Taking home National League Most Valuable Player honors last season, Ryan Braun is in the midst of yet another MVP-caliber season for the Milwaukee Brewers. Despite weathering the PED-firestorm this past winter, Braun continues to post historic numbers for a resurgent ballclub with postseason aspirations.
Now roughly six and a half seasons into his professional career, and the question can now legitimately be posed: Where does Braun rank among the all-time franchise greats? It’s a difficult question to answer with any amount of conviction, given the amount of talent the organization has housed over it’s 40-plus years of existence. However, one cannot argue with raw numbers and, more specifically, Braun’s raw numbers.
So, where does Braun rank among all-time franchise greats?
20. Richie Sexson
Career 162-game averages: .276/.366/.536, 74 XBH, 120 RBI, 97 R, 2 SB (534 G)
Where would the Milwaukee Brewers be today without Richie Sexson?
An average player at best during his three-and-a-half year stay with the Cleveland Indians, Sexson’s career took off once he arrived to Milwaukee via trade midway through the 2000 season, where the then 25-year-old towering first-baseman registered a career-best .409 wOBA in just a half a season’s time.
And it would only get better from there.
The very next season, Sexson mashed 45 home runs and drove in 125 runs, a mark that stands today as the third most for any player in a single season’s time. He nearly matched those numbers two years later in 2003, swatting 45 round-trippers with 124 home runs. It would prove to be his last season with the club, when Milwaukee dealt him to Arizona for (among others) Chris Capuano, Craig Counsell and Lyle Overbay.
In just about any other era, Sexson’s yield would have garnered serious MVP-consideration. Unfortunately, Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa tallied just about all of the writer’s votes.
Even so, it’s safe to say that the organization wouldn’t be where it is today without his services, even if it was only from 2000 through 2003. He helped usher in the Miller Park era and helped put the Brewers on the path to success in the early stages of the new millennium.
19. Chris Bosio
Career 162-game averages: 30 G, 3.76 ERA (3.79 FIP), 1.24 WHIP, 107 K/41 BB, .258 BAA (170 IP)
In all honesty, Chris Bosio probably doesn’t deserve to be on this list. He was a marginal reliever at best during his early years with the club and didn’t find a whole lot of success until he was converted to a near full-time starter at the beginning of the 1988 season.
However, he was pretty darn good from there on out.
Never known for having overpowering stuff, Bosio instead utilized his superb placement en route to some Cy Young-caliber numbers. In 1989, Bosio walked less than 2 batters per nine innings pitched and held batters to a .246 batting average despite striking out a very average 17.9 percent of batters he faced. Consequently, his statistical yield gave him a 6.2 WAR rating, which was fourth-best among all big-league starters that season.
Bosio returned for three more seasons in Milwaukee’s rotation, where he registered on average 3.0 WAR per season. His impeccable command manifested itself in the form of a league-leading 1.7 BB/9 ratio during his 1992 campaign with the club. He may be one of the most under-appreciated starters in the club’s relatively short history.
18. Jeromy Burnitz
Career 162-game averages: .258/.362/.508, 72 XBH, 109 RBI, 97 R, 9 SB (782 G)
Upon arrival to Milwaukee midway through the 1996 season to his departure after the 2001 season, Jeromy Burnitz just had a knack for producing at the plate. While his hit-tool was below average, he made up for it with plus-power and a fairly keen eye at the plate. Add in the fact that he had respectable speed on the basepaths, and its easy to see Burnitz was (nearly) the total package on offense.
Between 1997 and 1998, his best two seasons from a pure value standpoint, Burnitz posted a .271/.358/.523 line with a scintillating .252 ISO and a wRC+ of 127. He proved to be surprisingly productive on the basepaths, garnering a SPD rating of 3.7 and stolen base percentage of 61 percent, additionally.
If you’re an advocate of 162-game averages, then Burnitz would rank up there with many of the franchise’s best in terms of raw power and ability to get on base. It’s unfortunate that he only lasted just six seasons with the club — who knows what his career would have amounted to had he stayed for an extended period of time.
17. Mike Caldwell
Career 162-game averages: 30 G, 3.74 ERA (4.07 FIP), 1.28 WHIP, 67 K/44 BB, .278 BAA (1604.2 IP)
Another innings-eater workhorse type from a number of successful 1980s Milwaukee rotations, Mike Caldwell had plus-average command of his offerings and was always around the strikezone, resulting in low walk totals and inherently high hit rates. But what made Caldwell so effective (and valuable) was his durability.
Caldwell’s best season came in 1978 as an experienced 29-year-old veteran. He started 34 games and appeared in three more as a reliever, where his 2.95 FIP ranked fourth-best among all AL starters and his 6.6 WAR was fourth-best among all big-league starters. Consequently, he finished second in American League Cy Young award voting and 12th in Most Valuable Player voting.
While the remainder of his career with Milwaukee was solid, his strikeout totals diminished and hitters took advantage of his propensity to leave the ball over the plate. Still, Caldwell without question ranks as one of the best starters in the franchise’s history.
16. Moose Haas
Career 162-game averages: 25 G (23 GS), 4.03 ERA (3.77 FIP), 1.30 WHIP, 80 K/41 BB, .270 BAA (1542 IP)
Moose Haas was never considered a dominating pitcher and likely never will be. Though he had above-average command of his pitches and subsequent low walk rates, he left the ball over the plate at a far too frequent rate and hardly ever got batters out via strikeout. Still, he is one of the greatest starters in franchise history.
Haas’ best season came in 1980 at just 24 years old, where he posted a 3.10 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and logged a career-best 5.2 K/9 ratio over 33 starts. The most impressive part is that he finished 14 games of which he started, a ridiculous number when you consider that Brewers starters managed just one complete game over the course of the entire 2011 season. In short, Haas was the epitome of an innings-eater.
He would struggle to find the same amount of success in each of his next few seasons with the club, harboring an ERA 3.99 and WHIP of 1.29. Haas made his way to the Oakland Athletics‘ rotation after his stay in Milwaukee, but injuries took their tool and in turn a once promising career.
15. Geoff Jenkins
Career 162-game averages: .277/.347/.496, 66 XBH, 85 RBI, 80 R, 4 SB (1234 G)
Taken with the ninth overall selection in the 1995 first-year player draft, there were plenty of things to like about Geoff Jenkins. He had a blue-collar mentality to him that fans connected with and the statistical yield to provide even more reason to cheer him on.
At the plate, Jenkins provided a ton of pop and at times hit for a decent average. He maintains a career .215 ISO and .354 wOBA, proving that he was one of the franchise’s best at raking-up extra-base hits. A career .277 batter, Jenkins twice reached the .300 plateau and nearly did it in 2006, where he batted .296 and made his lone All-Star appearance for the National League.
There wasn’t anything flashy or extravagant about Jenkins’ game. He went out and did his job day in and day out and as a consequence finds himself among the franchise’s all-time greats from a statistical standpoint.
14. Jeff Cirillo
Career 162-game averages: .307/.383/.449, 51 XBH, 70 RBI, 84 R, 6 SB (978 G)
Probably one of the more overlooked players in franchise history, Jeff Cirillo spent eight seasons in Milwaukee and was extremely productive in each more often than not.
The former 11th round pick of the 1991 draft spent his first six professional seasons with the Brewers, and during that time proved to be one of the best top-of-the-order hitters in all of baseball. He finished among the league leaders with a .307 batting average, .333 BABIP, .384 on-base percentage and a strikeout rate of just 11.6 percent. What’s more, he ranked third-best among all third basemen with an Fld of 49, according to FanGraphs.
After a brief stint with a few other clubs, Cirillo returned to Milwaukee from 2005 to 2006, where he garnered 3.4 WAR in just 189 games. He didn’t put up the biggest numbers, but he’s certainly one of the franchise’s best from a pure value standpoint.
13. George Scott
Career 162-game averages: .283/.342/.456, 57 XBH, 96 RBI, 84 R, 9 SB (782 G)
As with a number of players featured in this list, George Scott wasn’t drafted by the organization and furthermore didn’t have a lengthy stay, either, so his 162-game averages should be taken with a grain of salt. However, there’s still no denying what Scott accomplished during his time in Milwaukee.
