I like this exercise because you could do it with every team, and it sort of levels out the playing field. For example, when choosing a roster of greatest seasons by Yankees players, you can select only one season from Babe Ruth and only select one season from all Yankee right fielders. Suddenly, our Brewers can hang with anyone!
One stipulation, of course, is that a player can only appear once on the roster. This means that only one of Robin Yount’s MVP seasons could be used, so 1982 was chosen (sorry, 1989 Robin). The same goes for Prince Fielder’s franchise-record 50-homer season in 2007, missing the cut, among other notable seasons. After digging through my memories and Baseball Reference, I came up with 26 individual seasons that reflect what are, in my opinion, the best individual season by a Brewer at each position. Here are the 14 position players that I selected:
|PAUL MOLITOR 1987 DH (RH)||0.353||0.438||0.566||1.003||161||16||75||114||45||6.0 (-0.4)|
|CHRISTIAN YELICH 2019 RF (LH)||0.329||0.429||0.671||1.1||179||44||97||100||30||7.0 (-0.9)|
|RYAN BRAUN 2011 LF (RH)||0.332||0.397||0.597||0.994||166||33||111||109||33||7.7 (-0.4)|
|PRINCE FIELDER 2009 1B (LH)||0.299||0.412||0.602||1.014||166||46||141||103||2||6.3 (-1.0)|
|ROBIN YOUNT 1982 SS (RH)||0.331||0.379||0.578||0.957||166||29||114||129||14||10.6 (1.9)|
|TOMMY HARPER 1970 3B (RH)||0.296||0.377||0.522||0.899||152||31||82||104||38||7.4 (0.5)|
|CARLOS GOMEZ 2013 CF (RH)||0.284||0.338||0.506||0.843||128||24||73||80||40||7.6 (3.6)|
|JONATHON LUCROY 2014 C (RH)||0.301||0.373||0.465||0.837||131||13||69||73||4||6.4 (1.7)|
|DON MONEY 1977 2B (RH)||0.279||0.348||0.47||0.819||122||25||83||86||8||5.1 (1.3)|
|CECIL COOPER 1980 1B/DH (LH)||0.352||0.387||0.539||0.926||155||25||122||96||17||6.8 (0.0)|
|BILL HALL 2006 2B/SS/3B (RH)||0.27||0.345||0.553||0.899||125||35||85||101||8||5.8 (2.2)|
|BEN OGLIVIE 1980 OF (LH)||0.304||0.362||0.563||0.925||153||41||118||94||11||6.5 (0.9)|
|LORENZO CAIN 2018 OF (RH)||0.308||0.395||0.417||0.813||119||10||38||90||30||6.9 (2.4)|
|TED SIMMONS 1983 C (S)||0.308||0.351||0.448||0.799||126||13||108||76||4||4.0 (-0.1)|
|T O T A L S||0.31||0.381||0.536||0.917||146||385||1316||1355||284||94.1 (11.7)|
This is, as expected, a pretty impressive roster. There are multiple MVP award winners, several Gold Glove winners, three separate 30-30 seasons (Christian Yelich, Ryan Braun, and Tommy Harper), and almost all the players were All-Stars for that season (and those that weren’t probably should have been).
There were, of course, some tough decisions, not only between players but also for some individuals. Choosing between Yelich’s 2018 and 2019 seasons is, and probably always will be, open to debate as to which was more remarkable, but Yelich played primarily left field in 2018 and right field in 2019. Considering Braun had his fantastic 2011 MVP season as a left fielder, this made the decision easy for me, despite its meaning of leaving an MVP season off the team.
Speaking of Braun, the same argument could be made for his 2012 versus his 2011 season. I could not bring myself to leave two MVP seasons of the roster (three, if you count Yount’s 1989 season), but anyone who feels differently and would select the 2012 version of Braun over 2011 won’t get much of an argument from me.
Finishing up the outfield, when I saw Carlos Gomez had a defensive WAR of 3.6 in 2013, I researched the greatest defensive seasons by center fielders ever, and he was near the top (Kevin Kiermaier in 2015 is the best all-time at 4.6).
Choosing Paul Molitor and his .353 batting average, along with the 39-game hit streak, was a pretty easy selection as DH. The always-underrated Don Money played mostly at 2B in 1977 and smacked 25 dingers while playing his usual excellent defense. In 2014, Jonathon Lucroy became the first catcher in AL/NL history to lead the league in doubles with 53, which also tied the franchise record. His 46 that season as a catcher is also the AL/NL record.
Having a bench with 1980 Cecil Cooper (.352 AVG., .926 OPS), 2006 Bill Hall (35 HR, .899 OPS), 1980 Ben Oglivie (41 HR, .925 OPS), 2018 Lorenzo Cain (.308 AVG, 30 SBs, 2.4 DWAR), and 1983 Ted Simmons (.308, 108 RBI) provides plenty of quality depth as well.
