Every week, Disciples of Uecker will be lending its voice to the ESPN MLB Power Rankings. This week, the Milwaukee Brewers check in at 13th place, second in the NL Central (St. Louis is first at 9th). Here’s what I had to say over at ESPN:
Despite winning the NL Central last season, the Brewers had one of the worst left sides of the infield in the majors, as Casey McGehee and Yuniesky Betancourt combined for just 0.8 fWAR. If Aramis Ramirez and Alex Gonzalez can equal their combined 4.7 fWAR from last season, it’ll go a long way toward replacing departed star Prince Fielder.
The Brewers are bringing back the same outfield, the same catcher, the same pitching staff, and (mostly) the same bullpen as the one that won 96 games and brought home the club’s first National League division title. But Prince Fielder is gone, and without him many see the Brewers on the outside looking in.
Although the Brewers can hardly be considered a Moneyball-type franchise any more — they’re over $100 million in payroll this season, after all — their approach is much like the one the Athletics were forced to take after Jason Giambi departed in 2001. In the Moneyball movie, we see Brad Pitt as Billy Beane throw three names at a whiteboard to replace Giambi: Jeremy Giambi, David Justice and Scott Hatteberg. None of the three could compare to Jason Giambi, who hit .342/.477/.660 (!) for the Athletics in 2001, but by becoming a deeper team, the Athletics hoped to at least replicate the production.
At least by Wins Above Replacement, the math works out for the Brewers. Fielder was worth 5.5 WAR last season according to FanGraphs, with Ramirez and Gonzalez checking in at 4.7. With Mat Gamel’s contributions summed in as well, it’s conceivable the Brewers could get more out of their 2012 infield than they did out of their 2011 infield, which saw Casey McGehee and Yuniesky Betancourt flail about both at the plate and in the field all season long.
Of course, this is a simplistic analysis. Any General Manager in baseball would take Fielder over the combination of the three lesser players in Ramirez, Gonzalez and Gamel, and for good reason — there simply aren’t many Prince Fielders to be found, whereas no-hit all-glove shortstops like Gonzalez or all-hit no-glove third baseman like Ramirez are much more common. Doug Melvin had to play his own version of Moneyball this season: “Go ask owner Mark Attanasio how much money the team has and go play ball.” And with the money the Brewers had to work with this season and onwards, they had to cobble together what they could. The patchwork infield could surprise some people in its ability to replace Prince Fielder’s star power in 2012.