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  • How Will David Stearns' Time in Milwaukee Be Remembered?


    Tim Muma

    As David Stearns steps down as Milwaukee Brewers' President of Baseball Operations, it's time to look at his tenure since he took over as GM prior to the 2016 season.

    Image courtesy of Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports

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    Everything is relative, including how one measures team success in baseball. Depending on your goals and how you determine "winning" as a franchise, you can argue various levels of success or failure with David Stearns in charge of player personnel. Some feel he never truly tried to push the team "over the top" to win a title. Instead, the focus was on getting as many "bites of the apple," which they choked on this season. Now Stearns moves on and GM Matt Arnold takes over the department (full press conference at the bottom of the article).

     

     

     

    There has been plenty of discussion this postseason about the value of winning in the regular season versus taking home the World Series trophy. Ultimately, most players and fans want to win a championship, even if some view the baseball playoffs as full of randomness and not indicative of how good a club is that season.

    The Brewers have never won the World Series and appeared in just one Fall Classic in 1982. If you evaluate Stearns' seven seasons that way in Milwaukee, then he went 0-for-7 with zero National League pennants. Conversely, Stearns led the franchise to a club-record four consecutive playoff appearances from 2018-2021. That accounts for half of the Brewers' entire postseason years since their inception in 1969 as the Seattle Pilots. Two of those appearances were thanks to division championships (2018, 2021), 40 percent of the club's division titles.

    One fair argument is that reaching the playoffs has been much easier during Stearns' time in Milwaukee than it was for most of the franchise's existence. As the years have gone by, the amount of playoff-eligible teams in each league went from two to four, then five, and now six. Many talented Brewers' teams from the 1970s and 1980s would have made the playoffs with the more modern postseason formats. So that could diminish the accomplishment some.

    How about looking at total wins during the regular season? That gives a snapshot of success over an extended period, not manipulated by an administrative structure allowing "inferior" teams to reach an arbitrary point of entry for the playoffs. Since 2017, the Brewers are seventh in MLB with 481 wins (.552 win percentage) and third in the National League behind the Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves. In 2018, Milwaukee tied a franchise record with 96 wins and came up one victory shy of that mark in 2021, too. The run since 2017 shows how good the club has been for over half a decade. However, that also lends more fuel to the struggles in the playoffs.

    Critics will say that, despite being the third-best NL club in wins, Milwaukee has one postseason series victory in that span and zero after 2018. How much of that falls on Stearns is up for debate.

    Baseball executives like Stearns are also judged on the moves they make. His most significant and worst transaction may involve the same player: Christian Yelich. Acquiring Yelich and watching him put up two MVP-worthy seasons is what GMs and presidents dream about at night. Most people saw Yelich as a good, not great, ballplayer that would help the Brewers but needed more punch. Whether or not Stearns saw his 2018-19 level of performance coming is unlikely, but he swung the trade that put Milwaukee over the top. On the flip side, the nine-year, $215 million contract Stearns gave Yelich could hurt the club for years.

    For whatever reason (or multiple reasons), Yelich has not been the same player after his 2019 season ended with a fractured right kneecap. While Yelich has provided value and improved his overall numbers in 2022. However, he is paid to be MVP caliber at roughly $26 million per season. Yelich has not come close to earning that so far. For a club like Milwaukee, where it might pinch pennies more than larger markets, a massive contract with average output can hold them back.

    Stearns also proved savvy in acquiring undervalued players, getting a solid season or two out of castoffs, and trading from areas of strength to shore up a weakness (e.g., Willy Adames). He also had his share of misses in recent years, including the negative impact of the Josh Hader trade, deadline deals for relief pitchers who faltered (or were hurt), and the building of a frustrating offense that never quite felt right. Now it's GM Matt Arnold's turn to put his stamp on the Brewers' franchise.

     

     

     

    He will likely follow a similar style as Stearns, but perhaps with his own wrinkles. He has a lot of decisions to make, with 18 guys in arbitration and a few major players nearing the end of club control. Of course, Arnold shouldn't be judged on this upcoming season alone, and if he were to bring Milwaukee a World Series, fans would love him - even if some poor years follow.

    So as the David Stearns era ends in Milwaukee, how would you evaluate his performance? It's always been a lively debate, mostly centered on the positives of regular season wins and playoff appearances, but lacking the ultimate prize. You can watch the full press conference below.

     

     

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    There have essentially been eight different eras of Milwaukee Brewers baseball...

    1970-77 | 550-738 | .427 | (The Expansion Years)
    1978-83 | 518-400 | .564 | (Molitor Yount Glory Years)
    1984-86 | 215-268 | .445 | (Molitor Yount Hangover Years)
    1987-92 | 508-464 | .523 | (Molitor Yount Twilight Years)
    1993-06 | 981-1219 | .446 | (Fourteen Years In The Wilderness)
    2007-11 | 426-384 | .526 | (Braun Fielder Years) 
    2012-16 | 380-430 | .469 | (Late Melvin Early Stearns Years)
    2017-22 | 481-390 | .552 | (Stearns Competitive Years)

    I'll remember Stearns as the guy who helmed the most successful stretch of Brewers baseball in my conscious lifetime & put the infrastructure in place for the organization to move forward and succeed in the modern analytical era.

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    Also feel like Stearns deserves some major credit for the organization's fortunes on the pitching front completely flipping on his watch...

    1970-2015: 103 ERA- (28th) | 104 FIP- (30th)
    2016-22: 93 ERA- (6th) | 97 FIP- (7th)

    Remember all the consternation about how the pitching was going to revert back to historical franchise norms when Derrick Johnson left for Cincinnati? 

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    8 hours ago, sveumrules said:

    1978-83 | 518-400 | .564 | (Molitor Yount Glory Years)

     

    Cecil Cooper had a higher WAR from 1978-83 than Molitor. I would at least include his name in your definition of that "era." Coop and Yount were the heart and soul of those teams. While Molitor was a cocaine playboy.*

     

    *Molitor did, however, clean himself up later in his career and became the Hall of Famer we remember today.

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    16 hours ago, sveumrules said:

    Also feel like Stearns deserves some major credit for the organization's fortunes on the pitching front completely flipping on his watch...

    1970-2015: 103 ERA- (28th) | 104 FIP- (30th)
    2016-22: 93 ERA- (6th) | 97 FIP- (7th)

    It's kind of amazing how the script flipped with this team. For pretty much my entire life, barring a few isolated seasons/eras, Milwaukee baseball has been bat-first, pitching-second... and a lot of the time, it was bat-first, bat-second, bat-third, pitching... well, maybe.

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    9 hours ago, Axman59 said:

    Cecil Cooper had a higher WAR from 1978-83 than Molitor. I would at least include his name in your definition of that "era." Coop and Yount were the heart and soul of those teams. While Molitor was a cocaine playboy.*

     

    *Molitor did, however, clean himself up later in his career and became the Hall of Famer we remember today.

    Seems like a tacky thing to bring up now...and I'm not sure I understand what a "cocaine playboy," means exactly.

    Cocaine was widespread in the 1970s and 1980s and used by...MANY players...seems like a strange issue to bring up in 2022. 


    Point is that's regarded by MOST fans are the era with the Brewers only two home grown HOFers who were the best and the 2nd best players on the Brewers lone World Series team and he started his career as a 21 year old in 1978 and through this period, he had a 23.9 WAR. Yeah. Cooper was great as well. I don't think anyone said otherwise...but I'd be willing to be the vast majority of Brewers fans remember that as the Yount/Molitor Brewers.

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    48 minutes ago, Brock Beauchamp said:

    It's kind of amazing how the script flipped with this team. For pretty much my entire life, barring a few isolated seasons/eras, Milwaukee baseball has been bat-first, pitching-second... and a lot of the time, it was bat-first, bat-second, bat-third, pitching... well, maybe.

    I think one of the main points to remember is that...Stearns is leaving his position as POBO, but he leaves this team well stocked and we'll be reaping the benefits...hopefully of Jackson Chourio, Sal Frelick, Jeferson Quero...hopefully Gasser and Ruiz and so on and so on will be coming up over the next 3-4 years. So hopefully he'll have left us with the foundation of a young core of offensive players. 


