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Top of the Order: Depth Has Been Key to the Brewers’ Success


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Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to Top of the Order, where every Tuesday and Friday I’ll be starting your baseball day with some news, notes, and thoughts about the game we love.

It’s understandable to want to blame injuries when your favorite team underperforms expectations. But every team deals with them, and the truly great ones are able to weather that storm and succeed when their best players aren’t in the lineup. The Brewers sure look like a great team right now, with a commanding seven-game lead in the NL Central even after dropping Monday night’s game in Philadelphia. They are where they are despite having a whole rotation’s worth of starters on the injured list, getting zero innings from star closer Devin Williams, and losing important position players Christian Yelich, Rhys Hoskins, and Garrett Mitchell to injury at various points this year.

How has Milwaukee thrived under less-than-ideal circumstances? The answer is one of my favorite topics: depth. For the most part, it’s fairly easy to look at a team’s Opening Day roster or offseason RosterResource page and prognosticate how things will play out if everyone stays reasonably healthy; it’s much harder to go two or three players deep at a position and figure how good a club will be if it has to depend on those guys. The Brewers have assembled a team that may not be as top heavy as some of the other contending clubs, but when it comes to the entire roster, few teams are deeper. So let’s run through some of the unlikely contributors for the Brewers this season.

All stats are updated through the start of play Monday.

Position Players

The Brewers haven’t been terribly unlucky in this department: Yelich missed 25 days with a back strain, Hoskins 17 with a hamstring strain, and Joey Wiemer 16 with knee discomfort. Mitchell has missed the entire season thus far with a fractured finger suffered in the final days of spring training, but if there’s anywhere the Brewers could’ve afforded an injury, it was out on the grass.

Still, the names covering for Mitchell aren’t exactly as expected. Top prospect Jackson Chourio has struggled out of the gate, batting .214/.257/.345 with a 71 wRC+ over 180 plate appearances. While his fielding (2 OAA, 1 DRS) and baserunning (1.7 BsR with seven steals in eight tries) have kept him above replacement level, he obviously hasn’t lived up to the hype thus far.

Fortunately, Blake Perkins has basically been what Milwaukee hoped Chourio would be. The switch-hitter was elite on defense in his rookie year last season, with 11 DRS and 7 OAA in just 400 innings in the outfield, though his bat lagged behind (88 wRC+). This year, his fielding has remained excellent while he’s taken a big step forward at the dish (98 wRC+), especially against righties (114 wRC+).

Perhaps overshadowed by Yelich, William Contreras, and Willy Adames, infielders Joey Ortiz and Brice Turang have both broken out in meaningful ways, lengthening a lineup that looked a little light entering the season. Ortiz leads all rookies this season with 2.0 WAR and his 155 wRC+ is the highest among all big league third basemen with at least 150 plate appearances. He’s also a slick fielder who can also hold his own at second and short. Turang has more than doubled his wRC+ from his rough rookie season last year. He’s also swiped 20 bases in 21 tries and has flashed an elite glove at the keystone. (If you’re noticing a trend here, yes, the Brewers have great defense across the diamond.)

Lastly, I’d be remiss if I failed to mention Gary Sánchez: He’s only caught 11 games so far behind the iron man that is Contreras but is getting plenty of plate appearances at DH. His seven home runs and 116 wRC+ make him one of the game’s best backup catchers, and he’s played some backup first base, too.

Pitching

Here’s where things could have gotten ugly for Milwaukee. Corbin Burnes is an Oriole. Brandon Woodruff and Wade Miley are both out for the entire year. Jakob Junis, Joe Ross, and DL Hall are all on the injured list as well. (Junis and Hall appear to be nearing returns, but they’ll likely pitch out of the bullpen when they’re back.)

How the heck have the Brewers stayed afloat with what’s basically been Freddy Peralta and a second-string cast of other starters? It’s twofold: The replacement arms have filled in more than admirably, and the bullpen has been excellent despite the loss of Williams.

Peralta and Colin Rea are the only arms who remain from the season-opening starting five, and they actually have the highest ERAs in the current four-man rotation (the team has been bullpenning every fifth game). Formerly a failed starter, Bryse Wilson has made a triumphant return to the rotation after working entirely in relief last year. Across seven starts he has a 2.76 ERA and a 3.35 ERA over his 15 total outings this season. (Wilson served as the bulk man in Monday night’s loss to the Phillies, tossing 5.2 innings and allowing three runs.) Robert Gasser, who despite failing to achieve nominative determinism (his fastball averages just 93 mph), has been excellent in his first five starts, walking just one (!) of the 114 batters he’s faced. Unfortunately, the beat will have to go on without Gasser, just as it has without Burnes and Woodruff: The rookie lefty has elbow tightness and soreness and is scheduled to get a second opinion sometime soon; it’d be hard to see him dodging the IL at this point. In the interim, the Brewers could turn to Aaron Ashby or Tobias Myers — both of whom have made starts this year — or perhaps righty Chad Patrick, who’s not exactly a prospect but has pitched well at Triple-A Nashville this year.

Papering over the ragtag rotation has been a well-performing bullpen, belying its 16th-ranked FIP with a sixth-ranked ERA. Going through a handful of closers by June isn’t usually a recipe for success, but the Brewers have kept on chugging despite pulling the plug on Abner Uribe (now in Triple-A) and Joel Payamps as primary closers. The guy right now is Trevor Megill; a concussion and bruised elbow have limited him to just 15 innings, but they’ve been 15 excellent ones, with 21 strikeouts compared to just three walks and a one homer allowed. It’s a continuation of Megill’s breakout 2023 in which he struck out 35% of the batters he faced over 34.2 innings. Before last year, he had a woeful 6.03 ERA in 68.2 combined innings for the Cubs and Twins.

Even more anonymous is Bryan Hudson, who was acquired in a minor trade with the Dodgers over the offseason and is now pitching to a 1.13 ERA (four runs in 32 innings). The 6’8” lefty is tough on both sides of the plate, but he’s been especially lethal against lefties, with a sub-.200 wOBA. Joining him off the scrap heap and pitching well are Enoli Paredes, Jared Koenig, and Kevin Herget, none of whom made the Opening Day roster but have stepped in and pitched like they belong. Like many good bullpens, the Brewers’ is defined by the performances, not the names.

All in all, Pat Murphy’s Brewers are much like the clubs of previous Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell: a whole team that is greater than the sum of its parts, creating a Voltron of a limited number of stars and mostly unheralded names who just get the job done.

The Mariners Add Victor Robles

As first reported by Locked on Mariners’ Ty Dane Gonzalez, former Nationals outfielder Victor Robles will be headed to the other Washington, joining Seattle as backup outfielder who will start primarily against lefty pitching.

Robles obviously hasn’t lived up to his prospect billing that plateaued with a fourth-overall ranking in 2018, but with the Mariners, he doesn’t really have to be the guy the Nationals were expecting. He’ll earn the prorated league minimum (under $500,000) while being paid the balance of the $2.65 million the Nationals owe him, and he’s not going to be relied upon to put up big numbers. Instead, he’ll spell Luke Raley or Dominic Canzone against lefties in the corner outfield. His main job will be to catch fly balls, a skill of his that cratered in center field last year but remains strong in left and right.

Source

https://blogs.fangraphs.com/top-of-the-order-depth-has-been-key-to-the-brewers-success/