Throughout history, the Brewers have generally been better at producing position players than pitchers. However, that doesn’t mean there haven’t been some fantastic individual seasons by some great pitchers in the rotation and the bullpen. Here are the five starters and seven relievers I selected as the best seasons in Brewers history:
|PITCHER/SEASON/SP OR RP||W||L||ERA||ERA+||WHIP||BB||K (K/9)||IP||CG/SV||WAR|
|TEDDY HIGUERA 1986 SP (LH)||20||11||2.79||156||1.208||74||207 (7.5)||248.1||15 CG||9.4|
|BEN SHEETS 2004 SP (RH)||12||14||2.7||162||0.983||32||264 (10.0)||237||5 CG||7.2|
|MIKE CALDWELL 1978 SP (LH)||22||9||2.36||160||1.064||54||131 (4.0)||293.1||23 CG||8.2|
|CORBIN BURNES 2021 SP (RH)||11||5||2.43||176||0.94||34||234 (12.6)||167||0 CG||5.6|
|CC SABATHIA 2008 SP (LH)||11||2||1.65||255||1.003||25||128 (8.8)||130.2||7 CG||4.9|
|DAN PLESAC 1987 RP (LH)||5||6||2.61||176||1.084||23||89 (10.1)||79.1||23 SV||2.6|
|JOSH HADER 2021 RP (LH)||4||2||1.23||348||0.835||24||102 (15.6)||58.2||34 SV||3.4|
|KEN SANDERS 1970 RP (RH)||5||2||1.75||215||0.964||25||64 (6.2)||92.1||13 SV||4.6|
|DEVIN WILLIAMS 2020 RP (RH)||4||1||0.33||1375||0.63||9||53 (17.7)||27||0 SV||1.3|
|JEREMY JEFFRESS 2018 RP (RH)||8||1||1.29||317||0.991||27||89 (10.4)||76.2||15 SV||3.3|
|COREY KNEBEL 2017 RP (RH)||1||4||1.78||248||1.158||40||126 (14.9)||76||39 SV||3.7|
|ROLLIE FINGERS 1981 RP (RH)||6||3||1.04||333||0.872||13||61 (7.0)||78||28 SV||4.2|
|T O T A L S||109||60||1.83||229||1.059||380||1548 (8.9)||1564||50CG/152 SV||58.4|
It’s easy to forget just how dominant Teddy Higuera was early in his Brewers career, but he was among the best in the AL for a few years. His 1986 season would typically have easily won a Cy Young award, except for Roger Clemens’ season for the ages.
Luckily for Corbin Burnes, in 2021, he was able to claim the NL Cy Young award. Helped by pairing with Josh Hader, another 2021 season represented on the team, to pitch the second no-hitter in franchise history, Burnes was dominant all season, despite only throwing 167 innings.
Ben Sheets played on many bad teams in the early 2000s, thus not garnering the national attention he deserved. His 2004 season, with its franchise-record 264 strikeouts, was one of the bright spots in the early years of Miller Park.
Mike Caldwell was a very average pitcher for most of his career, but in 1978, he looked like one of the best pitchers on the planet. Somehow he was not an All-Star in a season that he went 22-9 with 23 complete games and 293.1 innings pitched. What’s a guy have to do?
Perhaps it was cheating a little by putting CC Sabathia on the team when he was only a Brewer for half a season. However, that half-season was so dominant that it made him a Brewers legend. Brewer fans will discuss it for the next 50+ seasons, so I figured it had to make the list. The same could be said for Devin Williams’ 2020 Covid-shortened season, but he was almost unhittable for the entire 60-game season. Winning NL Rookie of the Year sealed the deal.
Rollie Fingers won every possible award in the strike-shortened 1981 season, including AL MVP, from a relief pitcher. However, his 4.2 WAR wasn’t the best in franchise history from a reliever. That belongs to Ken Sanders in 1970, with his 4.6 WAR. 2017 Corey Knebel (39 saves, 1.78 ERA) and 2018 Jeremy Jeffress (8-1, 1.29 ERA) round out the bullpen with their All-Star seasons.
Of course, some tough calls and terrific seasons by some great players had to be passed over. Some of these include:
- 1B George Scott’s 1973 season (6.7 WAR, .306 BA, 107 RBI, GG)
- 3B Jeff Cirillo’s 1998 season (5.9 WAR, .321 BA, .402 OBP, 2.0 DWAR)
- CF Gorman Thomas’s 1982 (5.0 WAR, tied for league-lead with 39 HR) or 1978 seasons (4.8 WAR, league-leading 45 HR, 123 RBI, .895 OPS)
- RF Sixto Lezcano (5.6 WAR, .987 OPS, 101 RBI, GG) in 1979
- LF Greg Vaughn’s 1993 season (6.7 WAR, .850 OPS, 30 HR)
- OF/DH Larry Hisle (5.3 WAR, 34 HR, 115 RBI, .906 OPS) in 1978
- RHP Jim Colburn’s 1973 season (4.7 WAR, 20-12, 3.18 ERA, 314.1 IP)
- RHP Chris Bosio (5.4 WAR, 15-10, 2.95 ERA) in 1989
- RHP Derrick Turnbow in 2005 (2.9 WAR, 7-1, 1.74 ERA, 39 SV, 1.084 WHIP).
Other notable seasons not making the cut were 1982 AL Cy Young winner RHP Pete Vuckovich (2.8 WAR, 18-6, 3.34 ERA), 1992 AL ROY SS Pat Listach (4.5 WAR, .290 BA, 54 SB), and 2003 NL ROY runner-up CF Scott Podsednik (3.6 WAR, .314 BA, 43 SB).
The breakdown of players by decade is as follows:
- 1970s = Four (Two position players, two pitchers)
- 1980s = Eight (Five position players, three pitchers)
- 1990s = Zero
- 2000s = Four (Two position players, two pitchers)
- 2010s = Seven (Five position players, two pitchers)
- 2020s = Three (Three pitchers)
Overall, I think this roster would be very balanced, and it represents the history of the Brewers very well (except for the black hole that was the 1990s). Let me know what other seasons by individual players you would put on your team of all-time Brewer seasons.
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