All-Time Best Milwaukee Brewers

Who made our starting lineup?

Welcome to the All-Franchise Starting Lineup, where we review each of the 30 current MLB franchises to determine the best players by position in franchise history. This week, we’re headed to Milwaukee to look at the Brewers with some help from Pitcher List writer and Brewers fan Steve Drumwright. It’s always great to get a real fan’s perspective! If you like this article, you can find all the lineups we’ve created thus far and other great content here.

 

The Ground Rules

 

  • Each player’s WAR with the franchise was the primary driver of the selections. We used two WAR calculations, one from Fangraphs and the other from Baseball-Reference. When the WAR between players was similar, we considered other factors, such as stats and awards, to break the tie.
  • We only considered statistics earned with the franchise in question for each player. For example, Albert Pujols wasn’t the Dodgers’ first baseman since he only played with them for part of a season near the end of his career.
  • Players with multi-position eligibility can play any position they played for a reasonable period in their career.
  • Outfielders can be shifted between center, left, and right as long as it makes sense defensively – especially for center field.
  • Since we have universal DH now, we will assign one DH per team. Doing so also allows us to get more deserving hitters into the lineup who played at a log-jammed position.
  • Three pitchers will be named – one right-handed starter, one left-handed starter, and one reliever.

 

Franchise Overview

 

The Brewers originated as the expansion “Seattle Pilots” in 1969. However, Bud Selig purchased them after only one season and moved the club to Milwaukee, where they became the Brewers. They were initially in the AL West as the franchise began in Seattle. However, after only three years in the division, they moved to the AL East, switching places with the Texas Rangers, who had just relocated from Washington, D.C. In 1994, the club moved to the AL Central when a third division was added to both leagues. The most significant move came in 1998 when the club moved to the NL Central to accommodate intra-league play and expansion. The commissioner at the time was none other than Bud Selig, who wanted the team in the NL as the Milwaukee Braves resided there from 1953-1965.

Like most expansion teams, the Brewers struggled out of the gate for many seasons. They finished no better than 15 games out of first place for their first nine seasons. The 1978 through 1980 clubs were good, though, winning an average of 91 games but never making the playoffs. The franchise finally broke through in the strike-shortened 1981, losing to the Yankees in the ALDS. The following year, the Brew Crew made their only appearance in the Fall Classic, losing to the Cardinals in a fantastic seven-game series. After the 1982 World Series, the team went through another dry spell, not seeing the postseason again until 2008. The club has contended recently, making the playoffs in four out of the last five seasons, but is still awaiting a second trip to the World Series.

 

Catcher: Jonathan Lucroy

Career Stats with the Milwaukee Brewers

Jonathan Lucroy debuted for the Brewers in May 2010 and quickly established himself as the club’s primary catcher. Lucroy was especially proficient with the bat, hitting .320 in his six-and-a-half seasons in Milwaukee. In 2014, he led the NL with 53 doubles and made his first of two All-Star appearances for the Brew Crew. Luc finished fourth in the MVP balloting that season after hitting .301 with 13 HRs, 69 RBI, and 73 runs while starting 150 games. After an injury-marred 2015, Lucroy returned to the Midsummer Classic in 2016 and became a hot commodity on the trade market since the club was in the middle of a rebuild. He was traded to the Rangers on August 1st, ending his time in Milwaukee.

Lucroy only made the postseason once as a Brewer, advancing to the NLCS in 2011 after the club bounced the Diamondbacks in the NLDS. After leaving Milwaukee, he played on three more playoff teams but never made it to a World Series. Lucroy played for several clubs after 2016 but didn’t stick anywhere for long and finally retired in 2021 after a couple of short stints with the Nationals and Braves. Luc’s .284 batting average with the Brewers is the highest among catchers, with more than 300 plate appearances, in franchise history.

 

First Base: Cecil Cooper

Career Stats with the Milwaukee Brewers

There were a couple of other players we could have put at first base, namely George Scott and Prince Fielder, but Cooper’s longevity in Milwaukee and excellence with the bat and glove put him over the top. Cooper began his career with the Red Sox, who traded him to the Brewers after the 1976 season. Cooper played well his first few seasons in Milwaukee but received few accolades. As the Brewers became a force, Cooper’s play began to draw attention, and he made his first All-Star game and won his first Gold Glove in 1979. Cooper represented the Brewers at the Midsummer Classic five times in total, won three Silver Sluggers, and brought home two Gold Gloves from 1979-1985. He also led the league in doubles and RBI twice.

