With only 42 years of existence, the Milwaukee Brewers are still very much one of the younger franchises in Major League Baseball. However, by no means has that limited the amount of success that many of it’s most elite players have obtained.
From a statistical standpoint, the Brewers have had many exceptionally successful individual seasons from a bevy of likely — and unlikely — players. These are the guys that performed at an elite level for an entire season’s worth of baseball.
Who are these elite players and in what year were they able to so thoroughly dominate the competition? Let’s find out.
First, a Note
A few notes on how this list was constructed:
- This list strictly includes players from the Milwaukee Brewers organization (i.e. not including Seattle Pilots, Milwaukee Braves)
- To avoid repetition and promote fair acknowledgement, no player is featured more than twice
- Postseason accomplishments/statistics not included
- Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Awards are generally gauged higher than raw statistics alone
- WAR ratings are weighted heavily
25. Richie Sexson, 2001: .271/.342/.547, 45 HR, 125 RBI, 94 R, 2 SB (2.4 WAR)
Milwaukee’s offensive catalyst during the inaugural season of Miller Park, Sexson was one of the NL’s most impressive sluggers all season long.
24. Trevor Hoffman, 2009: 1.83 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 37 SV, 48 SO, 54 IP (2.5 WAR)
Was dominant all season long; finished in the top 10 of all MLB closers in saves on a team that concluded it’s season under the .500 mark. Impressive stuff from the surefire Hall-of-Famer.
23. Gorman Thomas, 1982: .245/.343/.506, 39 HR, 112 RBI, 96 R, 3 SB (5.5 WAR)
The backbone of Harvey Kuenn’s lineup, Thomas led the American League in home runs and ranked fifth in RBI. He also notably struck out a team-high 143 times, conversely.
22. Francisco Cordero, 2007: 2.98 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 44 SV, 86 SO, 63.1 IP (2.0 WAR)
“Strikeout machine” would be a bit of an understatement. Set the franchise record for saves in a regular season and garnered a 12.2 K/9 ratio along the way. Unfortunate that he couldn’t strut his stuff on the postseason stage.
21. Richie Sexson, 2003: .272/.379/.548, 45 HR, 124 RBI, 97 R, 2 SB (2.9 WAR)
Carried Milwaukee’s offense throughout the 2003 regular season and earned MVP consideration at the end of it all. His 45 home runs finished second in the National League and his 124 RBI ranked fourth.
The Line: .263/.339/.499, 38 HR, 125 RBI, 92 R, 7 SB (3.3 WAR)
Awards Received: None; finished 19th in National League MVP voting
Easily the best player on some of the most abominable teams in franchise history, Jeromy Burnitz receives little recognition for what he accomplished during his 1998 season with the Brewers.
From an offensive standpoint, Burnitz was magnificent. His 38 home runs ranked as the sixth-most in the National League and his 125 RBI ranked fifth-most. How he wasn’t elected to the All-Star game based on his batting alone is stunning.
Of course, his productivity wouldn’t end there. Burnitz played sound defense in the outfield throughout the 1998 season and consequently garnered a career-best 1.0 dWAR (defensive wins above replacement) rating.
19. John Axford, 2011
The Line: 1.95 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 46 SV, 86 SO, 73.2 IP (2.7 WAR)
John Axford came into last season with hardly any big-league experience under his belt, but from the way he performed, you probably wouldn’t have realized it.
Last season, Milwaukee’s Canadian-born fire-baller tied for the National League lead with 46 saves (a new franchise record) and garnered the league’s best ERA among closers. His upper-90 MPH fastball guided him to an impressive 10.51 K/9 and his exceptional command led to a feeble walk ratio of 8.2 percent.
Axford was outstanding all season long and consequently gathered much Cy Young-praise. Granted, he ended up with just two percent of the vote, but he still finished ahead of fellow closer Craig Kimbrel and slightly behind Matt Cain.
18. CC Sabathia, 2008
The Line: 11-2, 1.65 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 128 SO, 130.2 IP (4.8 WAR)
Technically, this shouldn’t even count. But I think we can all make an exception just this once, right?
Traded from the Cleveland Indians to the Brewers on July 8, 2008, CC Sabathia played just over a half of a season with Milwaukee, but was absolutely and unequivocally dominant throughout. In his 17 starts with the club, Sabathia posted a feeble 1.65 ERA and garnered a K/BB ratio of 5.12, often times on just three days of rest.
Sabathia was without question Milwaukee’s most valuable player down the stretch and it’s fairly easy to assume that without his services, the Brewers don’t make the postseason. Consequently, Sabathia nearly vaulted his way to the top of NL Cy Young and MVP voting, which is by and large unheard of from only a half-season’s worth of production.
The Line: .244/.356/.539, 45 HR, 123 RBI, 97 R, SB (4.3 WAR)
Awards Received: None; finished seventh in American League MVP voting
They don’t call him “Stormin’ Gorman” for nothing.
Perhaps the most recognizable player on many Brewers’ clubs from the late 1970s to 1980s, Gorman Thomas knew how to do one thing exceptionally well: hit the long ball.
During what will go down as one of the greatest individual offensive seasons in franchise history, the scrappy power-hitter with mediocre batting prowess led the American League with 45 home runs and finished with the league’s third-most RBI. His .539 slugging percentage ranked seventh-best among all hitters, additionally.
16. Teddy Higuera, 1988
The Line: 16-9, 2.45 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 192 SO, 227.1 IP (6.4 WAR)
Awards Received: None
Teddy Higuera was downright dominant during the 1988 regular season.
As the undisputed No. 1 starter of a below-average starting rotation, the 30-year-old Mexico native posted some truly impressive numbers. His 0.99 WHIP was tops among all American League starters and he finished in the top-10 of all AL starters in wins, strikeouts, ERA and BAA (.207). He rarely gave up the long ball, garnering a 0.59 HR/9 ratio over 31 starts, additionally.
Unfortunately, though, Milwaukee failed to reach the postseason in a power-packed AL East division that season. Fans can only imagine what Higuera would have been able to do if given the chance to pitch on the postseason stage.
The Line: .320/.386/.551, 32 HR, 114 RBI, 113 R, 20 SB (5.9 WAR)
Awards Received: Silver Slugger; finished 11th in National League MVP voting
After two scintillating seasons with the Brewers, Ryan Braun came into his 2009 season facing exceedingly high expectations with respect to his offensive production. Needless to say, he lived up to those expectations.
That season, Braun made a strong case for his first MVP award by leading the National League with 203 hits and ranking in the top-10 in runs scored, doubles, batting average, home runs, slugging percentage, and OPS. What’s more, Braun added to his resume by logging 20 stolen bases on his way to an impressive stolen base percentage of 77 percent. More to come from Braun in a bit…
14. Robin Yount, 1989
The Line: .318/.384/.511, 21 HR, 103 RBI, 101 R, 19 SB (5.7 WAR)
Awards Received: Silver Slugger; American League MVP (eight first-place votes)
Robin Yount was one of baseball’s most productive hitters throughout the 1980s and was seemingly in the hunt to take home MVP honors every year from 1980-1989. So, naturally, it should come as no surprise that Yount won the prestigious award twice during that time-span.
His second installment came in 1989, where Yount was nothing short of sensational at the plate. Ranking in the top-10 of all American League hitters in runs scored, hits, batting average, RBI, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, doubles, and triples, Yount’s efforts were rewarded with a Silver Slugger award and a 65 percent share of the AL MVP vote, staving off Ruben Sierra and Cal Ripken, Jr. by the slimmest of margins.
The Line: .304/.362/.563, 41 HR, 118 RBI, 94 R, 11 SB (6.4 WAR)
Awards Received: Silver Slugger; finished 13th in American League MVP voting
If Robin Yount and Paul Molitor were the heart and soul of the Brewers’ 1980 lineup, then Ben Oglivie was the bicep.
During what I consider to be one of the most neglected offensive seasons in franchise history, Oglivie did a good portion of the heavy-lifting for Milwaukee’s offense, blasting an American League-high 41 home runs while finishing with the league’s second-most RBI (118).
Ogilvie took home a Silver Slugger-award honors for his efforts — the only time he was able to accomplish such a feat during his journeyman career — and ended up sharing seven percent of the American League MVP vote behind fellow teammate Cecil Cooper.
12. Paul Molitor, 1987
The Line: .353/.438/.566, 16 HR, 75 RBI, 114 R, 45 SB (6.2 WAR)
Awards Received: Silver Slugger; finished fifth in American League MVP voting
Paul “The Ignitor” Molitor was arguably the best pure-hitter in all of baseball throughout the 1980s, and his hitting prowess was on full display during the 1987 regular season.
