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How The Brewers Should Reconfigure Their New-Look Infield

Nam Y. Huh - Associated Press

The Brewers have an infield logjam after the Moustakas and Schoop trades. What is their best infield configuration?

The Brewers were busy at the trade deadline, gearing up to make the postseason and a chase for the National League Central crown. The Brewers’ need for a starting pitcher was noted, which is why they were linked to pitchers like Zack Wheeler, Matt Harvey, and Kevin Gausman.

However, instead of acquiring a starting pitcher, the Brewers remade their infield with two trades. They first acquired Mike Moustakas from the Royals and then made a last-minute trade with the Orioles to bring aboard Jonathan Schoop. Both players bring an important skill to this Brewers team. 

A key member of the Royals’ 2015 World Series Championship team, Moustakas was a free agent after last season but signed a below-market deal with a mutual option for 2019 to return to Kansas City. 

Although Moustakas isn’t particularly adept at getting on base or hitting for average (.249/.309/.468), he does provide power, something that the Brewers need.


Meanwhile, Schoop has had a down year (.240/.270/.441) after being an All-Star in 2017. However, he plays solid defense and serves as a natural second baseman for a team that could use better production from the position.

There is no doubt that the Brewers acquired upgrades for the stretch run. With the Cubs holding a slim lead in the National League Central standings, the Brewers clearly see the division title as a attainable goal. 

Originally, Moustakas to the Brewers meant Travis Shaw, the Brewers’ third baseman, was set to move to second base—a position that he had never played professionally. Shaw had been taking grounders there in recent weeks to prepare for the move over, looking forward to the opportunity:

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However, Schoop’s arrival negates this experiment and leaves Shaw without a permanent position in the infield. So the real question is: How should the Brewers reconfigure their infield to give themselves the best chance to win?

Offensively, there is no question having Moustakas, Schoop, and Shaw in the lineup deepens it. With the additions made, a probable lineup now looks like this:

Image titleCraig Counsell has many players who can play multiple positions, giving him the lineup flexibility very few teams have. He can move Thames to the outfield, Braun to first base, and Jonathan Schoop to second, shortstop, or third base. However, assuming that this lineup is one Counsell regularly utilizes, the Brewers have a significantly upgraded offense.

The biggest question remains at second base. Who should get more playing time there: Travis Shaw or Jonathan Schoop? The answer may not be as straightforward as it would have been a year ago.

Let’s look at the Brewers’ second basemen this year. Jonathan Villar, Tyler Saladino, Brad Miller, Eric Sogard, Hernan Perez, and Nick Franklin have all served time at the position in 2018. The defensive ratings for all players on average were under par:

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When it comes to saving runs and overall value defensively, Shaw appears to be better defensively than his teammates. It is not inconceivable, therefore, that the Brewers’ infield defense on the right side of the infield receives an upgrade if Shaw is deployed there. 

However, Schoop is a better defender than Shaw at second base. He has the second best range factor in the major leagues (4.79) and an above-average dWAR. The problem is that Schoop’s offense leaves much to be desired. He has profiled as a high strikeout hitter with an incredibly low walk rate, both of which has contributed to his ugly 55 wRC+. Even though Schoop has hit .360 in his past 12 games before the trade to Milwaukee, his bat is worse than Shaw’s.

So the question Milwaukee has to ask themselves is: Do the Brewers value Shaw’s offense more than Schoop’s defense? The answer is they should considering the team’s current offensive rank. Even with the rotating carousel at second before the Trade Deadline, the Brewers had the league’s best defense yet only 20th in offense. Therefore, the Brewers should play Shaw more than Schoop at second base in order to keep Shaw’s bat in the lineup.

However, the Brewers could potentially shift Schoop over to shortstop, which would be the better move for them. The current starter, Orlando Arcia, has not been able to hold down the starting shortstop spot this year after having a breakout year in 2017. 

As a hitter, Arcia has fallen off a cliff. In 2018, he has batted under the Mendoza Line while getting sent down to Triple-A a couple times. While a strong defender at shortstop, Arcia is as good defensively as Schoop is. However, despite Schoop having a bit of a down year, his bat has been better than Arcia’s in 2018.

However, the possibility still exists that Schoop plays at second base more often than at shortstop. If Schoop gets most of the second base reps, this complicates the third base picture. With Mike Moustakas now in town, how should the Brewers manage the third base duties between him and Travis Shaw?

Travis Shaw has performed admirably over his career defensively. In 2018 alone, he has been worth nine defensive runs saved, which is above-average for third basemen. Shaw, during his time with the Red Sox and Brewers, has proven to be a slightly above-average defender at third with a +3.5 UZR and compiling a +22 DRS over approximately 3,000 innings manning third.

Mike Moustakas, on the other hand, is not quite as good defensively. This year, he has been merely average at the hot corner. 

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This hasn’t been the case for much of his time in the big leagues since Moustakas has only compiled a 3.3 dWAR over eight seasons in the majors. Shaw, on the other hand, has a three dWAR over four seasons defensively, suggesting that he is the better and more consistent defender. 

Based on Shaw’s offense this year (.247/.344/.469), he has been better than Moustakas this year. There is a solid argument to be made that Shaw should get a significant amount of reps at third base if Schoop takes over as the primary second baseman. 

Although if the Brewers opt to continue the experiment of Shaw at second though, there is no doubt that he has the arm strength to man second base. The main question is whether he will have the range for doing so. 

At 6’4’ and 230 pounds, Shaw isn’t a typical second baseman. Exactly how Shaw’s abilities will transfer over to second isn’t abundantly clear. Many players in the past who have split time at both positions suggests a slight downgrade is possible:

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However, the chart does not completely account for other factors that may result in a decline of defensive performance: playing time, age, and familiarity. What it can tell us is that Shaw’s shift across the diamond can be expected to be negligible if the Brewers decide to platoon him there with Schoop.

Brewers’ General Manager David Stearns and the Brewers, however, seem to want to prioritize improving their offense. If that is their intention, then using Shaw as a platoon option may not be their best course of action since he has been a better and more consistent hitter than Schoop, Moustakas, or Arcia.

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Prioritizing offense over defense is not particularly problematic for a team with a pitching staff like the Brewers. Although they could certainly use another arm in the rotation, the team’s pitching staff is above-average in regards to striking out hitters, which negates the need slightly to have a MVP-caliber defense.

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Even if Moustakas is the Brewers’ full-time third baseman, which leads to a downgrade defensively, the Brewers are gaining a slight upgrade defensively at second whether it is Shaw or Schoop. Therefore, the general consensus is that this defensive positioning to accommodate Moustakas and Schoop should not hurt a Brewers defense that is the best in the majors. 

The Brewers as a team have compiled 83 DRS, which is 13 more than the second-place team. They are in first place when it comes to UZR, and their defensive metrics show that they have contributed to lowering their starting pitching ERA (their FIP of 4.00 suggests that the Brewers’ pitching staff should have an overall ERA greater than 3.64, but the defense is preventing runs from scoring).

The Brewers, as of Aug. 4, are one game behind the Chicago Cubs. They have one of the better records in the National League despite only ranking 20th in runs scored per game (4.38 runs per game). It is clear that the Brewers have observed that, which explains the trade for Moustakas. David Stearns said that he was “focused on the upside offensively.” These two trades accomplish that as long as Moustakas continues to mash like he did in Kansas City and Schoop continues his hot hitting. 

To put out the best possible lineup, the Brewers should regularly go with Moustakas at third, Schoop at shortstop, and Shaw at second base. This lineup would ensure that the Brewers score more while maintaining the elite defense that the 2018 Brewers have become known for.

*All statistics and information originated from ESPN.com, Baseball-Reference.com, or FanGraphs.com, unless otherwise noted.


Edited by Jazmyn Brown.

SQuiz
When was the last time the Milwaukee Brewers made the playoffs?
Created 8/4/18
  1. 2009
  2. 2011
  3. 2007
  4. 2013

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