Brewers Focused On Improving Defense

The Milwaukee Brewers had an offseason that many throughout the game probably just glossed over, looking at teams like the San Diego Padres, New York Mets and Toronto Blue Jays as teams that made the types of improvements that’ll vault them into a new tier.

What if I told you that the Brewers actually had one of the best offseasons throughout baseball?

The additions of Kolten Wong and Jackie Bradley Jr. were two of the more under-discussed moves this offseason, but both are actually going to be major contributors to a team looking to win a weak National League Central Division.

The two of them add something to the Brewers that very few options on the free agent market were able to this offseason: incredibly strong defense at their respective positions.

Bradley Jr. ranked in the 98th percentile in OAA in 2020 with 7 and has accumulated 62 OAA since the start of the 2015 season.

Picture courtesy of Baseball Savant

The center fielder is now going to be slotted alongside Lorenzo Cain, who despite missing the 2020 season, was one of the best defenders in all of baseball over the last five years as well.

From 2015-2019, Cain had 68 OAA and in 2019 alone, the Gold Glove Award winner had 16 OAA.

Picture courtesy of Baseball Savant

Which one ends up playing center field and which one moves over to right field?

That really doesn’t matter all too much, either way it would appear they are in good shape. They can simply alternate on some sort of regular basis between the two of them.

The biggest reason that having two Gold Glove capable center fielders on the roster could be valuable is the fact that Christian Yelich, despite being one of the best players in the game, is also one of the worst defensive outfielders in baseball.

After he ranked in the 16th percentile in OAA and eighth percentile in outfielder jump in 2019, the Brewers tried to remedy the situation by signing Avisaíl Garcia to play right field so that they could move Yelich to left field.

However, that experiment proved to provide little difference as Yelich proceeded to rank in the eighth percentile in OAA and in the third percentile in outfielder jump in 2020.

García didn’t provide the defensive upgrade they were hoping for in right field either, with much of his playing time coming in center field due to Cain opting out of the 2020 season.

In 2020, García was slightly below average in OAA (39th percentile) playing mostly center field as compared to significantly above average (83rd percentile) as he was in 2019 mostly playing right field.

Sure, the argument could be made that the Brewers could have just tried out the experiment as it was originally intended to be drawn out again in 2020 with Cain in center and García in right.

But, Cain is 34-years-old and coming off an almost entirely missed season, meaning there’s no reason to be so certain that he will come back to the game as the same elite defender as he was a season ago.

Should we expect regression to the point where he’d become a below-average defender? Probably not, but the team should be prepared to possibly shift him to a corner at some point.

Having Bradley Jr. provides an insurance policy that not many teams can have in center field, with most clubs struggling to find one option that is good enough to man the position on a regular basis.

Meanwhile, at second base the addition of Wong allows the team to move Keston Hiura off of second base, where the latter ranked in the fourth percentile (2019) and the 39rd percentile (2020) in OAA in his first two seasons in the league.

Wong happens to be an elite defender at second base, with 8 OAA in 2019 and 3 OAA in 2020, placing him in the 92nd and 85th percentiles in those respective seasons.

Unfortunately, the Brewers will still have to use Hiura in the field in 2021, shifting him over the first base partially due to the fact there is no DH in the National League this season.

Now, the good news is that first base, in general, requires a player to cover notably less range than at the keystone, especially when the shift is in place against left-handed hitters. Placing a defender as good as Wong next to Hiura can only help in that regard.

Over the past two seasons combined, the Brewers only had two players on their roster who finished above average in OAA in Cain and Eric Thames. With Thames no longer being on the roster, that means the Brewers only had one player on their roster finishing positively in OAA during that time span.

Hence, improving their defense as a team probably was correctly made a priority.

With the additions of Wong and Bradley Jr., they have managed to massively increase the team’s range on defense going into the 2021 season and, in a weak NL Central, could very well make the postseason because of those two moves.

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