The Milwaukee Brewers have two of the top ten players in WAR, and neither of them is named Ryan Braun. Carlos Gomez (+3.2 WAR, #1) and Jean Segura (+2.5 WAR, #9) have been revelations for the Brewers, while Braun has been his usual dominant self, putting up +1.9 WAR with his usual brand of excellence. Toss in a strong performance from the underrated Norichika Aoki and 78 terrific plate appearances from the occasionally healthy Aramis Ramirez, and the top end of the Brewers line-up has been as good as any in baseball. For context, here is the total combined line for Gomes, Segura, Braun, Aoki, and Ramirez:
That’s a stellar performance. For comparison, here’s how that stacks up against the “Big Five” from the Cincinnati Reds, a team that has scored 245 runs, second in the NL only to the Colorado Rockies.
|Reds Big Five||1110||0.287||0.381||0.485||0.371||136||2.2||1.2||8.3|
Even with injuries limiting the amount of playing time that Ramirez (and Braun, to a lesser extent) have gotten, the Brewers top tier players have outperformed the Reds group overall, and have hit significantly better than Cincinatti’s quintet, even though both Shin-Soo Choo and Joey Votto have also been fantastic this year.
But, as we near the beginning of June, the Brewers have scored just 196 runs and their position players have just a 103 wRC+, 14th best in baseball. Because, here’s what the hitters on the Brewers beyond the Big Five have done.
There are 10 players in that group — including regulars Yuniesky Betancourt, Jonathan Lucroy, Rickie Weeks, and Alex Gonzalez, plus every reserve the team has used — and they’ve combined to hit almost exactly as often as the Brewers best hitters. The best offensive performance by anyone in that group belongs to Betancourt, who has a 78 wRC+. All 10 of the players in that group have either been exactly at replacement level or below.
A graph of the Brewers position players performance shows the distinctions.
Ramirez’s poor defense and lack of playing time have made him the team’s only position player with a WAR between +0 and +1.0. Every other player has either been excellent or terrible. There’s no middle ground here. This is the clearest example we’ve seen in some time of how a true stars and scrubs team would do. And the answer is not particularly well.
Granted, the Brewers scrubs have been worse than you could reasonably expect anyone’s scrubs to be, but their stars are also performing at an extraordinarily high level as well. Even if you regress the Brewers scrubs back towards replacement level, you have to do the same for guys on the high end, and then the adjustments mostly cancel out. No matter what we’ve been told, a few great players simply cannot carry a bunch of terrible ones to success. The great performance of a few just cannot overcome the brutal performance of the many.
I know it’s probably old hat for most FanGraphs readers by this point, but every roster spot matters. The down-roster role players count too. Major League Baseball is not a sport where star performance wins. It is a sport where even the best single player in the game doesn’t make that much of a difference. The Brewers, by 2013 performance, have had three of the very best hitters in baseball, and they still have an average offense and are headed for the top ten in next summer’s draft.
What separates a good team from a bad team is often not the quality at the top of the roster, but the quality at the bottom of the roster. The Brewers have some really good pieces, but they also have more dreck than just about anyone besides the Astros and Marlins. And that kind of roster construction just doesn’t really work in this sport.