Do the Brewers Need a Star?

Starting with the position that the Brewers’ rebuild is over, let’s also posit that contending for a playoff spot, as Milwaukee is currently, isn’t the end game for the franchise. Consistently competing, year in and year out is the goal; not for a one-game or even five-game playoff series every year, but because making the postseason consistently is the best path toward winning a World Series.

So while the exciting pennant and playoff-chase baseball we’re experiencing is ahead of schedule, that doesn’t exclude us from looking at the bigger picture and thinking about what it will take for the Brewers to take the next step in its build. And, look, crazy things happen in postseason baseball. For all we know, the Brewers are already there and wondering about the Brewers’ long-term championship prospects will look silly at the end of October. It wouldn’t be the first time.

Among the Brewer hitters, something sticks out on their Baseball Prospectus team page. The depth, for sure, is notable and has been a strength of the team, especially on their most recent run. But for a team that is playing over its preseason projections and getting upper-range production from those same projections, it’s remarkably void of one standout star performance.

Let’s define a “star” performance as 5.0 BWARP or more for a season. It’s a decently high bar to clear, as only 17.1 teams on average have had a player clear that bar each year over the past 10 years.

On the other hand, 90 percent of World Series teams over that same time span have rostered at least one player worth more than 5.0 wins above replacement.

World Series Participants With BWARP Above 5, 2007-2016
Year NL Team Player(s) AL Team Player(s)
2007 Rockies Troy Tulowitzki / Matt Holliday Red Sox David Ortiz
2008 Phillies Chase Utley Rays (none)
2009 Phillies Chase Utley / Jayson Werth Yankees (none)
2010 Giants Aubrey Huff / Andres Torres Rangers Josh Hamilton
2011 Cardinals Albert Pujols / Yadier Molina Rangers Ian Kinsler
2012 Giants Buster Posey / Melky Cabrera Tigers Miguel Cabrera / Austin Jackson
2013 Cardinals Matt Carpenter / Yadier Molina Red Sox Shane Victorino
2014 Giants Buster Posey Royals Alex Gordon
2015 Mets Curtis Granderson Royals Lorenzo Cain
2016 Cubs Kris Bryant / Anthony Rizzo Indians Francisco Lindor

It’s not news that good teams have good players. There’s certainly something to be said, though, for a team getting a high-level performance out of one or two players that can erase deficiencies elsewhere on the roster. Indeed, a 5-win performance out of centerfield, for example, would net the Brewers an extra 3.5 wins this season, which is exactly the number of games out of first place the team found itself in entering play on Wednesday.

Of course, 5-win players don’t exactly grow on trees, either. The good news is that the list above has players that probably weren’t projected to be 5-win players, but simply outplayed their projections and had great years. For the current team, Travis Shaw is the closest to the 5-win mark with 4.1 BWARP entering play on Wednesday. As a 27-year old, there’s room for him to continue the improvements he’s made coming into this year, though nothing is guaranteed.

Looking down the list of Brewers players this season, Orlando Arcia comes in next with 3.1 BWARP. With his fourth-best among shortstops fielding runs above average (FRAA) at 6.6 and solid .260 TAv, it’s hard to expect or project too much more going forward, especially if defense peaks early, but it’s certainly still possible to see that “star” level of performance in the future.

And with all due respect to the #ryanbraunforever crowd, it can’t be Ryan Braun literally forever. His .296 TAv demonstrates his bat has still been productive when in the lineup, but as he continues to age and needs maintenance days, if not DL stints moving forward, it would take a full rebound season to get back to his star-level days.

So while there’s cold water to throw over any player reaching 5.0 WARP in a given year (non-Mike Trout division), those are three players that could reach that level. And that’s without mentioning strides that may be made by the young players currently on the roster or are that knocking on the door of the big leagues, or even the next wave of players that will come in the next two years.

Yes, the Brewers need a “star” player to reach the World Series, but that player may already be on the roster. Or, you know, maybe there’s a cost-controlled, free agent player out there somewhere that could be worth 5-plus WARP next year.


Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire, USAToday Sports Images

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