That year, Milwaukee’s lead-off man and starting third-baseman batted .353, which was enough to rank second-best among all American League hitters along with his .438 on-base percentage and his 1.003 OPS. He led the league with 41 doubles, additionally. However, his production would reach far beyond just the batter’s box. He nabbed a franchise-record 45 stolen bases and scored a league-high 114 runs, which was a testament to his base-running dexterity and ability to wreak havoc on the diamond.
The Line: .299/.412/.602, 46 HR, 141 RBI, 103 R, 2 SB (6.1 WAR)
Awards Received: None; finished fourth in National League MVP voting
Prince Fielder was without a shred of doubt one of the most successful big-league sluggers in all of baseball during his seven seasons in a Brewer uniform, and his 2009 regular season certified exactly why.
In a year where Milwaukee finished two games under .500 (80-82), Fielder led the National League in RBI, and finished second overall in home runs, slugging percentage, and OPS. He also ended with the league’s fourth-best on-base percentage and fourth-most walks (110). Unfortunately, Fielder’s efforts would be all for naught from a historical context, as he would take fourth-place in National League MVP voting behind the likes of Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard and Hanley Ramirez.
10. Pete Vukovich, 1982
The Line: 18-6, 3.34 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 105 SO, 223.2 IP (2.7 WAR)
Awards Received: American League Cy Young (14 first-place votes)
In all honesty, Pete Vuckovich didn’t do anything exceptionally well. He knew how to eat innings and get batters out, however, he struggled with walks and was hardly known for his strikeout abilities. Still, there’s no denying what Milwaukee’s favorite starting pitcher accomplished during a historic 1982 season.
That year, manager Harvey Kuenn’s No. 2 starter took home American League Cy Young honors with relative ease. He led the league in win-loss percentage (.750), his 3.34 ERA ranked sixth-best and he rarely gave up the long-ball, garnering the league’s seventh-best HR/9 ratio (0.563).
9. Prince Fielder, 2007
The Line: .288/.395/.618, 50 HR, 119 RBI, 109 R, 2 SB (4.9 WAR)
Awards Received: Silver Slugger; finished third in National League MVP voting
Prince Fielder became synonymous with “home run” during his unprecedented seven-year run with the Milwaukee Brewers and he certainly lived up to that distinction during the 2007 regular season.
As a beefy 23-year-old on a base-salary of $415,000, Fielder blasted 50 home runs in 681 plate appearances and became the youngest player in MLB history to reach the 50-home run plateau, comfortably beating the previous record set by Willie Mays in 1955. His successes wouldn’t end there, as he led the National League in slugging percentage and he also finished with the league’s third-most RBI and second-best OPS. And, not surprisingly, Fielder hoarded 90 walks which was enough to rank ninth overall.
The Line: .352/.387/.539, 25 HR, 122 RBI, 96 R, 17 SB (6.7 WAR)
Awards Received: Gold Glove, Silver Slugger; finished fifth in American League MVP voting
Cecil Cooper was one of the driving offensive forces behind a slew of successful 1980s Brewers ballclubs, but his greatest single season without question came in 1980.
That season, Milwaukee’s beloved first-baseman won Silver Slugger honors for the first time in leading the American League in RBI, finishing second in hits (219) and batting average, while ending with the league’s fourth-best slugging percentage. He also nabbed 17 stolen bases and posted the league’s third-best OPS. But as impressive as his offensive yield was, his defensive prowess was as equally as evident. He committed just five errors over 142 games on his way to a .997 fielding percentage and 0.8 dWAR rating.
7. Teddy Higuera, 1986
The Line: 20-11, 2.79 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 207 SO, 248.1 IP (8.4 WAR)
Awards Received: None; finished second in American League Cy Young Voting
Teddy Higuera had an undeniably sporadic and unconventional major-league career, however, that didn’t stop him from having one of the most successful single-season pitching performances in franchise history back in 1986.
In a season where Milwaukee finished well under the .500 mark at 77-84, Higuera staked his claim as one of MLB’s brightest young arms. Higuera’s 2.79 ERA finished second among AL pitchers and his 20 wins also ranked second overall. He also amassed 15 complete games and compiled four shutouts on his way to finishing second behind Roger Clemens in AL Cy Young Award voting.
The Line: 22-9, 2.36 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 131 SO, 293.1 IP (7.5 WAR)
Awards Received: None; finished second in American League Cy Young voting
Mike Caldwell was never known for his strikeout abilities or for having above-average command, but he knew the importance of eating innings and finishing what he started—literally.
