The Brewers were plucky this year. After the All-Star Break, the team went 41-33 and played their way into contention, but it was too little too late, and they were just too far out in the NL Central. There will be no repeat title for Milwaukee in 2012, But after trading ace Zack Greinke, the team went 37-24, showing that there might be some future success there.
If you're new here (which about 90% of our reader base is in comparison to last year), here's a brief explanation: after a team is eliminated from the playoffs, we're going to put their season under a microscope and look at just what the hell went wrong, what went right, and so on and so forth. The goal is to post these the day after a team is eliminated.
What Went Right: Ryan Braun somehow improved upon his 2011 MVP season, logging a 40/30 season with an OPS just a few points shy of 1.000. Aramis Ramirez, whose free agent contract this offseason got roundly thrashed by baseball writers everywhere, homered 27 times, posted an OPS above .900, and hit a career-high 50 doubles. Catcher Jonathan Lucroy missed half the season after breaking a finger, but when he was healthy, he was an absolute monster, homering 11 times with a near .900 OPS and drastically slashing his strikeout rate from his career norm. Center fielder Carlos Gomez roundly outplayed Nyjer Morgan and took control of the full-time job and posted the best season of his career to finally fufill some of his potential, logging career bests in homers (18), steals (36), and OPS (.763). Corey Hart took over at first base after Mat Gamel got hurt, and hit 30 homers, adequately replacing the departed Prince Fielder. Japanese import Norichika Aoki was a revelation and probably the best under the radar free agent signing of the year, homering ten times with 28 steals, great plate discipline for just $1 million. On the mound, rookie Mike Fiers had a fantastic rookie year, striking out a batter per inning. Marco Estrada was also awesome for Milwaukee in 23 starts, striking out just as many hitters as Fiers while walking even fewer. Yovani Gallardo was great as the rotation's horse in the second half of the year, and Wily Peralta was very impressive in five starts.
What Went Wrong: In the first half of the season, injuries destroyed the Brewers. Shortstop Alex Gonzalez and first baseman Mat Gamel both blew out their knees. With Gonzalez out, the team struggled at shortstop all year, though Jean Segura took over in mid-August after coming over in the Zack Greinke trade and showed some promise. Rickie Weeks struggled all year, and while he got to 20 homers, his ISO fell to .167 (second worst mark of the last five years), and both DRS and UZR obliterated him on defense. Nyjer Morgan went from BEAST MODE last year to….well, whatever this year was, seeing all three of his slash lines drop by over 50 points each. Shaun Marcum only made 20 starts due to a glut of injuries. Veteran Randy Wolf sucked up 140+ innings, but posted an ERA of 5.69 during his time in Milwaukee. The bullpen was a horror show, especially Francisco Rodriguez and Livan Hernandez, who combined for over 100 innings. Last year's dominant bullpen duo of John Axford and Kameron Loe saw their fWAR drop by three wins thanks to a newfound addiction to the longball (that was admittedly a little excessive given their HR/FB rates).
Most Surprising Player: Jonathan Lucroy. He turned 26 in June, and a nice season from him would answer a lot of questions about Milwaukee's long-term catching situation. Well, Lucroy built on a successful 2011 campaign by going crazy in 2012, homering 11 times (just one fewer than 2011 in 130 less plate appearances), keeping his walk rate consistent, slashing the hell out of his strikeout rate, and raising all three slash stats substantially across the board. Lucroy's 2012 season was actually fifth best among all NL catchers in fWAR, placing him solidly in that second tier of catchers…which isn't a bad thing by any means, considering the players in the top tier are MVP candidates, borderline or favorites.
Most Disappointing Player: John Axford's year was horrendous, and even though reliever performance from year to year is very static, Axford's 2012 was such a contrast from his 2011. Axford's strikeout rate actually went up by a batter per nine between the two seasons…but his walk rate went up by two batters per nine, his homer rate nearly tripled, and his ERA went up by just about three runs. Put everything in a blenader, and you get a negative fWAR season and nine blown saves, after five in 2010 and 2011 combined.
Prospects Up: Tyler Thornburg moved quickly through the minors and never met a failure, until he threw 18 innings in the majors and got blitzed with a barrage of homers. His strikeout and walk rates looked fine though, and the HR/FB is way too insustainable to continue. Wily Peralta was OK in AAA this year, but has had an extremely successful September in the majors. Then again, it's September, and you can't make too many assumptions from that. Jean Segura showed flashes of brilliance in 40 MLB games with Milwaukee, especially considering he's just 22.
Prospects Down: 2011 first round picks Taylor Jungmann and Jed Bradley had interesting years…but you definitely expect more than 99 strikeouts in 153 innings for Jungmann and 60 strikeouts in 107 1/3 for Bradley. Johnny Hellweg and Ariel Pena, who came over from the Angels in the Greinke trade, had control problems in AA.
The Future: Milwaukee is another team built to win now, with an eye on the future. The only significant free agent they'll lose this offseason is Marcum (along with the awful Rodriguez/Hernandez bullpen duo), and the biggest holes the team has lies in the rotation, where it'll be Gallardo and young pitchers. I'm not sure that a Gallardo/Fiers/Peralta/Estrada top four is good enough to contend against the pitching-rich Reds and Cardinals, but the Brewers offense is good enough to make up for any shortcomings. If the Brewers can get their awful bullpen straightened out for 2013, they can definitely make waves next year.