A few years ago, the Milwaukee Brewers recently crossed the 50-year anniversary mark for their franchise. And when looking back at some of the best players who every donned a uniform for the team, the Crew’s history often leads fans to consider hitters over pitchers.
But the Brewers have had plenty of talented pitchers come through the pipeline. Some have been homegrown; others were acquired via free agency or trade. Some of them were starters while others were dominant closers.
But how do you rank those players? Balancing longevity versus dominance over a shorter period of time while also taking accolades and performances in some of the team’s most important games into account is no easy task. Regardless, we’re going to go ahead and give it our best shot.
Here is a ranking of the 15 greatest pitchers in Milwaukee Brewers franchise history.
15. RHP John Axford
6 seasons, 21-19, 263.2 IP, 2.2 bWAR, 3.41 ERA, 1.335 WHIP, 106 saves
Of all the pitchers on this list, former closer John Axford has the lowest combined bWAR number for his Brewers career to go with one of the lower innings counts. But he also was a major factor in one of the most important seasons in franchise history and finds himself holding a couple club records as well.
After making his Brewers debut in 2009, Axford really burst on to the scene the next year when he took over the closer’s role from Hall of Fame closer Trevor Hoffman, who was starting to fade in his final MLB season.
Axford went 24 for 27 in save opportunities that season with a tidy 2.48 ERA and 1.190 WHIP that secured his role as the team’s role going forward. And somehow, the “Ax Man” would look even better the following season.
It didn’t start off pretty, though. Axford would blow his very first save opportunity in 2011, giving up four earned runs while recording just two outs in the team’s Opening Day loss to the Reds. There was nowhere to go but up.
And up is exactly where Axford went. He would only blow one more regular season save again that year, eventually finishing 2011 with an MLB-leading 46 saves, a new franchise record. He also dropped his ERA (1.95) and WHIP (1.140) while picking up a 9th place finish in that year’s Cy Young voting.
Then came the infamous winner-take-all game 5 of the 2011 NLDS against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Axford would blow his first save since April but would hold strong and keep the game tied. He would come back out and pitch a 1-2-3 inning in the 10th, setting up the bottom half of the inning in which Milwaukee would win in dramatic fashion and advance to the NLCS.
In 2012, Axford would tack on a handful more saves to start the season before his regular season franchise record consecutive save streak would be ended at 49. Things would start to decline after that, and he would ultimately be traded to the Cardinals halfway through the 2013 season, but not before climbing all the way to second on the team’s all-time saves list (106).