Headlining Milwaukee’s sumptuous 1978 starting rotation, the seasoned 29-year-old veteran finished third in innings pitched among all American League starters and notched an absurd 23 complete games. His 22 wins ranked second, additionally, and his six shutouts also finished second. If not for Ron Guidry’s impeccable season with the New York Yankees, Caldwell would have almost certainly taken home Cy Young honors in the American League.
5. Paul Molitor, 1982
The Line: .302/.366/.450, 19 HR, 71 RBI, 136 R, 41 SB (7.0 WAR)
Awards Received: None; finished 12th in American League MVP voting
Paul Molitor was the quintessential “five-tool” player during what would become a historic 15-year career with the Brewers. He posted scintillating numbers across the board year in and year out and that was never more evident than in the club’s distinguished 1982 American League championship season.
As Milwaukee’s primary third-baseman and lead-off man offensively, Molitor led the American League in runs scored. His 201 hits finished third, his 41 stolen bases ranked fourth overall, additionally.
All things considered, Molitor was an absolute gamer in every sense of the word. He was a once-in-a-lifetime talent out of the batters-box and on the bases and his efforts during the 1982 season will never be forgotten.
The Line: 12-14, 2.70 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 264 SO, 237 IP (6.3 WAR)
Awards Received: None; finished eighth in Cy Young Award voting
Ben Sheets was a source of many memorable individual performances throughout his career with the Brewers, but it wasn’t until 2004 that he managed to put it all together for one extraordinary season.
That year, Milwaukee’s often inconsistent right-hander was nothing short of spectacular. He finished second in the National League in strikeouts, WHIP and complete games (5), and ranked third in ERA. He also notably finished fourth in K/9 (10.03) thanks to an unfathomable strikeout rate of 28.2 percent.
Unfortunately for Sheets, though, he would only finish eighth in Cy Young Award voting behind the likes of Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson and Roy Oswalt. Nevertheless, his indelible 2004 campaign will go down as the greatest season for a starting pitcher in franchise history.
3. Rollie Fingers, 1981
The Line: 1.04 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, 28 SV, 61 SO, 78 IP (4.1 WAR)
Awards Received: American League MVP (15 first-place votes, American League Cy Young (22 first-place votes)
Rollie Fingers was a man of many talents, but it was his pitching prowess late in crucial games that was on full display throughout an unprecedented 1981 campaign.
As a 34-year-old seasoned veteran in his first season as Milwaukee’s closer, Fingers led the American League with 28 saves and posted a miniscule 1.04 ERA. He also notably held the opposition to a career-best .194 BA (.237 BABIP) and maintained a walk rate of just 4.4 percent. Amazingly enough, this was all made possible despite an aging arm that, unlike many of today’s closers, didn’t live and die off his strikeout abilities. Fingers’ exceptional command and ability to work around batters made his 1981 season even more impressive than previously thought.
Oh, and did I forget to mention he took home MVP and Cy Young award honors?
The Line: .332/.397/.597, 33 HR, 111 RBI, 109 R, 33 SB (7.7 WAR)
Awards Received: Silver slugger, National League MVP (20 first-place votes)
Each of Ryan Braun’s first five big-league seasons have been outstanding, but none of them have been as successful from a historical standpoint than his most recent campaign.
Taking home the club’s first MVP award since Robin Yount did it back in 1989, Milwaukee’s exonerated hero produced unprecedented numbers during the 2011 regular season. He led the National League in slugging percentage and OPS, while his 187 hits ranked fifth and 111 RBI finished fourth overall.
Braun also nabbed 33 stolen bases and logged a career-best 0.6 dWAR rating (defensive wins above replacement), which is fairly impressive when you consider the fact he’s still relatively new to playing the outfield.
1. Robin Yount, 1982
The Line: .311/.379/.578, 29 HR, 114 RBI, 129 R, 14 SB (11.5 WAR)
Awards Received: Gold Glove, Silver Slugger, American League MVP (27 first-place votes)
Robin Yount had many historical seasons in his heyday with the Milwaukee Brewers, but none came close to matching what he accomplished during the 1982 regular season.
During what can only be described as the single greatest statistical season in franchise history, Yount’s bat produced at a near fictitious clip. He led the American League in hits (210), doubles (46), triples (10) slugging percentage and OPS, and his .311 BA finished second. Yount also logged 14 stolen bases and held his own in the field in posting an impressive 1.9 defensive WAR rating.
It’s only fitting that the greatest individual season in franchise history came in the club’s lone trip to the World Series. Long live the ‘stache.