As the Brewers introduce their new GM David Stearns, fans will have the opportunity to fully assess the legacy of President & GM Doug Melvin. Recently, the 2009 draft will be one of the thorny issues to untangle, as the regular players emerging from that draft are defining the recent big league rosters and assisting one of the key rebuilding moves (as Fastballer Mike Fiers was included in the trade to the Astros). There is this funny sense that the 2009 draft “doomed” any potential for a Brewers rebuild: in 2013, both Khris Davis and Scooter Gennett stormed the stage to lead Milwaukee to a 36-32 second half resurgence. That’s not really a world-beating record, but it did suggest that the Brewers might have something resembling an 85-win core.
Extracting the sequential pain of the collapse, that basically means the 2014 Brewers missed their “roster talent target” by 3 wins.
Halcyon Days: 2013
|2013 Second Half||AVG / OBP / SLG (PA)|
|Gennett||.351 / .381 / .509 (185)|
|Davis||.294 / .366 / .639 (134)|
It’s so easy for fans to slap a “small sample size” on any player’s performance and call it a day: obviously Gennett and Davis were not going to continue at .890-to-1.000+ On-Base-Plus-Slugging ratios; Gennett was not going to hit .351, and Davis was not going to slug .639, no matter how great Davis’s power or Gennett’s hit tool. Together, though, the Brewers suddenly had a decision to make: along with Fiers’s fascinating 2012 debut, the Brewers had a couple of useful MLB players to plug into a roster stacked with star power.
If you’re inclined to blame Melvin for not rebuilding sooner, you have Gennett and Davis to blame, in a sense, as well as other key members of the strong veteran core. With Carlos Gomez proving that his 2012 surge was legitimate (and that he could be a “best player in the NL” candidate), Jonathan Lucroy establishing himself, Aramis Ramirez in the fold, and a deep-if-unspectacular rotation, there was not a question about whether the Brewers “should go for it” in 2014. Their roster pre-established that goal when they surged in 2013, and the front office gambled on the potential those players showed.
Beyond Stats: The Connection
This continuously occurs to me when analysts and reporters discuss the collapse. Even the other day at Stearns’s press conference, a reporter asked for an explanation for the collapse. The answer is both easy and difficult: it’s the players. They built up their stock by surging, they continually played well for quite an extended period of time, and then they reversed course for many reasons.
What’s intriguing about the 2013 surge was the extent to which the young Gennett and Davis worked together, adjacent or in close proximity in the batting order, to spur the Brewers to victory. In their short span of shared games in 2013, I counted ten key moments where the duo fronted the offense:
|2013 Brewers||Gennett & Davis Connection||Outcome|
|August 10 2013||In the top of the 7th Davis began the scoring with a fielder’s choice / Juan Francisco and Yuniesky Betancourt kept the carousel running to set up Gennett’s three-run homer. Suddenly a 0-0 tie was a 6-0 lead for Milwaukee.||W|
|August 13 2013||Gennett homers twice & Davis homers once to seal a 5-1 win.||W|
|August 17 2013||Gennett and Davis score the winning runs in the bottom of the fourth on a Logan Schafer double.||W|
|August 20 2013||Gennett and Davis are part of a five run rally to come from behind against Lance Lynn in the bottom of the fourth. Gennett’s single scored Jonathan Lucroy while Davis scored on Sean Halton’s single on the very next play. The Brewers used five singles and an error to plate five runners.||W|
|August 23 2013||Tied 3-3 in the top of the eighth Davis and Gennett both homer giving the Brewers a three-run cushion and spurring a victory.||W|
|August 24 2013||Davis and Gennett open the scoring in the top of the second. Davis plates Aramis Ramirez on an RBI double & Gennett hits a sacrifice fly to score Carlos Gomez. Unfortunately this opening attack was not enough to win.||L|
|August 29 2013||Working separately this time Gennett scores a run & Davis hits an RBI double to pad a 4-0 win.||W|
|September 14 2013||Davis and Gennett attempt to surmount a four-run deficit in the bottom of the fourth as Davis plates Gennett on a double. Unfortunately it’s not enough to win.||L|
|September 21 2013||Davis plates Gennett on a groundout in the bottom of the first. Unfortunately the Brewers bats could not solve the Cardinals.||L|
|September 27 2013||In the top of the first Davis plates Gennett on a homer to establish a lead the Brewers would not relinquish.||W|
It’s not simply the statistics that made it appear that Gennett and Davis could work together, but perhaps their batting order connection, too. I don’t think that’s a fantastical thing to say: when the Brewers were surging in 2013, there was a sense that Davis and Gennett could lead the offense on a given day:
- Gennett and Davis worked to overcome five ties or deficits to lead to Brewers victories.
