It is fair to say that the Milwaukee Brewers' offseason could best be described as a mild makeover. They were able to snag William Contreras in the three team trade that ultimately sent Esteury Ruiz to Oakland and Sean Murphy to the Braves and they made some other minor signings and trades along the way. So far, that has been good enough to keep them in the race for the National League Central division title in 2023.
However, that really isn't saying all that much as the NL Central is probably the second-worst division in all of baseball behind only the AL Central in ineptitude. The Brewers and Reds are currently battling for the top spot in the division, but they are also the only two teams that are above .500 and neither are above by much.
The bigger issue the Brewers have at the moment is what is going on with the Cincinnati Reds as they have, at the time of writing this, a 10 game win streak going and they have looked like a completely different ball club after calling up Elly De La Cruz and the return of Joey Votto.
Can the Brewers keep pace with the Reds? They are a talented roster to be sure, but the position players as a whole have been pretty bad to start the 2023 season. Christian Yelich and William Contreras have been quite good, but the roster also has several guys with middling production and others like Rowdy Tellez, Jesse Winker, and Willy Adames that have underperformed.
This issue becomes especially stark when we look at how the Brewers stand up against the rest of the National League Central based on position player WAR. For the sake of clarity, we are using Fangraphs WAR (fWAR) for this as of the afternoon of 6/21.
NL Central Standings ordered by position player WAR
1 - St. Louis Cardinals: 10.3 fWAR
2 - Chicago Cubs: 9.1 fWAR
3 - Pittsburgh Pirates: 7.4 fWAR
4 - Cincinnati Reds: 7.1 fWAR
5 - Milwaukee Brewers: 5.5 fWAR
That is a pretty big yikes. If you are looking for a silver lining here, the two worst teams in the division have the highest fWAR amongst position players. While having a competent offense is important, it is certainly not the end-all, be-all predictor of success.
However, given that the Brewers pitching staff has its warts as well, being one of the worst position player groups in the National League on top of that is problematic if they want to make a run. The Reds may only be in fourth place on this list right now, but they are a greatly improved offensive team of late who is going to be hard to keep pace with as things stand.
Not a fan of fWAR as a measure? Fair enough. If we use wRC+ as the offensive metric of choice, things look even more dire for Milwaukee as they have just an 86 wRC+ (100 is average here) during the 2023 season with only the lowly Colorado Rockies being worse in the National League.
If the Brewers want to stay competitive in the Nl Central no matter how bad it is, they are going to have to start hitting the ball and soon.