With the goal of predicting when the Milwaukee Brewers will be a playoff ready team, we at Reviewing The Brew will compare the current status of the organization to the 2011 N.L. Central champs. Through analysis of the team’s first basemen we will determine if the team is “on the level,” “1-2 years away” or “3-5 years away.”
All statistical information for this article is courtesy of FanGraphs.
Last week, we received saddening news that Prince Fielder would be forced into early retirement after undergoing a second neck surgery. No longer seeing Fielder’s name on a lineup card will be be a shock around the league as he was one of the most durable players in recent history. Here is a few statistics that explain why.
- In his 11 “full time seasons – Fielder played in over 157 games 9 times.
- Fielder played 6 years as a Milwaukee Brewer – He missed a combined 13 games.
- From 2009-2013 – Fielder sat out 1 game.
Right in the middle of Fielder’s incredible run of missing one game in four seasons was his 2011 campaign as a Milwaukee Brewer. While Ryan Braun ended up winning the 2011 N.L. MVP, Fielder’s statistics reveal that the Brewers had two players worthy of the award.
On the season the Brewer’s first baseman hit 38 home-runs, had 120 RBI’s and a slash line of (.299,.415,.566). Between Braun and Fielder, opposing pitchers faced one of the most dangerous 3/4 combinations in recent history.
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While Brewers fans can look back fondly on 2011 and the teams deep playoff run, it was also a bittersweet season as it was clear that Fielder would be moving on from Milwaukee. This brings us to today, where it is safe to say that the organization has yet to find a replacement for the former slugger. Yes, there has been some adequate fill-in’s such as stints by Corey Hart, Mark Reynold’s and Adam Lind but no one who comes close to the reliability and production of Fielder.
This brings us to today where the team has chosen to replicate a portion of Fielder’s production with Chris Carter. No one can dispute Carter’s power (27 home-run’s) or reliability (118/120 games) but all comparisons should promptly end there. What made Fielder a special player was his ability to pair his power with strong average and low strike out numbers. To compare the two, in 2011 Fielder struck out in 15.5% of his at bats compared to Carter’s current rate of 32.4%.
To be fair most teams are left having to sacrifice power for average or vice-versa because players who offer both are so few. If you need proof just look at the 9 year/$214 Million contract the Tigers signed Fielder to in 2012.
Therefore, it is clear that Chris Carter leaves the Brewers short of being able to match the first base production of 2011. But, is there someone who can in the waiting?
Looking at the organizations 1st base depth chart it seems highly unlikely. Starting at the big league club, the team cites Martin Maldonado as the primary backup with Andy Wilkins also seeing limited time. Although Wilkins has put together a few decent seasons in the minors, he has not displayed the ability to be an every day player in the big leagues.
"Nottingham’s calling card will always be his power. The right-handed hitter’s combination of strength and bat speed yields effortless raw power, and he keeps his barrel in the zone long enough to drive the ball out of the park the other way"
While Nottingham has yet to put together a “Fielder” season by pairing power with average, it is his youthfulness (21) and opportunity to develop that has the team excited. However, this all rests on the assumption that he becomes a full time first basemen as entered the minors as a catcher.
Also according to MLB.com’s Top 30 Prospect Watch,
"Scouts are divided on whether Nottingham can remain behind the plate. He has average arm strength as well as solid catch-and-throw skills, but his blocking and receiving are both raw. Nottingham also saw time at first base last season, and his offensive profile would support a move to the position if catching doesn’t work out."
Therefore, it seems that Nottingham is currently the organizations best shot at someday replicating a Prince Fielder, 2011 season. However, Nottingham is nowhere near ready enough to produce at this level by next season.
Another option that has been discussed by fans is eventually moving Ryan Braun or Domingo Santana to first base. Moving either of these two to first base would free up a spot in what is becoming a crowded and talented outfield group, while also keeping their strong bats in the lineup.
A move like this would be wise because both players have the ability to hit 20+ home-run’s and offer more OBP potential than Carter.
While it will certainly be difficult to find a player with the ability to replicate Fielder’s 2011 season, the team seems to have a long term option (Nottingham) and a few current players who could produce offensively (Braun, Santana).
Verdict – 3 to 5 years away