Cooper was the club’s first baseman on their two playoff runs in the early 80s and hit .286 with a home run and six RBI in the 1982 World Series. He found a home with the Brewers and played in Milwaukee for the remainder of his career, retiring in 1987. Cooper ranks first in games, runs, RBI, and batting average (minimum 300 plate appearances) among Brewers’ first basemen and is second to only Fielder in homers.

 

Second Base: Paul Molitor

Career Stats with the Milwaukee Brewers

There was no doubt that Paul Molitor would be in our lineup; the only question was at which position? Moli played more third base than second for the Brewers and made our list of the Top Ten Third Basemen of All-Time. He did play 400 games at second base, though, and fit better at the keystone in our lineup. Molitor was a great hitter. His 3,319 hits, 2,281 of which came in Milwaukee, rank 11th on the all-time list, and his 39-game hitting streak in 1987 ranks seventh-longest. He was also fast, stealing as many as 45 bases in a season and leading the franchise in the category.

Molitor made the Brewers squad out of spring training in 1978 and finished the season as the runner-up in the AL rookie-of-the-year voting to Lou Whitaker. By 1980 he was an All-Star, an honor he would receive seven times in his career, five times with the Brewers. He also won two Silver Sluggers with the Brew Crew and led the league in runs thrice, plate appearances twice, and hits/doubles/triples once with the franchise. In the 1981 postseason, Moli had 17 hits, scored nine runs, slugged two HRs, and drove in eight runs.

Molitor signed with Toronto as a free agent before the 1994 season. The Blue Jays were coming off a world championship, and Molitor hadn’t seen the postseason since 1982. His presence with the club was a huge reason they repeated as he batted .458 in the World Series with two HRs, two triples, and seven RBI en route to winning the series MVP. Molitor stayed two more seasons in Toronto before finishing his career with his hometown Minnesota Twins, where he became the manager seventeen years after his retirement.

The Brewers honored Molitor in 1999, the year after he retired, by retiring his number 4. Five years later, the BBWAA elected Molitor to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility with 85% of the vote. Despite his success in Toronto, “The Ignitor” wears a Brewers’ cap on his Hall of Fame plague.

 

Shortstop: Robin Yount

Career Stats with the Milwaukee Brewers

Robin Yount played shortstop for the first half of his career before shifting to center field and would’ve been a good choice for either position in our lineup. He just missed the cut as one of our Top Ten Shortstops of All-Time but made our list of the Top Ten Center Fielders of All-Time. Not many players had more success at two positions than Yount, who played his entire career in Milwaukee.

Yount began his long career in 1974 as the Brewers’ starting shortstop at only 18 years old. Each season he progressed until he made his first of three All-Star teams in 1980. Yount also won the Silver Slugger that season, an honor he would repeat in 1982 and 1989 as a center fielder. Robin won his first MVP in 1982 after leading the AL in hits, doubles, SLG, and OPS with 29 HRs, 114 RBI, and a .331 average. He also took home his only Gold Glove that year. A shoulder injury took him off shortstop in 1985, and he transitioned to center field. This didn’t slow him down one bit, though, as he quickly became one of the premier center fielders in baseball. In 1989, Yount won his second MVP after hitting .318 with 21 HRs, 101 runs, 103 RBI, and 19 stolen bases.

The Brewers made it to the World Series in 1982, the year Yount won his first MVP. Though the club lost, Yount did his part, hitting .414/.452/.621 with a homer, six runs, and six RBI. He retired after the 1993 season, and the Brewers retired his #19 the following year. He was a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 1999, receiving 77.5% of the vote, and is the franchise’s all-time leader in games, plate appearances, hits, doubles, triples, runs, and RBI.

 

Third Base: Jeff Cirillo

Career Stats with the Milwaukee Brewers

We had several options for our last infield spot. We could have gone with Molitor at third base and Jim Gantner at second, or we could have gone with Don Money at third over Cirillo. Money was an excellent player and had a slightly higher WAR with the Brewers than Cirillo; however, it took him over 200 more games to achieve it. We chose Cirillo for our lineup as he was the more dominant player during his tenure, but Money and Gantner deserve recognition, also.

Cirillo debuted in May 1994 for Milwaukee but played only 39 games that season. The following year he was a regular in the lineup, primarily at third base. His career took off in 1996, and over the next four seasons, Cirillo batted .315 and averaged 92 runs, 80 RBI, 14 HRs, and 40 doubles. He was an All-Star in 1997 and only missed 23 games over those four seasons.

After the 1999 season, the Brewers traded Cirillo to the Rockies, ending his tenure in Milwaukee. He was an All-Star again in 2000 and returned to the Brewers in 2005 via free agency. Cirillo retired after the 2007 season and is often overlooked as he wasn’t a big home run hitter. His lifetime .307 batting average in Milwaukee, though, is the best among players with over 500 at-bats.

 

Left Field: Ryan Braun

Career Stats with the Milwaukee Brewers

Ryan Braun comes with a degree of controversy, given his association with PEDs, but as we’ve traditionally overlooked such matters, he was a no-brainer for our lineup. Geoff Jenkins would be the second choice for left field if you’re a hard-liner. Jenkins had a good ten-year run with the Brewers from 1998-2007 and was an excellent two-way player. His offensive output pales in comparison to Braun, though.

Braun’s career started with a bang. He debuted in late May 2007 and won Rookie-of-the-Year after leading the NL in SLG %. Braun slugged 34 HRs, scored 91 runs, knocked in 97, stole 15 bags, and batted .324 in only 113 games his rookie season. He didn’t slow down after his tremendous start, making the All-Star team and winning Silver Sluggers for the next five consecutive seasons. Braun led the league in SLG and OPS twice in his first six years and runs, hits, and HRs once. His accomplishments were capped in 2011 when he took home the NL MVP. However, this also marked the beginning of his fall from grace.

In December 2011, Braun reportedly failed a PED test. He vehemently denied the allegations and argued that procedure problems were associated with the test. Eventually, his 50-game suspension was overturned, and he had another spectacular season in 2012. Those who doubted Braun’s innocence didn’t have to wait long for redemption as Braun was linked to the Biogenesis scandal in 2013. This time Braun quietly served his 65-game suspension, with plenty of egg on his face.

Braun played out the remainder of his career in Milwaukee without controversy and slowly rebuilt his image. He still put up good numbers and made another All-Star team in 2016. The Brewers were contenders again in 2018, and Braun returned to the postseason for the third time (the 2008 and 2011 Brewers also made the playoffs). His postseason production was admirable as he hit .330 with two HRs and 16 RBI in 27 games. However, he only managed two at-bats in his last series in 2020 before a rib injury shut him down. This was the last time Braun would take the field as the Brewers declined his option for 2021, and he slipped into retirement. A Hall-of-Fame start to his career was derailed by controversy, but at the very least, Brewers fans enjoyed some fantastic hitting from Braun for several seasons.

 

Center Field: Carlos Gomez

Career Stats with the Milwaukee Brewers

It was a two-horse race for center field between Carlos Gomez and Gorman Thomas. The two players had similar WARs but generated them in very different ways. Thomas was a masher who played for the franchise from 1973 to 1983 and ranks fifth on the Brew Crew’s all-time HR list. However, he had a career .230 average with the club and wasn’t a very good defender. Gomez was only with Milwaukee for parts of six seasons but was a gold glove center fielder with excellent speed and power. We opted for Gomez as he was far more dominant in his time with the Brewers.

“Cargo” began his career with the Mets in 2007 but was traded to the Twins after his rookie season and then to the Brewers in November 2009. He was a plus defender who could run but struggled to make contact in the early years. In 2012 he began to break out, hitting a respectable .260 with 19 HRs and 37 SBs. He built on this over the following two seasons, making the All-Star game both years and winning a Gold Glove in 2013. His stats in 2013 and 2014 were incredibly similar. He hit .284 and drove in 73 runs in both seasons, with 24 HRs in 2013 and 23 in 2014. He also stole a ton of bases and garnered MVP votes in both seasons. Injuries sidelined him for part of the first half of 2015, but he continued to produce when he played. As the Brewers were starting to rebuild, he became expendable and was traded to the Astros at the deadline for a package of players that included Josh Hader.

Gomez played four more seasons for four clubs before retiring in 2019. However, He never played to the level he had with the Brewers again. Gomez ranks fourth in SBs on the Brewers’ all-time list and has one of the highest defensive WARs in club history among non-pitchers or catchers.

 

Right Field: Christian Yelich

Career Stats with the Milwaukee Brewers (to date)

Christian Yelich also made the lineup for the Miami Marlins and had competition from Jenkins, Thomas, and Ben Oglivie for the last OF spot on the Brewers. We went with Yelich over the others as his WAR/162 to date far surpasses the other three, and as he’s still with the club, his WAR will continue to grow.

Yelich debuted for the Marlins midway through the 2013 season and put together four and a half good seasons in Miami before being traded to the Brewers after the 2017 season in one of the Marlins’ many fire sales. He’s played all three outfield positions in his career, mostly left field. However, he did play primarily right in 2019, so that was good enough for us to slot him in at the position. Yelich was an excellent hitter in Miami, never finishing with a batting average below .282 in his five seasons in South Florida, but he really blossomed after the trade. He was the NL MVP in his first year with the Brewers after winning the batting title and leading the league in SLG and OPS. In addition, he slugged 36 HRs, scored 118 runs, drove in 110, stole 22 bases, and was an All-Star and a Silver Slugger. In 2019 his numbers were even better, and he seemed poised to win back-to-back MVPs. Unfortunately, he fouled a ball off his kneecap on September 10th and missed the rest of the season, which likely cost him the award. Yelich did win his second straight batting title, though, and led the league in OBP, SLG, and OPS while attending his second All-Star game and adding another Silver Slugger.

The short 2020 season was a struggle for Yelich, who hit only .205. He managed 12 HRs in 58 games, which wasn’t a terrible rate but far below his prior season. Injuries slowed him in 2021 and sapped his power. Last year, Yelich managed to stay on the field but put up a mediocre .252/.355/.738 line with only 14 HRs and 57 RBI. As he’s still only 31, it won’t be a surprise if he bounces back in 2023.

 

Designated Hitter: Prince Fielder

Career Stats with the Milwaukee Brewers

Fielder’s WAR lags several other Brewers who didn’t make the lineup, but his subpar defense drove that. As an offensive player, he was one of the best to ever play in Milwaukee, thus making him a perfect fit at DH. Fielder’s .540 SLG and .929 OPS are the highest in club history, and he ranks third in HRs all-time for the franchise.

Fielder broke into the majors at the tender age of 21 in June 2005. He only amassed 62 plate appearances that season but acquitted himself well and was the starting first baseman the following Spring. For the rest of his tenure in Milwaukee, Fielder only missed 13 games, twice playing in all 162. His 50 HRs led the league in 2007, and his 141 RBI were tops in 2009. In addition, the big man led the league in walks in 2010 and was a three-time All-Star and two-time Silver Slugger with the club. His best season came in 2009 when he slashed .299/.412/.602 with 46 dingers, 103 runs, and 141 RBI. Fielder played in 15 postseason games with the Brewers and slugged four HRs with eight RBI.

Prince’s run in Milwaukee ended when he signed a nine-year deal with the Tigers as a free agent in early 2012. His father played most of his career in Detroit, so it was a fitting destination for the young star. Unfortunately, Fielder didn’t finish his contract. After two solid seasons with the Tigers, he was traded to the Rangers, where he was plagued with a herniated disc in two of his three seasons. A second surgery in 2016 left him physically unable to play, forcing him into early retirement when he was only 32 years old. Fielder’s flame burned bright, especially in Milwaukee, but it was unfortunately extinguished too quickly.

 

Right-Handed Starter: Ben Sheets

Career Stats with the Milwaukee Brewers

There were a few good candidates for our right-handed starter, but it came down to Ben Sheets vs. current Brewers Corbin Burnes or Brandon Woodruff. Burnes and Woodruff have better career averages than Sheets but have only thrown 515 and 613 innings, respectively. Thus we opted for Sheets, though in a few seasons, one of the others may be more deserving.

