Milwaukee Brewers: Why Kirk Nieuwenhuis Deserves More Credit in Center Field

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Jun 10, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Brewers center fielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis (10) makes a leaping catch of ball hit by New York Mets second baseman Kelly Johnson (not pictured) in the seventh inning at Miller Park. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 10, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Brewers center fielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis (10) makes a leaping catch of ball hit by New York Mets second baseman Kelly Johnson (not pictured) in the seventh inning at Miller Park. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports /
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At the start of the season, center field was a big question mark for the Milwaukee Brewers, but Kirk Nieuwenhuis has been very stable for the club thus far in 2016.

As the Milwaukee Brewers started the 2016 season, center field was a big question mark, especially after the injury to Rymer Liriano. While Kirk Nieuwenhuis is a veteran at the age of 28, he had his ups and downs literally with the New York Mets as he seemed just not to be able to have a stable spot.

While his numbers haven’t shot up with the Milwaukee Brewers, they seem to have someone to rely upon in center field. But, first looking at what he’s done on offense, it’s just been okay. In 2014 with the New York Mets he had a batting line of .259/.346/.482 in 130 PAs and now has a batting line of .223/.341/.369 in 185 PAs.

First Out at Third pointed out how both the ZiPS Projections (0.5) and Steamer (0.4) on WAR were pretty off back at the end of May as he’s not the most highly regarded hitter, but makes due where the Milwaukee Brewers don’t have many options (even as Ramon Flores has upped his game). Today, ZiPS and Steamer both have Nieuwenhuis with a 0.5 WAR projection for the rest of the season putting him at 1.6, much higher than expected.

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Going back to how he played defense with the New York Mets, it wasn’t an area of his game that was much to brag about as according to FanGraphs as his Defense only had a rating of 0.5. Back in 2013, he got it up to his highest level in 47 games at 3.0.

But, as his offensive numbers have stayed steady, the most impressive part of Nieuwenhuis’ game has been his play in CF. Fox Sports recently wrote about how SABR has recognized the Milwaukee Brewers on their defensive play.

Under SDI (SABR Defensive Index), which includes Defensive Runs Saved, Ultimate Zone Rating, among many other metrics, Nieuwenhuis was 2nd for his team and 4th at center field position in the NL. He certainly wasn’t alone as Jonathan Lucroy was the highest rated Milwaukee Brewers as he was 20th in the National League with a 3.8 SDI.

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So, while the center field was the biggest question mark for the Milwaukee Brewers when the season started Nieuwenhuis has at least filled the space for the team in 2016. Many decisions will be made down the road for young outfielders to come up, but the front office certainly needs players like Nieuwenhuis to step up. At least for now, he may have secured himself a spot in the major leagues, but only time will tell.

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