Friday, February 08, 2013

All-Time Teams #16: Milwaukee Brewers

This is part of an ongoing series where I'm naming an all-time team for each of the current 30 MLB franchises, and using this as a vehicle to discuss their greatest eligible player who is not in the Hall of Fame.

No franchise that started in Seattle has ever won a World Series. The Brewers were only the Seattle Pilots for one year, but their 44 years combined with the Mariners’ 36 adds up to almost as much futility as a certain drought that ended with a “curse” being broken.

Perhaps not surprisingly, there's not a single member of the '69 Pilots on this all-time team.

Franchise History
Milwaukee Brewers (1970- )
Seattle Pilots (1969)

An asterisk (*) denotes a Hall of Famer.

C - Darrell Porter (1971-1976)
1B - Cecil Cooper (1977-1987)
2B - Jim Gantner (1976-1992)
SS - Robin Yount* (1974-1993)
3B - Paul Molitor* (1978-1992)
LF - Ryan Braun (2007- )
CF - Gorman Thomas (1973-1976, 1978-1983, 1986)
RF - Sixto Lezcano (1974-1980)

When I’m working on these teams, I scour the internet for other all-time teams for comparison purposes. While several of these positions were a consensus, catcher was not one of them. In fact, I saw B.J. Surhoff (no surprise), Ted Simmons (not surprising, but a little misguided) and Dave Nilsson (even though his best years were after he stopped donning the tools of ignorance regularly) as starters on other all-time Brewers teams. They all have it wrong. Porter is the greatest catcher in Milwaukee history.

Don Money was probably a better player than Gantner—for his overall career and his time in Milwaukee—but squeezing Money into the starting lineup would mean moving Molitor to second or playing Money there.* Molitor played almost twice as much at third as he did at second, and Money was only a regular second baseman for one year with the Brewers. Plus, Gantner’s in the franchise’s top five in defensive WAR, runs, hits, total bases and stolen bases, so he’s certainly worthy of being recognized here.

*Or, I suppose Molitor could be the DH, but since for just a little more than half of the team’s history (1973-1997) they were an American League DH-era team, and Molitor was only a regular DH for his final two years in Milwaukee, I chose not to go that route.

Both Ben Oglivie and Geoff Jenkins played primarily left field for the Brew Crew. They accumulated a little more value than Lezcano, so I considered moving one of them to right, but Sixto was a slightly better player (Lezcano: 125 OPS+, 4.1 WAR/162; Jenkins: 116 OPS+, 3.2 WAR/162; Oglivie: 124 OPS+, 3.2 WAR/162) during his shorter tenure and was a true right fielder, so he gets the nod. I promise this has nothing to do with the fact he has perhaps the greatest name in baseball history.

Teddy Higuera (1985-1991, 1993-1994)
Ben Sheets (2001-2008)
Chris Bosio (1986-1992)
Mike Caldwell (1977-1984)
Bill Wegman (1985-1995)

Dan Plesac (1986-1992)

C - B.J. Surhoff (1987-1995)
1B - George Scott (1972-1976)
IF - Don Money (1973-1983)
3B - Jeff Cirillo (1994-1999, 2005-2006)
OF - Ben Oglivie (1978-1986)
OF - Geoff Jenkins (1998-2007)

Typically, I insist on each team having a realistic bench. This includes carrying at least one player capable of backing up at each position, most importantly catcher, shortstop and center field. Neither Oglivie nor Jenkins is a legitimate option in center, but Yount is, so we've got that covered. However, Money's days as a shortstop were mostly numbered by the time he arrived in Milwaukee. In fact, Molitor played more games there as a Brewer. So, this team is a little weak on the bench at that position. But, what was I supposed to do, take Jose Valentin?

Rollie Fingers* (1981-1982, 1984-1985)
Ken Sanders (1970-1972)
Mike Fetters (1992-1997)
Yovani Gallardo (2007- )
Jim Slaton (1971-1977, 1979-1983)

Fingers is a Hall of Famer, but his time in Milwaukee doesn't compare to Plesac's run as closer there, so he'll have to share setup duties with Sanders and Fetters, while Gallardo and Slaton fill the long reliever/spot starter roles. Slaton is the franchise's all-time wins leader, but his 97 ERA+ says he was basically an average pitcher. An average pitcher over 2000+ innings of work, that is, which still earns him a spot on this team.

Harvey Kuenn (1975, 1982-1983)

Kuenn is certainly the most famous manager in the Brewers' short history, having led a team that was nicknamed Harvey's Wallbangers to the franchise's one and only World Series appearance in 1982. But, considering he only managed one full season, the 1983 campaign in which his team finished a respectable 87-75 and he was subsequently fired, his selection isn't a no-brainer.

Greatest Eligible non-Hall of Famer

I've said this before, but this selection can be a little tricky. Here I'm looking for the best Hall-eligible player who would wear a Brewers cap on his plaque if he happened to be elected. There are three Hall of Famers on this team, and Braun and Gallardo are still active, so that leaves 20 remaining candidates.

Among those 20, only Cecil Cooper, Don Money, Jeff Cirillo, George Scott, B.J. Surhoff and Darrell Porter were worth over 30 career WAR. I'll add Teddy Higuera (28.9) to the mix, because he falls just short and is the only pitcher really worthy of this discussion. Between them, this group received a grand total of four Hall of Fame votes, so I probably don't need to say that it's pretty slim pickings.

Surhoff, who quite unbelievably received two of the four aforementioned votes, played one more year in Milwaukee than in Baltimore, but enjoyed most of his better seasons with the Orioles, including his only All-Star appearance and two trips to the postseason, so I'm ruling him out.

Porter played almost an identical number of games with Milwaukee, Kansas City and St. Louis, but his best years were clearly the Royals years, including two top ten MVP finishes and three All-Star appearances, so he's out.

That leaves Cooper, Money, Cirillo, Scott—who played longer in Boston, but clearly had his best years in Milwaukee—and Higuera, who technically isn't Hall-eligible because he only played nine years, but that's kind of a silly rule. Here's how they look based on Hall Rating:

Cooper - 63
Higuera - 63
Cirillo - 63
Money - 61
Scott - 57

Just what I thought. Well, I'll admit I really didn't expect Cirillo to rank that highly, but I'm not surprised there's really not much separating these guys in terms of their overall careers. In such cases, I like to fall back on who produced the most for the team in question. That essentially means it's down to Higuera and Cooper, who are 4th and 5th in team history in WAR, after Yount, Molitor and Braun.

Higuera's an interesting case—although, as I previously said, he's technically not eligible for the Hall of Fame—but I'm sticking with my original decision that Cecil Cooper is the Brewers' greatest eligible non-Hall of Famer. Cooper is basically third (behind Yount and Molitor) in the team's history in just about every offensive category: runs, hits, total bases, doubles, runs created, extra base hits, times on base. Alright, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but he's also second all-time in RBI.

Cooper enjoyed a nice five-year peak from 1979-1983, during which he batted .320/.359/.517 (143 OPS+) with 123 HR, 535 RBI and 459 runs scored, winning three Silver Sluggers, and finishing 5th in AL MVP voting three times and 8th another time. He also won two Gold Gloves and was named to four All-Star teams during a period in which he was worth 23.3 WAR.

These years comprise his age 29 to 33 seasons, so he was a bit of a late bloomer. He also didn't produce much beyond his prime, so there are no Hall of Fame discussions regarding Cecil Cooper. Still, for a short period of time, he was capable of producing at a high level and he's certainly a player worth remembering.

Next Up: Minnesota Twins


  1. I guess Porter is so underrated because he played in an era when there were so many excellent catchers, so I'm glad you chose to make him your #1 backstop. And I also agree that Cecil Cooper is their best player not in the HOF.
    Nice post,

    1. Thanks Bill. I totally agree that Porter is underrated -- not for just his time in Milwaukee, but for his entire career.