- Gennett and Davis padded two other leads with key runs.
- Gennett and Davis opened the scoring in two losses.
- Gennett and Davis bridged a deficit in an eventual loss.
This is not merely statistical: there is no “small sample size” to winning baseball games, there is only winning games or losing them in the grand scheme. So, aside from key veteran performances (Gomez and Lucroy were steady in the second half, while Ramirez surged), Gennett and Davis showed that the back of the batting order, the secondary players (following the stars) could produce on their own.
|Gennett & Davis in batting order||Note|
|2014||11-9 adjacent||11-6 entering collapse|
|2015||4-8||0-1 before July / 4-7 after|
It is interesting to note that the successful synergy between Davis and Gennett did not simply come while they batted next to one another, but also when they were separated in batting orders. Still, it is telling to note that entering the 2014 collapse, Gennett and Davis batted adjacent 17 times, and the Brewers were 11-6; they only batted adjacent three times during the last 36 games, and both players fell off the map in terms of September production (so, this is not to suggest that they should have batted together in the September line up cards, only to note their success entering the collapse).
|2015 Brewers||Gennett & Davis Connection||Outcome|
|April 13 2015||Gennett plates Davis on a groundout to put the Brewers up 2-0.||W|
|August 5 2015||Gennett and Davis work separately during the bottom of the first to help the Brewers overcome an early deficit.||W|
|August 15 2015||Gennett plates Davis on a single to begin a Brewers comeback in the bottom of the fifth.||W|
|August 21 2015||Gennett and Davis work separately to expand their 5-2 lead to 10-2 in the top of the 7th.||W|
|August 28 2015||Gennett and Davis work separately to score and drive in runs to establish a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first.||W|
|September 5 2015||Elian Herrera plates Davis and Gennett on a homer in the top of the ninth to expand the Brewers lead.||W|
|September 20 2015||Davis and Gennett work separately to overcome a two run deficit in the bottom of the fifth.||W|
Unfortunately, that 2014 collapse never really was corrected, and the respective fates of Gennett and Davis mirror that brutal fact. Gennett struggled early, and returned to the minors for a tune-up, while Davis missed more than a month with an injury. Still, they have connected enough to remind fans of that 2013 hope, that grand hope that changed the fate of the franchise from “rebuilding in 2013” to “winning it all in 2014.” If the fate of the organization rests between those extremes, supplemental regulars like Davis and Gennett explain some of the club’s struggles as much as injured and/or ineffective veterans (see Lucroy, Segura, Matt Garza, Kyle Lohse, Wily Peralta, and even Gomez and Ramirez to a much lesser extent).
The Future of the Brewers
As Stearns begins his tenure in Milwaukee, and Orlando Arcia, Luis Sardinas, Yadiel Rivera, Domingo Santana, Brett Phillips, and Michael Reed (among others) knock on the MLB door, there is a sense that Brewers fans can see the writing on the wall for both Davis and Gennett. The rebuilding era hints that the next time the Brewers win, many of our favorite players will not be a part of it. This is crushing: Lucroy, Gennett, Davis, Segura, and Garza (among others) may not be part of the next contending Brewers club. We will have to hang on to those what-ifs, those amazing surges, and that wicked collapse…
At the same time, would we rather say the 2009 draft was completely as bust? The late Bruce Seid will have his draft reputation vindicated through the rebuild, and the effectiveness of his 2009 class got the Brewers to 36-32 in the second half of 2013, 71-55 deep into 2014, and a trade participant that helped net four intriguing prospects. As Brewers fans, all we can say is that if Davis and Gennett did not connect in 2013, we may have rebuilt earlier than expected: but where would that put us now?