Milwaukee Brewers: 2017 Season Review and Offseason Preview

MILWAUKEE, WI - SEPTEMBER 23: The Milwaukee Brewers celebrate after Travis Shaw
MILWAUKEE, WI - SEPTEMBER 23: The Milwaukee Brewers celebrate after Travis Shaw /
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MILWAUKEE, WI – SEPTEMBER 01: Jimmy Nelson /

What Went Right

The Milwaukee Brewers made a very good trade last December when they sent relief pitcher Tyler Thornburg to the Red Sox for Travis Shaw and two minor leaguers, Maricio Dubon and Josh Pennington. Thornburg didn’t pitch at all in 2017 and is currently on the 60-Day DL after having surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome (we hope he has a full recovery). Shaw had a great year. He hit .273/.349/.513, with 31 home runs and 101 RBI, and led the team’s position players in Wins Above Replacement.

About a week before the Brewers traded for Shaw, they signed free agent Eric Thames to a 3-year, $16 million contract, with a player option for a fourth year (at $7.5 million). Thames last played in the major leagues in 2012. From 2014-2016, he hit a combined 124 home runs in the Korean Baseball Organization with a .349/.451/.721 batting line. As impressive as that was, it was hard to know what the 30-year-old would do in the states.

Thames was a beast in the first two-and-a-half months of the season. Through June 17, he hit .269/.402/.616, with 50 runs scored, 20 homers, and 38 RBI in 63 games. He slowed way down from that point on, hitting .229/.321/.435, with 33 runs, 11 homers, and 25 RBI in his final 75 games. He also dealt with nagging injuries during the year that kept him out of games and seemed to affect his hitting as the season wore on. He was a good value overall for his low price, but the Brewers have to wonder what they’ll get from him going forward.

Another bright spot on offense was Domingo Santana. The young right fielder hit .278/.375/.505 and launched 30 long balls. He scored 88 runs and drove in 85 runs, while also stealing 15 bases. He doesn’t rate well on defense according to Fangraphs, but the bat looks good.

The Brewers had productive seasons from other young players, including shortstop Orlando Arcia, who was a top-10 overall prospect before the 2016 season. Arcia didn’t hit at all in 2016, when he came up for 55 games. He improved this year, but was still below league average as a hitter. He’ll be 23 years old next year, so there’s reason to believe he’ll continue to improve.

Closer Corey Knebel (39 saves, 1.78 ERA) upped his strikeout rate from around 27 percent the three previous years to nearly 41 percent last year. Their 23-year-old outfield prospect, Brett Phillips, hit .276/.351/.448 in 98 plate appearances, but it came with a .408 BABIP, which is unlikely to be repeated.

Starting pitcher Jimmy Nelson had a breakout season. He came into this year with a 4.38 ERA in 436 career innings and was coming off a season in which he led the NL in losses, walks, and HBP. This year, he was 12-6 with a 3.49 ERA and struck out 199 batters in 175.3 innings.

Unfortunately, Nelson suffered a labrum tear on a dive back to first base as a base runner in a game in early September. You have to wonder if the Brewers would have made up their one-game deficit to the Rockies in the wild card race if they had their best starting pitcher down the stretch. Nelson missed most of September and is likely to miss a portion of next season. The injury was to his non-throwing shoulder, which is good, but it will still take months to come back from.

The Brewers also received a good year from Chase Anderson (12-4, 2.74 ERA in 25 starts) and a solid season from Zach Davies (17-9, 3.90 ERA). Lefty Brent Suter spent time in the majors and minors before coming up for good in July. He finished the year 3-2 with a 3.42 ERA in 81.7 innings.