34. RHP Junior Guerra
Over the decade, the Brewers have had several players that were claimed off of waivers who have played important roles on the team. Junior Guerra falls square into that category, having contributed over the last four years as both a starter and a reliever.
Total WAR: 3.5
Prior to his arrival with the Brewers, Guerra had only seen three games of major league action in his career. Most of his experience outside of that had been in the minor league systems of the Braves, Mets, and White Sox, as well as six years across various international leagues including Mexican League and Venezuelan Winter League.
So Guerra’s success with Milwaukee becomes even more unlikely when you consider that he came to the Brewers as a pitcher on the wrong side of 30 who’d only played in three games at the Major League level, those being with the White Sox in 2015. And yet, David Stearns took a flyer on him with his first move as new GM of the Brewers, and the move paid off right away the following season.
Though Guerra began the the 2016 season at Triple-A, his stay there was brief and he was called up to the Brewers on May 3rd. His first two starts weren’t exactly awe-inspiring, giving up eight earned runs over 12 innings, but things settled down from there. Injuries limited him to just 20 starts, but Guerra finished 2016 with a very solid 2.81 ERA and 1.126 WHIP, both numbers leading the Brewer rotation.
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That season earned Guerra the nod as 2017 Opening Day starter. Unfortunately, he would become the next in a series of Opening Day starters to parlay the start into a disappointing season. Guerra actually got pulled from that start with a calf injury, one that force him to miss almost two full months. The result was just 14 starts over 21 games and a 5.12 ERA – from best ERA in the rotation to worst in the course of a year.
Guerra’s 2018 season started as a solid bounce back as one of the better arms in the rotation. His first 22 starts saw him compile a respectable 3.40 ERA and 1.29 WHIP. However, a 4.30 FIP suggested regression might be in his future and that’s exactly what happened. 18 earned runs over four starts between Aug. 15th and Sept. 2nd proved that theory correct and, with the Brewers in the middle of a division race, Guerra was moved to the bullpen for the remainder of the season.
A funny thing happened during that change in role, though. Guerra’s five bullpen outings at the end of the year were all scoreless. Between those and two more impressive outings in the postseason, it seemed like Guerra might have found himself a new home. In 2019, the Brewers kept him in the bullpen where he proved to be one of the team’s most consistent relievers last season.
Guerra pitched in 72 games for the Brewers in 2019 – second on the team behind Alex Claudio and tied for 8th in the NL. He finished the year with a 3.55 ERA and a 1.124 WHIP that qualified as the best mark of his career. His .191 opponents’ batting average was also the best mark of his career. All pretty decent numbers for a 34-year-old in his first full year out of the bullpen.
He had success as a starter, and now succeeds as a reliever. He got the final out in the Brewers playoff clinching win against the Reds because Craig Counsell wanted to give him that honor as Stearns’ first acquisition. He’s paid off in a big way and lands at No. 34 on our countdown.