The Brewers selected Sheets in the first round of the 1999 draft, and he was in the majors two years later. Sheets had an up-and-down rookie season and made the All-Star team despite a relatively high ERA and WHIP. He was a workhorse, though, making 68 starts over his next two years. In 2004, he had his best season and made his second All-Star appearance after striking out 18 Braves in May and completing an immaculate inning in June. Sheets won 12 games with a 2.70 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, and 10 Ks per nine that year, and it looked like he was developing into the ace the club expected him to be. He never quite lived up to that, despite putting together four more solid seasons in Milwaukee from 2005 through 2008 and appearing twice more in the Midsummer Classic.

Sheets was a free agent after the 2008 season but underwent Tommy John surgery which cost him the season. He pitched again in 2010 for the A’s and in 2012 for the Braves, but couldn’t stay healthy and retired after his short stint in Atlanta. Sheets may not have been a superstar, but he was an excellent pitcher for nearly a decade and recorded the second-most strikeouts in Brewers’ history.

 

Left-Handed Starter: Teddy Higuera

Career Stats with the Milwaukee Brewers

Teddy Higuera spent his entire nine-year career in Milwaukee and ranks high in several categories on their all-time lists. He began his career in the Mexican league and didn’t pitch in the majors until he was 27 in 1985. He was an instant success for the Brew Crew, winning 15 games, throwing 212 innings, and finishing second in the Rookie-of-the-Year voting. His sophomore year was even better as he made the All-Star team and finished second in the Cy Young voting after winning 20 games with a 2.79 ERA. Higuera continued his productivity through 1990, never posting an ERA over 4.00 or having a losing season despite playing for a club that didn’t see the postseason for his entire career. His 0.999 WHIP was the best in NL in 1988.

Injuries marred the last few seasons of Higuera’s career, and he only threw 125 innings from 1991-1994. He didn’t pitch at all in 1992 after having rotator cuff surgery in ’91. He left the Brewers after the ’94 season but failed in a bid to make the Padres roster and retired. Higuera’s career is often overlooked, but his 94 wins are the third-highest in Brewers history, and the fact he did it in only 205 starts makes it all the more impressive.

 

Reliever: Josh Hader

Career Stats with the Milwaukee Brewers

Our reliever came down to the longevity of Dan Plesac versus the dominance of Josh Hader. A strong argument can be made for both hurlers. Plesac is the Brewers’ all-time saves leader and made three All-Star teams in Milwaukee with an ERA under 3.00. On the other hand, Hader was one of the top relievers in MLB for the last several seasons until he derailed in July and August of 2022. We opted for the dominance of Hader, but Plesac was also deserving.

Hader debuted n 2017, two seasons after the club acquired him in the Carlos Gomez trade with the Astros. Corey Knebel was established at closer, so Hader developed into one of the premier set-up men in the league and made his first of four All-Star teams in his second season. Tommy John surgery knocked Knebel out in 219, and Hader took over as closer, saving 37 games that season. He kept the role until being traded this past summer to the Padres, amassing 125 saves for the franchise – only eight fewer than Plesac. Beyond the saves, Hader was just plain dominant. His 15.4 Ks per nine is the highest rate in club history, and in 2021 he posted a 1.23 ERA with a 0.835 WHIP.

Hader pitched over 14 innings in the postseason for Milwaukee and surrendered only three runs. He had only one save in the playoffs for the franchise but added four more with the Padres this October. Brewers fans will no doubt miss Hader, but the emergence of Devin Williams, another star in the making, will soften his absence.

 

On Deck

 

We’ll head 300 miles northwest in a few weeks and reveal our lineup for the Minnesota Twins, a franchise with a richer history than most imagine. If you love baseball as much as we do, check out the We Love Baseball section for more great content!

 

Featured Image Adapted by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)

Scott Youngson

Scott is a SoCal native who, after two decades of fighting L.A. traffic, decided to turn his passion for fantasy sports into a blog - the now-defunct Fantasy Mutant. He currently writes for FantasyPros and Pitcher List and will vehemently defend the validity of the Dodgers' 60-game season championship.

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