After years of mediocrity with the Boston Red Sox, Scott made his way to the Brewers’ dugout at the beginning of the 1972 season and saw immediate improvements to his game, both offensively and defensively. In his five seasons with the club, “Boomer” posted an OPS+ of 131 compared to his 103 with his previous club. He led the AL with 37 home runs, 109 runs batted in and 318 total bases in 1975 yet finished just eighth in Most Valuable Player voting.
What’s most impressive about his tenure with the organization, though, was his defensive prowess. He took home first-base gold glove honors each of his five seasons with Milwaukee — something has has only been accomplished twice since 1975. Scott was by all accounts a complete baseball player.
12. Gorman Thomas
Career 162-game averages: .230/.325/.461, 58 XBH, 89 RBI, 77 R, 6 SB (1102 G)
The pride and joy of Milwaukee baseball from the early 1970s up through the early 1980s, Gorman Thomas was about as undisciplined a hitter that has ever graced a baseball field. He consistently totalled some of the highest strikeout rates in the bigs during his 11-year stay with the Brewers and consequently found his batting average well-below the Mendoza line.
But, man could he hit for power.
Thomas was one of the driving forces behind a slew of successful 1970s and 1980s clubs, twice leading the AL in home runs (45 in 1979; 39 in 1982) and cracking the 100-RBI mark on three separate occasions. Of course, alluding back to my previous statement, Thomas twice led the AL in strikeouts (175 in 1979; 170 in 1980) and posted a career strikeout rate of 24 percent.
Still, Thomas’ “Stormin’ Gorman” moniker is historic in and of itself.
11. Jim Gantner
Career 162-game averages: .274/.319/.351, 31 XBH, 51 RBI, 65 R, 12 SB (1801 G)
Thrust into the starting second-base role as a 26-year-old in 1979, Jim Gantner was never known to possess flashy tools or for having a ton of upside during his stay in the minors, and that sentiment resonated throughout his professional career. However, an above-aveage glove made him extremely valuable throughout his 17-year career.
Carving a niche for himself at second base over his lengthy career, Gantner also maintained the aptitude to play third base and shortstop, and not-so-surprisingly performed well at each. Still the runaway franchise leader with 9.5 defensive WAR, Gantner amassed a range factor of 5.51 at second base, 2.18 at third base and 5.36 at shortstop. By those standards, he was below-average defender only at third base while being proficient both at second and shortstop.
Gantner was a cornerstone to a number of successful 1980s teams and without a doubt deserves to be on this list.
10. Don Money
Career 162-game averages: .270/.338/.421, 50 XBH, 72 RBI, 82 R, 9 SB (1196 G)
Spending his first five big-league seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies before making his way to Milwaukee prior to the 1973 season, Don Money was one of the primary offensive catalysts to many 1970s and early 1980s Brewers rosters.
An very disciplined hitter at the plate, Money posted a career strikeout rate of just 11.6 percent and a walk rate of 9.1 percent. His keen eye and great pitch recognition helped him tap into his power potential at the plate, where he posted a career .421 slugging percentage with Milwaukee and an extra-base hit rate of 7.7 percent. While those numbers are by no means all-time franchise greats, they are a big reason why he is considered one of the better hitters in the organization’s history.
Of course, the biggest reason for Money’s success in the bigs was his exceptional glove. “Brooks” (as they called him) compiled 1.7 defensive WAR over his 11 seasons with the Brewers at third base, second and first base. That, along with his productivity at the plate, gives him the fifth-most WAR (26.1) among position players in franchise history, according to Baseball-Reference.
9. Rollie Fingers
Career 162-game averages: 44 G, 2.54 ERA (3.22 FIP), 1.08 WHIP, 49 K/16 BB, .224 BAA (65 IP)
Considered one of the greatest closers of his generation well before his arrival to Milwaukee as a 34-year-old in 1981, it’s arguable that Rollie Fingers’ best big-league seasons came as the Brewers’ ninth-inning closer at the end of his career.
After posting uncharacteristic numbers during his final season with the San Diego Padres in 1980, Fingers wasted no time in returning to his dominant ways of old. In his first season with the club, he notched a league-leading 28 saves, finishing second-best among all AL relievers with a 1.04 ERA and 2.07 FIP while posting a ridiculous left-on-base percentage of 92.6 percent.
Fingers finished out his final three professional seasons as Milwaukee’s closer, but was far from the productive closer he was in his inaugural season with the club. Still, he is by any standard the greatest relief pitcher in franchise history.
8. Ben Sheets
Career 162-game averages: 34 GS, 3.72 ERA (3.56 FIP), 1.20 WHIP, 151 K/39 BB, .256 BAA (179 IP)
Traditionally a franchise known for it’s abundance of great positional talent and sparsity of pitching talent, Ben Sheets should by all accounts be considered the most prolific starter in Brewers history. Though his career was a roller-coaster at times, one cannot argue that he didn’t have the best stuff of any pitcher in franchise history. The proof is in the pudding.
Utilizing a low to mid 90s fastball, solid-average changeup and quite possibly the best hammer-curveball in modern history (excuse my over-exaggeration), Sheets put up gaudy numbers throughout his stay with Milwaukee. His best season value-wise came in 2004, where over 34 starts he posted a 2.70 ERA, struck out over 10 batters per nine innings and garnered 8.0 WAR that ranked second-best among all big-league starters to only Randy Johnson.
Sheets would finish out his career with Milwaukee with two straight trips to the mid-summer classic in 2007 and 2008. He currently holds the franchise mark for career strikeouts (1206) and strikeouts in one season (264). Had it not been for recurring injury, he’d have presumably broken every pitching record in franchise history with ease.
7. Ben Oglivie
Career 162-game averages: .277/.345/.461, 56 XBH, 97 RBI, 81 R, 6 SB (1149 G)
After a few years spent with the Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers, Ben Oglivie made his way to Milwaukee prior to the 1978 season, where to the enjoyment of he and many of his fans, his career took off.
Despite his somewhat lanky build at 6’2″, 160 pounds, Oglivie possess massive raw power and that was on full display right from the get-go up until his final season with the club in 1986. In that time-span, Oglivie swatted over 29 home runs on three separate occasions, once leading the AL with 41 in 1980, while posting a .185 ISO. He didn’t hit for a terribly high average, but he certainly knew how to hit the long-ball with the best of them.
His career began to tail off after the hallowed 1982 AL championship season, though he still managed to crack the AL All-Star roster the next season. Injury took it’s toll in each of his final seasons with the club, leading him to retire after the 1986 season.
6. Teddy Higuera
Career 162-game averages: 35 G, 15-10, 3.61 ERA (3.49 FIP), 1.24 WHIP, 176 K/72 BB, .239 BAA (224 IP)
A lifetime Brewer from his 27-year-old rookie season in 1985 to his final campaign in 1994, Teddy Higuera has absolutely earned the right to the title “greatest pitcher in franchise history”. The somewhat surprising part is that his best seasons came early on rather than a few years into his professional career.
Higuera nearly took home AL Rookie of the Year honors in 1985 when he posted a 3.90 ERA over 30 starts, and then proceeded to place second in AL Cy Young Award voting the very next season when he harbored 5.7 WAR over 34 starts. His third year in, Higuera finished sixth in Cy Young voting thanks to a career-best 7.4 WAR that ranked just behind Roger Clemens for tops among big league starters.
The amazing part about Higuera’s career is that his value was aggregated not with overpowering stuff, but with an acute ability to spot his pitches and limit walks. During his best seasons of 1985-1988, Higuera allowed just over seven hits per nine innings and struck out a very average 7.3 batters per nine innings.
5. Prince Fielder
Career 162-game averages: .284/.389/.537, 79 XBH, 109 RBI, 95 R, 3 SB (998 G)
A power-hitting phenom as a prepster out of high school, Milwaukee took Prince Fielder with the seventh overall pick in the 2002 amateur draft and more than likely realized they had an elite talent on their hands. How well he would pan out as a professional, they had no idea. But looking back, it seems as though he panned out quite nicely.