    But this is definitely the most important aspect. We've spent YEARS trying to develop just one stud. We had a guy here or there having various levels of success over the last 30-some years from Cal Eldred's incredible run in 1992 to Ben Sheets having a couple of great years, Yo was a really good, solid, reliable pitcher for a long time...but to develop Burnes, Woodruff, Hader, Williams, to get the most out Chacin, to kinda re-ignite Wade Miley's career, Corey Knebel...I'm still not sure what this pitching school consists of exactly. I know the analytics have played a significant role in it...helping pitchers figure out which pitchers to throw more and which to scrap, whatever it was, it's turned the Brewers into one of the best teams at developing pitching...and he again, he leaves us in pretty good shape with Burnes, Woodruff, Peralta, Lauer, Ashby, Houser in our rotation with Gasser and Small expected to contribute.

     

     

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    5 hours ago, UpandIn said:

    I think one of the main points to remember is that...Stearns is leaving his position as POBO, but he leaves this team well stocked and we'll be reaping the benefits...hopefully of Jackson Chourio, Sal Frelick, Jeferson Quero...hopefully Gasser and Ruiz and so on and so on will be coming up over the next 3-4 years. So hopefully he'll have left us with the foundation of a young core of offensive players. 


    But this is definitely the most important aspect. We've spent YEARS trying to develop just one stud. We had a guy here or there having various levels of success over the last 30-some years from Cal Eldred's incredible run in 1992 to Ben Sheets having a couple of great years, Yo was a really good, solid, reliable pitcher for a long time...but to develop Burnes, Woodruff, Hader, Williams, to get the most out Chacin, to kinda re-ignite Wade Miley's career, Corey Knebel...I'm still not sure what this pitching school consists of exactly. I know the analytics have played a significant role in it...helping pitchers figure out which pitchers to throw more and which to scrap, whatever it was, it's turned the Brewers into one of the best teams at developing pitching...and he again, he leaves us in pretty good shape with Burnes, Woodruff, Peralta, Lauer, Ashby, Houser in our rotation with Gasser and Small expected to contribute.

     

     

    It was Doug Melvin who originally acquired Corey Knebel in '15, Brandon Woodruff in '14 and Devin Williams in '13, Hader and Houser in '15. In fact, Knebel and Houser already had major league experience before Stearns got to Milwaukee... so depending on your definition of "development" sure. 

    Stearns was a capable GM, made some good moves could with some really good luck, and made some boneheaded moves. For every pitcher "developed" there was a hitting prospect who flamed out. So it goes. 

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    1 hour ago, Jopal78 said:

    It was Doug Melvin who originally acquired Corey Knebel in '15, Brandon Woodruff in '14 and Devin Williams in '13, Hader and Houser in '15. In fact, Knebel and Houser already had major league experience before Stearns got to Milwaukee... so depending on your definition of "development" sure. 

    Stearns was a capable GM, made some good moves could with some really good luck, and made some boneheaded moves. For every pitcher "developed" there was a hitting prospect who flamed out. So it goes. 

    Remember kids, no successful person was 100% popular and there was always that one pesky dentist that didn't agree with the other 9.

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    In my 25+ years of being a Brewers fan, we had two teams that were capable of winning the pennant: 2018 and 2019. 
     

    Someday there might be another one, but for now Stearns is the only Brewers GM in 40 years who has given us a real shot at reaching the promised land. 
     

    You could maybe make an argument for the ‘08 or ‘11 teams if they had gotten luckier or avoided injuries, but I put them on a lower tier below the Stearns teams. 

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    27 minutes ago, owbc said:

    In my 25+ years of being a Brewers fan, we had two teams that were capable of winning the pennant: 2018 and 2019. 
     

    Someday there might be another one, but for now Stearns is the only Brewers GM in 40 years who has given us a real shot at reaching the promised land. 
     

    You could maybe make an argument for the ‘08 or ‘11 teams if they had gotten luckier or avoided injuries, but I put them on a lower tier below the Stearns teams. 

    Not sure if I’d say 2019 was a pennant-caliber team. They were scorching hot for sure, but I think the lack of starting pitching and MVP Yelich would have caught up to them eventually had they made it past WSH. Certainly wouldn’t put them above the 2011 team. That team might’ve won the World Series had Greinke and Marcum not crapped the bed. 

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    11 hours ago, Jopal78 said:

    It was Doug Melvin who originally acquired Corey Knebel in '15, Brandon Woodruff in '14 and Devin Williams in '13, Hader and Houser in '15. In fact, Knebel and Houser already had major league experience before Stearns got to Milwaukee... so depending on your definition of "development" sure. 

