How will the Milwaukee Brewers line up their hitters in 2017?
The Milwaukee Brewers have acquired some fresh faces for 2017, including three likely members of the starting lineup. Alejandro Prez
C Andrew Susac, 3B Travis Shaw, and 1B Eric Thames should all make the team’s Opening Day lineup. But how will they be set against both righties and lefties?
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The Brewers made some interesting lineup decisions late last year, including 27 games with Hernán Pérez hitting cleanup. It’s difficult to predict moves like that, but let’s try our hand at predicting the team’s base lineups anyway.
I can’t imagine anyone disagreeing too strongly with Villar leading off. He posted a .369 OBP in 2016 and was a general terror on the basepaths (though sometimes the terror was directed toward Brewers fans).
He could stand to be slightly more conservative, but it’s not nearly as big of a problem as some think.
Broxton batted first and second a combined twelve times, earning those spots as he heated up later in the season. He likely would have remained in the #2 spot to end the year if not for an unfortunate mid-September wrist fracture that ended his season. He looks to pick up where he left off, as he posted an .878 OPS from June through September.
Braun will hit third. It’s simply a fact of life. While I agree with the new age analysis that shows the #2 spot as more important than the #3, I just don’t see the Brewers moving their star at this point.
Eric Thames will take over Chris Carter/Jonathan Lucroy‘s vacancy in the cleanup spot. He should be the best power hitter on the team, assuming his skills transfer from the Korean Baseball Organization. He may struggle against lefties, but his spot against righties should be secure.
While I placed Domingo Santana as the #5 hitter, the stats actually say Travis Shaw should start over him against right-handed batters. Santana owns just a .690 OPS against righties, albeit in just 328 plate appearances. Shaw’s OPS versus righties is .751 (578 PA).
However, I think the Brewers still give the spot to Santana, especially given his strong second half in 2016 (.251/.342/.457, 13 HR in 281 PA).
Shaw hits sixth in my prediction. He was outstanding with the Red Sox in April and May in 2016, posting .885 and .850 OPSs, respectively. After a dismal June, his bat never came back full-force. He slashed a very poor .194/.259/.360 in the second half of the year, making him available to the Brewers in the off-season.
If he can post a consistent .726 OPS (his 2016 total) with no major pitfalls in 2017, he should retain his spot in the #6 spot. If his offensive stock never rebounds from late-2016, Hernán Pérez will steal more and more of his at-bats.
Andrew Susac has had an interesting 262 career plate appearances. It’s much too small a sample to decide the young man’s fate, but a .950 OPS versus lefties and a .606 OPS against righties certainly grabs my attention.
Again, it’s a small sample, but let’s take a look at his LHP/RHP splits from 2013-2016, including both Major and minor league stats, as well as those from the Arizona Fall League:
2013 (AA, AZL):
LHP: 1.075 OPS || RHP: .700 OPS
2014 (AAA, MLB):
LHP: 1.038 OPS || RHP: .745 OPS
2015 (AAA, MLB):
LHP: .951 OPS || RHP: .625 OPS
2016 (A+,AAA, MLB)
LHP: .817 OPS || RHP: .697 OPS
So Susac may continue to hit lefties exceptionally, but his same-handed hitting will have to come around at the Major League level.
Rounding out the RHP lineup is Orlando Arcia. Given his speed, it’s possible that the Brewers actually bat Arcia ninth, as a secondary lead-off hitter, though manager Craig Counsell typically sticks the pitcher ninth, as is the tradition.
I’m not huge on Arcia’s bat right now, but given the hype around his arrival in the Big Leagues (mostly because of his excellent defensive prowess), I can see the Brewers moving him around when he heats up.
On the next page I ponder if the Milwaukee Brewers will end up benching Eric Thames against lefties. It could wind up as their best option.
The Milwaukee Brewers probably aren’t going to immediately relegate Eric Thames to platoon duty, but wouldn’t have to panic if it turns out that way.
Honestly, not much about the lineup I just projected against right-handed pitchers needs to change much. The Milwaukee Brewers will likely give Thames his shot against lefties.
But the point remains: Thames struggled against lefties early in his MLB career, and was significantly better against righties in the KBO:
Best I’ve found for Thames’ splits in KBO. It’s just for 2016. Small sample, but supports idea of platoon. .470 SLG v. LHP .798 SLG v. RHP pic.twitter.com/gJViqgpxsb
So, this lineup may be more of a “what if,” but the Brewers really do have a solid option if they bench Thames against southpaws.
3B H. Pérez
Santana is likely a bit of a surprise hitting cleanup. However, as previously mentioned, Craig Counsell is clearly willing to play the hot hand in the #4 spot.
And Santana is clearly a monster against left-handed pitching. In 2014, between AAA, MLB, and the Dominican Winter Leagues, Santana posted a .952 OPS against lefties.
In 2015 between AAA and the Majors, Santana posted a colossal 1.018 OPS against southpaws. All told, Santana has a .283/.373/.514 Major League slash against lefties in 158 plate appearances.
The Brewers seem to be aware of Santana’s platoon ability, as approximately 41 percent of his career starts have come against southpaws. Compare that to a near everyday player like Ryan Braun (who also crushes lefties) who makes less than 30 percent of his starts versus southpaws.
In this scenario, Pérez replaces Shaw at third, and Shaw slides to first. Shaw is a lefty like Thames, but has had much more success against same-handed pitchers throughout his career.
In fact, at this point in his career, Shaw has been a better power hitter against lefties, posting a .476 SLG against them, than righties (.429 SLG).
This switch would also move Shaw off of third base occasionally, which is something the Rex Sox employed with him in 2016. Pérez filling in at third would also improve the infield’s defense.
Ideally, Pérez would maintain his apparent offensive improvements from 2016, particularly his solid .486 SLG against lefties. Of course, if Andrew Susac continues to crush lefties, he could also take over the #5 spot.
Overall, these lineups looks promising. The starting rotation is clearly a bigger issue for the Brewers, so the lineup will have to work overtime to outscore their opponents.