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  • The 2023 Milwaukee Brewers Most Improved Player

    Jason Wang

    While it wasn’t the season we were hoping for, there were definitely some individual improvements over last season that deserve to be mentioned. Here are some of the players who took the biggest steps forward.

    Image courtesy of Thieres Rabelo & Brewer Fanatic

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    Christian Yelich
    Like the old metal slide at your local playground, Yelich was piping at the beginning of the summer. Despite his inability to sustain it through the remainder of the season, his overall slash line of .278/.370/.447 was a direct upgrade over his 2022 campaign, improving in every offensive category. His .818 OPS and 124 OPS+ were the best since his monstrous 2019 season. The new rules also allowed him to steal 28 bases, nearly matching his single-season best of 30. That, combined with a significant boost to his fielding range, lifted him to 3.6 rWAR in 2023, 0.9 more than the previous year and third most on the team.  

    At this point, I think it’s safe to say we’re probably not going to see 1,000+ OPS Christian Yelich ever again. The best we can hope for is a consistent ~.800 OPS with decent defense and not much else. He’s not quite the $215 million superstar Milwaukee fans thought they were getting, but he saw a boost in performance nonetheless.

    Bryse Wilson
    Bryse Wilson came to Milwaukee from the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for cash considerations. Expectations were low after a 2022 season that saw him post a 5.52 ERA over 115 ⅔ innings. Still, the geniuses in the Brewers’ pitching development team turned him from a starter into a long reliever. What followed was the best season of his career by far.

    Wilson’s ERA improved drastically to 2.58 over 76 ⅔ innings, often coming in for several innings at a time. He was still the same pitcher with below-average fastball velocity and difficulty striking out opposing batters. However, adapting his style to pitch to contact was the secret sauce that turned him into an integral part of the second-best bullpen in MLB. By utilizing his cutter more often for weak contact, his average exit velocity decreased by 2.8mph, and his fly ball rate increased by 5.5%. The cutter went from his least-used pitch in 2022 to his second-most pitch in 2023.

    Hoby Milner
    One does not simply mention standouts within one of the best bullpens in baseball without mentioning Hoby Milner. Last year, Milner was a relatively average reliever with a 3.76 ERA and 1.18 WHIP. This year, he became one of the best arms in the sport. Finally, figuring out how to best utilize his low velocity and strange delivery, Milner’s 2023 ERA of 1.82 and WHIP of 0.96 are comparable to some of the best relievers in the sport.

    With an average fastball velocity of 88.5mph, which places him comfortably in the second percentile, his strikeout and whiff numbers are below average. However, his exceptional walk rate (5.2%, 92nd percentile) and strong ability to induce weak contact synergized perfectly with the best infield defense in the league. To illustrate this point, his FIP was 3.13, significantly higher than his actual ERA. Hoby the hero was a perfect fit with this Brewers team.

    Honorable Mentions
    Some other players saw bumps in performance, but not as much as the three mentioned above. Freddy Peralta’s cumulative season stats seem like more of a regression from the previous season, but his second half tells the real story. His 2.81 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, and 12.6 K/9 over 73 ⅔ innings after the All-Star break was the form Brewers fans had been searching for since his career-best 2021 season. 

    Joel Payamps followed a similar path as Bryse Wilson, coming over from the Oakland Athletics in the three-team trade that included the Atlanta Braves and gave Milwaukee William Contreras and pitching prospect Justin Yeager. His ERA improved from 3.23 to 2.55, and his K% went from 17.0% to 26.8%, with improvements in nearly all of his pitching peripherals.

    Colin Rea spent his 2022 season in NPB, pitching to an unremarkable 4.14 ERA and 1.14 WHIP over 100 innings in the Japanese Pacific League. After signing a minor league contract with the Brewers to start a second stint with the organization, he was called up in early April and became a long-term part of the starting rotation. He was a valuable arm in the back of the rotation, posting a 4.55 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP over 124 ⅔ innings. 

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