At the end of July 2006, the Brewers were five-and-a-half games out of the National League Wild Card. It was an improbable wild card race, a phantom race, even; the Brewers would need to compete with a half dozen teams if they were to capture that final spot. Although the deficit proved insurmountable, the lesson to Brewers fans was simple: rebuilding would be over. The Brewers remained within a handful of games of a division or wild card playoff spot for an entire month. This would mark the second consecutive year in which the Brewers remained within a handful of games of a playoff spot late into the season; after a slow start in 2005, the Brewers crawled back to .500 and remained within shouting distance of the playoffs between July 31 and August 31. Prior to their 2008 playoff appearance, the Brewers would spend one more difficult, heartbreaking competitive year outside of the playoffs, as the 2007 club could not convert their late division lead into a playoff appearance.
Remarkably, Doug Melvin built eight solid years of competitive ballclubs in Milwaukee. As much as Brewers fans might criticize the effects that owner Mark Attanasio‘s winning attitude has on the club’s farm system, the Brewers delivered one of the most competitive clubs in the National League from 2005-2012. It’s strange to think of 2005, 2006, and 2007 as competitive seasons, but not unlike clubs like the 2011 and 2012 Pirates, those Brewers clubs showed some flashes of life along with some painful slides. The 2009-2010 and 2012 Brewers were arguably competitive clubs that faced some injury issues or had some insurmountable imbalance (specifically, pitching in the 2009-2010 seasons, and injuries in 2012).
After a rough 2013 campaign, a slow winter meetings, and roster moves that generally made the team younger, the club looks like they’re entering their second rebuild during Melvin’s campaign. One might question whether Melvin is the one to lead the Brewers through this next building stage, but it’s difficult to look at his track record and say that he deserves to be fired for his efforts. Furthermore, given the Brewers’ extended seasons of competitive success, one might look at this opportunity to reassess the Brewers organization with an optimistic attitude. Melvin brought the Brewers their first .500 club in his third year, and the Brewers made two playoff appearances from 2005-2012 (which is the average playoff spots per National League team over that time).
|2005-2012||Wins||Payroll (millions / rounded)||Playoffs / Series Victories|
|Phillies||727||$961||5 / 6|
|Cardinals||702||$775||5 / 9|
|Braves||685||$731||3 / 0|
|Dodgers||668||$835||3 / 2|
|Brewers||665||$602||2 / 1|
|Mets||657||$969||1 / 1|
|Giants||654||$775||2 / 6|
|Reds||644||$585||2 / 0|
|Diamondbacks||635||$519||2 / 1|
|Padres||634||$449||2 / 0|
|Marlins||624||$371||0 / 0|
|Rockies||619||$534||2 / 2|
|Cubs||617||$921||2 / 0|
|Astros||591||$681||1 / 2|
|Nationals||590||$491||1 / 0|
|Pirates||539||$355||0 / 0|
Unfortunately for the Brewers, their competitive years encountered two dynasties on the Senior Circuit. Although one might simply call the Brewers’ playoff performance average over that time, that’s not necessarily a knock against the Brewers compared to other NL clubs; it’s not like a handful of clubs were extremely successful from 2005-2012. The Philadelphia Phillies and St. Louis Cardinals hoarded 30% of the NL’s playoff spots during the Brewers’ competitive stretch, and they also claimed half of the NL’s series victories over that time frame. The next best club was the San Francisco Giants, who completely maximized two playoff spots, turning them into two World Series. (Needless to say, the Giants, Cardinals, and Phillies are the only NL clubs to win World Series trophies in the last decade. 13 NL teams were left to fend for nine series victories in the playoffs).
During their eight competitive seasons, Melvin was outspent by seven teams and managed to put together the fifth best club in the NL. His clubs are unfortunately tied for seventh in terms of playoff series wins, and there are only five NL clubs with less than two playoff spots (although, there are seven NL clubs that made two playoff teams between 2005 and 2012). In terms of basic payroll resources, Melvin turned a moderate amount of money into solid success, especially in terms of regular season victories. This is especially crucial in a city like Milwaukee, where the club cannot simply rely on television revenue to fund the club. A solid regular season gate is arguably more important in a city such as Milwaukee, where the club needs to keep fans interested in order to finance the team.
While the overall payroll versus victories scenario is solid for the Brewers, Melvin’s best clubs were slightly less efficient when compared to other middle-of-the-road playoff performers. Excluding the mini-dynasty of the Giants, here’s how the Brewers compare to other clubs with two or three playoff appearances. Overall, these clubs’ victories are between (approximately) 23 wins below average and 45 wins above average for this time period:
|2005-2012||Wins||Payroll (millions / rounded)||$Millions / Victories|
It’s worth noting that several of these clubs used their payroll dollars even more efficiently than the worst clubs in the NL:
|2005-2012||Wins||Payroll (millions / rounded)||$Millions / Victories|
(It is difficult for one to call the Pirates, Nationals, and Marlins payroll strategies “efficient,” though. These clubs were, respectively (and approximately) 16, 50, and 100 wins below average during this timeframe. It’s not really a compliment to say, “goodness, that team sure lost a lot of games, but at least their GM didn’t spend much money”).
Heading into an uncertain season, Brewers fans might be disappointed about the team’s recent success, or their future. Given the performance of Melvin’s Brewers from 2005-2012, Brewers fans should be happy with the organization’s performance. Obviously, fans that only care about Championships will be disappointed with a club that didn’t deliver in the playoffs, but 12 NL fanbases are disappointed in the last decade by that standard. Fans might also argue that Melvin could more efficiently use his payroll, especially given that the Brewers’ payroll betrays Milwaukee’s market size. In terms of overall victories and general competitiveness, the Brewers have been better than fans credit, and the club’s rebuilding campaign was rather brief under Melvin’s watch. For better or worse, we also know that Melvin will make a quick decision about competing when the time is right (the 2010 to 2011 offseason and 2008 midseason provide evidence for this).
If you’re waiting for the Brewers to make a splash this offseason, or just excited to watch the young kids play, keep in mind the club’s recent success as the year closes. While we can be tough on the club at times, it’s worth remembering that we’ve watched some extremely solid ballclubs in recent years.
Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC., 2000-2013.
Cot’s Baseball Contracts. BaseballProspectus. Prospectus Entertainment Ventures, 1996-2013.