In exactly 998 games with Milwaukee from 2005 up until the end of last season, Fielder put up unprecedented numbers at the plate. Among the most notable of his accomplishments: Became the youngest player in baseball history (23) to hit 50 home runs in one season in 2007, led the NL in runs batted in (141) in 2010 and finished in the top four in NL Most Valuable Player voting between 2007 and 2001.
Fielder currently ranks as the franchise-leader in on-base percentage, is second to only Ryan Braun (more on him later) in slugging percentage and OPS+ (143), and comes in at second on the all-time home runs list behind only Robin Yount.
4. Cecil Cooper
Career 162-game averages: .302/.339/.470, 64 XBH, 105 RBI, 91 R, 9 SB (1490 G)
Up until just recently, Cecil Cooper was considered by far and away the greatest first-baseman in franchise history. Manning the position for over a decade, the left-handed hitting former 1968 draft pick hoarded an impressive statistical yield during his time with the club.
Hitting for a high average seemingly every year, Cooper also knew a thing or two about driving in runs and pounding the outfield gaps with ease. He twice led the AL in doubles (44 in 1979; 35 in 1981) during his tenure with the club and additionally led the league twice in runs batted in (122 in 1980; 126 in 1983). Consequently, Cooper finished in the top five in AL Most Valuable Player voting between 1980 and 1983 as Milwaukee’s first-baseman.
Cooper now finds himself among all-time franchise leaders in a slew of categories, most notably ranking fourth in career doubles (345) and third in total bases (2829). It’s hard to imagine where the franchise would be today without his services throughout the 1980s.
Career 162-game averages: .312/.373/.567, 83 XBH, 119 RBI, 113 R, 22 SB (810 G)
Ryan Braun may just be the greatest player in franchise history if you take into account “awards won per season”. Now in his sixth season with the club, the Miami product has been selected to five consecutive All-Star games, won four consecutive silver slugger awards, taken home rookie of the year honors not to mention a Most Valuable Player award. And he’s just over half way through his sixth professional season.
Needless to say, Braun is already as decorated a player as there’s ever been in the history of the franchise. Currently the franchise leader in batting average, slugging percentage, OPS+ (147) while ranking at or near the top of many other statistical categories, he’s already staked his claim as one of the most prolific talents in the organization’s history. The impressive part is that Braun still has upwards of eight seasons left with the club should he remain in Milwaukee through his contract.
Next stop, Cooperstown?
2. Paul Molitor
Career 162-game averages: .303/.367/.444, 57 XBH, 68 RBI, 110 R, 36 SB
There have been few players in the history of modern baseball who possessed and utilized five plus-average tools (hit, power, defense, arm, speed) to their liking on a day-to-day basis. Paul Molitor was one of those few-and-far-between players.
Known as The Ignitor for his remarkable productivity both as a leadoff hitter and defender at third base, Molitor was one of the best all-around talents of his generation. He had an amazing ability to hit for a high average but also raked up his fair share of extra-base hits, as noted by his career .366 wOBA. A steadfast defender at third base, Molitor posted a career range factor of 2.98 — a number that today would rank nearly best among all big-league third basemen.
Of course, I would be remiss not to mention that he leads the franchise with 412 career stolen bases. Molitor was the definition of a five-tool player during his stay with Milwaukee.
1. Robin Yount
Career 162-game averages: .285/.342/.430, 54 XBH, 80 RBI, 93 R, 15 SB
It’s hard to contextualize everything that Yount did for the franchise. The former third overall pick of the 1973 draft put up ridiculous numbers year in and year out and that consequently resulted in a whole lot of shiny hardware.
From bursting onto the scene as an 18 year old phenom in 1974 to his final season in 1993, Yount took home American League Most Valuable Player honors twice, once coming as as a shortstop in 1982 and the second coming as a centerfielder in 1989. He was a three-time silver slugger and was surprisingly only a two-time gold glover despite a career dWAR of 5.8.
Utilizing what many consider one of the most prolific hit tools in the sport’s history, Yount leads the franchise by a sizable margin in hits (3,142), total bases (4,730) and extra-base hits (960). Braun may surpass those numbers by the time his career is through, but right now there’s no debating that Yount it the greatest hitter in the franchise’s history, not to mention the greatest player.