Milwaukee Brewers fans did not have a lot to cheer about in the late 1990’s, Jeff Cirillo was a bright spot.
Jeff Cirillo made his major league debut in 1994 in a limited capacity (139 plate appearances). In 1995 he had a more extended look in the big leagues. Cirillo was serviceable, slashing .277/.371/.442 in 384 trips to the plate. At this point it looked like the Brewers might have something to build around at the hot corner.
In many ways, Jeff Cirillo was ahead of his time. More precisely, he demonstrated the type of skills that are coveted in today’s analytically driven game. Cirillo always displayed a keen eye at the plate. He walked at a 9.2% clip through out his career. One can also check the positional versatility box for Cirillo. Though he was primarily a third baseman for the Crew, he also spent time at second and first base (and could play short stop in a pinch).
Cirillo was a darling of Wins Above Replacement before many people new what it was. From 1996 to 1999, Cirillo averaged 5.125 fWAR. For comparison, from 2007 to 2010, Ryan Braun averaged 4.0 fWAR. Cirillo was a pretty good hitter during this period, he averaged a 120 WRC+, but he also derived a significant amount of value from his defense.
Defensive metrics are not perfect, but most of them loved Jeff Cirillo. It is safe to say he was an above average defender by advanced metrics, at a time when fielding percentage and “the eye test” were the standard for the league.
Cirillo was also an iron man for the Brewers. He played a minimum of 154 games, and 643 plate appearances during his 4 year peak (96-99).
After the 1999 season Cirillo spent time playing with the Rockies, Mariners, ,and Padres. He preformed well for the Rockies, but never put up the same WAR numbers his did in Milwaukee. Cirillo returned to the Brewers in a more limited capacity in 2005 and 2006. where he put up 3.1 wins over 509 plate appearances, anchored by his still above average defense and high on base percentage.
Jeff Cirillo spent 8 years in a Brewers uniform. He was not a flashy player, but he was very productive during a time where the Brewers did not have much of a chance to compete. In fact Jeff Cirillo has the 6th highest fWAR (25.9) for position players in Brewers history.
If there are any former players who deserve to be in the Brewers walk of fame. Jeff Cirillo should be strongly considered for this honor.
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