    If it's confusing, let me give ya a hand;

     

    image.png.6c6ea790bf175e11145cb4bf92354a05.png

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    On 10/28/2022 at 9:36 AM, UpandIn said:

    Seems like a tacky thing to bring up now...and I'm not sure I understand what a "cocaine playboy," means exactly.

    Cocaine was widespread in the 1970s and 1980s and used by...MANY players...seems like a strange issue to bring up in 2022. 

    So what do you mean by many? 10-20, or maybe 30? I’m sure you could probably name 20-30 players that used coke at that time. Must have great insider information. 

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    1 hour ago, Sixtolezcano said:

    So what do you mean by many? 10-20, or maybe 30? I’m sure you could probably name 20-30 players that used coke at that time. Must have great insider information. 

    It's literally public record. Molitor for instance, was introduced to the drug by....teammates.

    You think that takes inside information?

    Have you REALLY never heard of this?

    Here is all my "inside" info. 

    https://sites.google.com/site/brettbushthesis/chapter-4/discussion-of-the-research-questions-1/2-who-in-major-league-baseball-history-is-considered-a-scandalous-player/2-who-in-major-league-baseball-history-is-considered-a-scandalous-player-b-not-in-the-hall-of-fame/drug-cocaine-scandals

    40% per Keith Hernandez(another known cocaine user). Testified to under oath. 

    https://bleacherreport.com/articles/1061218-drugs-why-is-cocaine-viewed-differently-than-steroids-in-major-league-baseball

    https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/sports-suspensions-drugs-mlb-scandal

    21 players suspended just in 1986 as a result of the "Pittsburgh Cocaine Trials."

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    I think I will remember Stearns as a guy that turned around organizational philosophy on a lot of fronts and made them consistently relevant. However, I am betting I will look back and see a dude that totally wasted half a decade of having 2-3 aces in the rotation. Maybe in ten years one can look back and thank him for laying a foundation for winning a World Series. 

    However, for the goal of winning a world series, I am confident he would have never won one no matter how long he stayed. The early years of competing were massively thanks to being gifted a great situation, great trade chips, and some good prospects that turned into great players. As the years went on he refused to make the team anything more than a WC contender. The cherry on the top being 2022 when he traded one of the most notable players at the deadline and at best tried making a division leading team tread water (in reality replaced Hader with total garbage). 

    He made us a consistent contender, that is impressive. The fanbase is bored with that though...at the end of the day people want to see WS contenders. Stearns wasn't doing that and absolutely nothing he did the last few years gave me any confidence he would change us from a WC contender to WS contender again.

    Still the best lead guy in franchise history by a lot...and I do think the foundation he laid will be felt for years. It will be interesting to see how they approach all these good players approaching FA while they still can compete. So much of that Hader trade was the pure fact they trade a good player when they were competing, and they flat out didn't do anything to improve the team. To a lot of fans (casual or serious) it looked like they were arguably worse after the deadline. People are bitter and that is with declining attendance/interest as is. This fanbase has been supportive of many stars getting traded...but we were garbage when we did it. It didn't go over to well this time. 

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    Thanks for the posts all. As I'm nostalgic for this past season and longing for my Minor League tilts, I simply want to say I will look back on Stearns' legacy with only fondness. His leadership completely reinvigorated my passion and love for the organization. I have nothing negative to say. And, I would also like to take a moment to laud David Stearns for gifting and rewarding Matt Arnold with this opportunity. I choose to embrace this version of this story - two colleagues and friends; both incredibly qualified for a POBO role. I won't go further here but I think it's possible, maybe even likely, this was simply an act of professional and personal grace. I would also say, in the greater universe, 7 year cycles are literally the rule of shift and change. I digress but, this serendipitous transition isn't lost on my Farmer's POV.

    I waited until Giannis and innovative leadership and vision to see the Bucks grab an improbable championship. I'm willing to give my beloved Brewers every chance to get it. Who could have foreseen Yelich's injuries and regressions? I certainly didn't. They still have all the relevant pieces to continue making runs. Our Minor League talent pool is in good standing. This is another big off-season and I'm excited to see what Matt Arnold can do given his new position and an incredible baseball Ops staff.

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