The Brewers are in an interesting situation with the development of their players. They’ve made a clear effort over the past few years to target ground ball pitchers in the rotation. In a park that gives up more than the average amount of home runs per fly ball, that makes sense. One would assume when targeting ground ball pitchers, that an organization would also try and develop a strong infield defense to complement it. Well the latter hasn’t exactly occurred yet for Milwaukee.
Now, I’m not here to say that the Brewers need to sacrifice other forms of value to target players who are slick fielders. If you can’t hit, it doesn’t really help us much if you can field unless you’re Jose Iglesias or Brendan Ryan. However, there does seem to be an inefficiency in the way the Brewers have attempted to complement their up and coming pitchers in regards to the defense being put behind them.
The Brewers have made an effort to draft, sign, and develop ground ball pitchers over the past few years. They’ve signed Kyle Lohse, drafted Jimmy Nelson, Taylor Jungmann, signed Wily Peralta, traded for Johnny Hellweg, and have generally placed a premium on guys with strong fastballs with sink in the draft.
Despite targeting pitchers with strong ground ball tendencies, the organization hasn’t complemented them with a strong infield defense. The Brewers currently only have one defender that any metric, naked eye, and/or sane human would deem even an average fielder, and that is shortstop Jean Segura. Besides Segura, the Brewers have Scooter Gennett (below-average), Rickie Weeks (awful), Aramis Ramirez (poor), Corey Hart (below-average), and Juan Francisco (between poor and awful) biding for legitimate playing time. It isn’t much improved at the upper levels of the minors either where the only player who has the potential to play everyday is first baseman Hunter Morris. Even Morris is a sub-par defender at first base.
So now you’re talking about a rotation that is going to be very prone to ground balls, but has a weak infield defense. Not an ideal combination. This doesn’t mean the Brewers should disregard other parts of the game to have an infield of Brendan Ryan at short, Nolan Arenado at third, Darwin Barney at second, and Casey Kotchman at first. It does say that it would probably be inefficient to play an infield of bad defenders.
The Brewers are not in a position to contend currently, so this point is fairly irrelevant. When the time comes however, they’d probably like to be able to have better defenders around the infield to play to their rotation’s strength. Another bonus is that defense is cheap in the market. If the Brewers fail to develop a series of infield prospects (only Orlando Arcia looks legit at this point), they can make fairly cheap additions and get added value. That is a must for small market organizations. The Oakland A’s have done this by getting fly ball pitchers in their expansive park and combining that with plus defenders in the outfield. The Brewers have a ways to go before reaching that point, but keep your eye out for moves that improve the defense in the infield.