Pitching might win games but it sure helps to get some run support, a concept the Brewers have been struggling with all season thus far. Nearly two weeks after Milwaukee DFA’d and released veteran utility man Brock Holt, they DFA’d another free agency acquisition from this offseason in a struggling Justin Smoak. In his last 23 at-bats, Smoak had 10 strikeouts and just one hit. He was batting .186/.262/.381 on the season, and while maybe in a typical year the Brewers could be a bit more lenient with guys like Smoak and Holt, with less than a month left and the possibility of a playoff push looming, they needed to cut their losses quick. Especially, considering their lineup from top to bottom has collectively been struggling.
The Brewers did not make much of a splash at the trade deadline Monday—despite the buzz about a possible Josh Hader trade, Milwaukee kept their most valuable trade asset. Their only trade was setup man David Phelps for three young pitching prospects from the Phillies. Stearns admitted after the deadline he was hoping to add at least one bat to their lineup, unfortunately no deals worked out that way.
In comes Daniel Vogelbach. It doesn’t take a stats expert to take one look at Vogelbach’s Baseball-Reference page and figure out he himself is struggling quite a bit this season. Originally drafted by the Cubs, Chicago traded Vogelbach in 2016 for Mike Montgomery. Vogelbach was a beast in the minor leagues. Then again, how could he not be? His large, burly build definitely packs a punch once you give the man a bat. Despite his power and success mashing in the minor leagues, Vogelbach did not get the nod as an everyday major league player until 2019, appearing in 144 games as Seattle’s DH.
While the 2019 season feels like a lifetime ago now, I remember Vogelbach making headlines at the start of the season as a guy to watch. In his first 25 games of the 2019 season, he hit .310/.462/.732 with 8 home runs and 20 walks. The Mariners in general were off to a hot start last March and April, unfortunately, reality eventually sunk back in both for Seattle and Vogelbach.
Despite a drop in his performance in May, Vogelbach was an All-Star last year in his first major league season. By the end of the first half of the season, he was batting .238/.375/.505 with 21 home runs. Obviously, March and April pumped his numbers up quite a bit, helping him earn the All-Star nomination. It was after the All-Star break last year things began to fall apart for Vogelbach. He put up just 9 home runs in 59 games in the second half as compared to 21 in 85 games in the first half. He ended the year batting .208/.341/.439. Things did not pick up for him at the start of the 2020 season. He got off to a 5-for-53 start and quickly, similar to Milwaukee, a struggling Seattle team felt it was best if they cut ties as quickly as possible, DFA’ing Vogelbach. The Blue Jays then picked him up, hoping maybe all he needed was a change of scenery to get his bat going once again.
Toronto did not give Vogelbach much of a chance to prove himself. He appeared in just two games in a Blue Jays uniform and went 0-4. Toronto, looking to make big additions at the trade deadline, DFA’d Vogelbach to clear space for their acquisitions on the roster. Some believed his days in the big leagues were over right then and there.
Instead, Vogelbach got his third chance Thursday when Milwaukee picked him up off waivers. For many, the first question they asked was, “why?” Statistically speaking, Vogelbach is actually having a worse season than Smoak, though he has not had as many at-bats as Smoak. What good does getting rid of one struggling bat just to bring in another do? Business-wise, it’s the more economic choice for small-market Milwaukee. While Smoak’s contract did not break the bank by any means, his one-year $5,000,000 contract included a club option for next year. Vogelbach on the other hand is still pre-arbitration, making him that much cheaper. He’s not arbitration-eligible until 2022, and if ends up sticking in Milwaukee, they’d have him until he’s eligible for free agency in 2025. In other words, he’s low risk with a possible long-term reward if it works out.
Sure, a change of scenery did not work out in Vogelbach’s favor with the Blue Jays, but as a left-handed hitter, he may take quite a liking to lefty-friendly Miller Park. At 27 years old, it’s unlikely he’s going to make any drastic changes to his swing or his approach at the plate, but it might be a nice change of pace in the Brewers’ lineup to have a guy with so much discipline at the plate, (to the point, it sometimes might be a little too much). Stearns says the Brewers see solid underlying skills in him, starting with strike-zone awareness. They plan to work with him to access his power once again.
Vogelbach is set to make his Brewers debut Friday night against the Indians as DH batting fifth. If all goes according to plan, he could be the spark Milwaukee needs to help wake up their offense. Per ESPN, the Brewers currently rank second to last in the entire league in team batting average with a .214 and an OBP of .307. They average a total of four runs per game and have collectively struck out 355 times, the second-most in the league next to the Cubs. While he might not be an offensive superstar by any means, the Brewers have nothing to lose in giving Vogelbach a chance. Either he becomes a sneaky solid pickup by Stearns to make up for some underwhelming free agency additions in the offseason, or he’s a failed experiment. Either way, the Brewers have nothing to lose at this point in the season.
(Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire)