83-79, 3rd in the NL Central
The Brewers came close to following up their run to the 2011 NLCS with another playoff appearance, but ended up just short and finished 5 games behind WC2 St. Louis. This might feel like a respectable season given the loss of Prince Fielder to the big spending Tigers and Zach Greinke to the Angels via trade, but it’s hard not to look at 2012 as a missed opportunity if you’re a Brewers fan.
The reason I say this is because the Brewers could have made the playoffs if their bullpen didn’t implode time after time during the first half. They played well down the stretch and certainly could have won five more games with two more months of Greinke mixed with a not-terrible bullpen in May and June.
Ryan Braun had a near MVP season (7.9 WAR) and Aramis Ramirez filled in admirably in place of Fielder (6.5 WAR) behind him. Jonathan Lucroy posted a spectacular 3.9 WAR in 96 games behind the plate and Carlos Gomez (3.5), Nori Aoki (2.9), and Corey Hart (2.9) all had solid seasons at the plate.
Collectively, Brewers position players accumulated 33.6 WAR on offense and defense, good for second in all of baseball. They didn’t miss Fielder that much. They got elite production from their stars, solid contributions from regulars, and didn’t have anyone who dragged them down with a lot of at bats of negative value.
On the hill, the story is a bit different. Greinke gave them two great months (3.8 WAR) and Mike Fiers (3.0), Marco Estrada (2.7), and Yovani Gallardo (2.7) all had solid seasons. Wolf and Marcum also made quite a few starts of mediocre value, but the key deficiency of the rotation was that only Gallardo make more than 24 starts. By WAR, they had the 9th best rotation in baseball.
The bullpen, however, was 25th in baseball and posted a 4.11 BB/9 rate. Only the Cubs and Dodgers were as bad or worse in 2012. Only the Mets had a worse Left on Base rate. Only the Astros and Rockies gave up more hits. We should cut them some slack because they pitch in a hitter friendly park, but not this much. And we should also remember they stunk in the first half and did get a little better.
But the story here is that bullpens performing very badly over a short period can cost you a good deal of games with a small raw amount of terrible performance. I don’t like Saves as a stat for many reasons, but when you blow 30 of them as a team in one season, you’re doing something wrong.
So the story of the 2012 Brewers is a story about a good offense, respectable starting pitching, and a rough bullpen. They were good enough to make the Play-in Game except for a ton of blown games late. It’s hard not to let that eat at you over the course of an offseason.
The loss of Greinke going forward will cost them without an obvious replacement, but they should be able to recreate him with a couple of solid arms who can replace all of the starts they gave to AAAA type players.
The Reds and Cardinals aren’t going anywhere and the Pirates look serious. The Brewers need to beef up their bullpen and solidify their rotation if they want to give their offense a shot at carrying them back to the postseason.
2012 Grade: C
Early 2013 Projection: 82-80