his bat. Either way one of the two struggling bats would have to play and break out of their slumps.
I am not one to give up on Arcia yet. The franchise has dedicated time into him and there was a reason he was a top prospect. However, Mauricio Dubon has been looking pretty good in AAA batting .271/.314/.398 adding 4 stolen bases and 2 home runs. I don’t think he is ready yet considering the time he missed last season due to injury. I would give Arcia more time to gain his confidence and show what he is capable of.
Now the pitching. Ouch… to say the least. Today Freddy Peralta came off the injured list to allow 6 ER in 4 IP against the Rockies and things seem… well… rocky for the Brewers’ pitching. Their team ERA currently ranks 5th worst in all of baseball, however, xFIP indicates their only 11th worst. Regardless, something needs to change. As for how this can be fixed from within, now that’s a difficult task. What makes this difficult is that the Brewers are rolling with all of their young starters (Woodruff, Burns, Wilkerson) and it has not worked out. If Stearns and Co. believed that these guys could provide a solid enough rotation in order to circumvent the free agent market or trade, they have been mistaken so far. I am not going to say that they are wrong. I believe in the analytics department that brought them to game 7 of the NLCS last season. I think the model they are using in a way mirrors what the Rays are doing, with the only difference being that the Rays’ young pitchers, namely Glasnow, have been performing well. The Brewers are just hoping Nelson can return strong and that the young arms can figure it out before its too late. Zach Davies has been the only reliable starter so far. Here is what I see happening. Brace yourself:
As of now here is what the starting pitchers look like:
I know, don’t stare directly at the numbers for your own safety. As you can see Davies is the only one with a sub-5 ERA. Gio has just had one start and now Anderson in injured. Chacin will settle down a little, however, his FIP last year indicated he would be around a high 3s low 4s ERA. I think Burnes finds it and by the last few months of the season will be the Burnes we saw last season. And I mean EXACTLY the Burnes we saw last season…in the bullpen. He is a bullpen pitcher and a damn valuable one too. Give him 1-2 innings of all-out work and he turns into a great fireman. This is exactly why the Brewers announced yesterday his return to the pen. Up until this season, in the minors, he pitched 267.2 innings only giving up 11 home runs! Until this season he has not known what it feels like to give up so many dingers. He is a young pitcher who is now just trying to adjust. In addition, his xFIP, which normalizes home runs based on league average HR/FB, is 3.75 which is better than every other starter on the team except for Woodruff. We all know the home run has killed him, and he obviously knows that too. After a couple of months of adjusting and a move to the bullpen, he will be really good. Something I do see as the fault of ownership is not extending pitching coach Derek Johnson. He developed the pitching into one of the best in the game last season including turning around the careers of Chacin and Jeffress. He was a solid platform for the young pitchers and may be the reason the staff is not performing up to last season’s standards.
Its a tough spot for the Crew considering that they are in the window of “going for it” and want to compete this year for a championship. On the other hand, it is also the time that these young pitchers are trying to adjust to regular big league hitters and will get knocked around. The experience is crucial and I see this as growing pains. This reminds me of the 2015-2017 Astros. In 2015 they had a young staff perform well and they made the playoffs before anyone expected them. The staff struggled in 2016 leading to a 3rd place finish and missing the playoffs. In 2017 they rebounded and ended up winning the World Series. I can see the Brewers in that same situation where this year is one to really figure things out.