Brewers' Top 5 left fielders: McCalvy's take

April 28th, 2020

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only … if you don’t agree with the order, feel free to let the reporter know on Twitter.

Here is Adam McCalvy’s ranking of the top 5 left fielders in Brewers history. Next week: Center fielders.

• Brewers All-Time Around the Horn Team: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS

1. , 2007-present
Key fact: '07 Rookie of the Year and '11 NL MVP is the franchise leader in home runs (344)

From a statistical standpoint, only two players have generated more value to the Brewers than Braun, and both ( and ) are in the Hall of Fame. Braun ranks in the franchise’s all-time top five in games, runs, hits, RBIs, extra-base hits and stolen bases, and he has been the Brewers’ all-time home run king since breaking Yount’s mark on Aug. 19, 2013 -- exactly 20 years after Yount went deep for the final time in his career.

"It's about time we got a guy with some real power on the top of that list," Yount said that day.

Only Yount has more RBIs or extra-base hits in a Brewers uniform than Braun, the fifth overall pick in the first Draft after Mark Attanasio became the Brewers' principal owner. There’s an argument to be made that not even Yount delivered as many signature moments. There was Braun’s go-ahead, eighth-inning home run in the 2008 regular-season finale to help clinch the National League Wild Card, pushing the Brewers into the postseason for the first time since Yount’s two-homer day in the 1982 finale won the American League East. Three years later, in 2011, Braun hit another go-ahead, eighth-inning home run in the win over the Marlins that clinched the club's first NL Central title. And in 2019, Braun’s first-inning grand slam started a rout of Cincinnati that clinched another NL Wild Card berth.

“I’ll tell you, he’s one of the great hitters I’ve ever seen,” said Brewers broadcaster Bob Uecker, who has called all but the first of the Brewers’ 50 seasons on radio. “I don’t think you can be any better a hitter than Ryan Braun. Even as he got a little longer in the tooth, his style of hitting when he’s really going right, it’s fun to watch. Most people can’t do what he can do.”

2. Ben Oglivie, 1978-86
Key fact: 235 career homers ranks second all time among Panama-born players (to fellow former Brewer Carlos Lee’s 358)

Statistically, Oglivie and Geoff Jenkins (also on this list) put up strikingly similar numbers. Oglivie slashed .277/.345/.461 in 4,658 plate appearances. Jenkins slashed .277/.347/.496 in 4,932 plate appearances. While Jenkins had the edge in slugging percentage, defensive metrics and both fWAR (24.2 to 20.8) and bWAR (22.1 to 21.5), Oglivie struck out more than half as much and had a better weighted runs created plus (121 to 113), a particularly useful stat for this exercise because it measures offensive production while accounting for ballpark effects (Jenkins played most of his career at Miller Park). Oglivie made three All-Star teams for the Brewers to Jenkins’ one, twice was a .300 hitter for the Brewers and had a higher peak, posting two seasons (1978 and '80) with an adjusted OPS better than Jenkins’ career best. Oglivie’s zenith was '80, when he hit 41 homers to tie the Yankees’ Reggie Jackson for the AL crown and finished with a 153 OPS+ -- a mark that has been topped by Brewers hitters only nine occasions since: Yount (166 in '82), Molitor (161 in '87), (157 in 2007, 166 in '09 and 164 in '11), Braun (166 in '11 and 158 in '12) and (164 in '18 and 179 in '19).

It was a case of “if you can’t beat him, get him.” Oglivie had tormented the Brewers when he played for Detroit, so when the Brewers had a need for both an outfielder and left-handed bat going into their breakthrough 1978 season, Oglivie fit the bill.

“Ben came of age in Milwaukee,” said Sal Bando, who signed as a free agent the year before the Brewers acquired Oglivie. “You could see that he had talent, but he really wasn’t given the opportunity. When he got to Milwaukee, he was a quiet guy with a lot of inner perspective about himself, and he just blossomed. He became one of the better power hitters in the game.”

3. , 1998-2007
Key fact: His second Brewers hit was a home run off the Giants’ Orel Hershiser at 3Com Park (aka Candlestick Park)

Not even the players who moved with the franchise from Seattle to Milwaukee experienced as much change as Jenkins, who saw the Brewers switch leagues, logos, stadiums, owners, general managers (twice) and managers (four times) -- all during a 13-year tenure with the organization beginning in 1995, when he was drafted ninth overall out of USC. Jenkins was the bridge between the County Stadium era and Miller Park, and he was a mentor to the next wave of homegrown hitters who would finally power the team to postseason contention in the late 2000s. Jenkins, it turned out, experienced the Brewers’ return to October from the opposite dugout with the Phillies in the 2008 NL Division Series.

Jenkins ranks seventh all time with 1,234 games in a Brewers uniform and fifth in the franchise in slugging percentage (.496), OPS (.843) and extra-base hits (521). Only Braun, Yount and Fielder hit more Brewers home runs than Jenkins’ 212, starting with his very first game in 1998.

“I remember telling this to Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun and Rickie Weeks, ‘God, if only my parents could have had me 8-10 years younger. I could have been playing with you guys,” said Jenkins. “But who knows? You can’t change your story. It is what it is. But I had an amazing time.”

4. Greg Vaughn, 1989-96
Key fact: Is cousins with Mo Vaughn and former Brewers manager Jerry Royster.

A short Greg Vaughn story: Jeff Cirillo still laughs every time he watches the grainy VHS tape of his own debut on May 11, 1994. College habits must have been hard to break, because he was wearing his baseball cap under his helmet when he stepped in for his first big league at-bat. Cirillo struck out swinging and hustled away from home plate.

“Afterward, Greg Vaughn sits down next to me and goes, ‘Man, first at-bat, Roger Clemens. You’ll never forget it,’” Cirillo said. “I was like, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah.' My head was bouncing around. Then he goes, ‘Do me a favor. After a strikeout, don’t run back to the dugout.’”

Cirillo nodded. Yes sir.

“So my second at-bat, I struck out again,” Cirillo said. “I walked back this time. I slammed my bat down, slammed my helmet, sat down.

“He looks over at me and gives me a thumbs up.”

Vaughn, a first-round Draft pick in 1986 who was in the Majors by ‘89 and became a two-time All-Star before leaving Milwaukee, was “the identity of our team,” Cirillo said. A banner atop the left-field bleachers at County Stadium marked “Vaughn’s Valley,” where he deposited many of his 169 Brewers home runs. Vaughn hit 30 homers in '93 and was already at 31 homers through the end of July '96, when the Brewers, aware they wouldn’t be able to afford him once he hit free agency, sent him to the Padres in an ill-fated trade for Bryce Florie, Marc Newfield and Ron Villone. Vaughn went on to hit 355 home runs in a 15-year career.

5. John Briggs, 1971-75
Key fact: The only player in Brewers history to collect six hits in a nine-inning game

Is Johnny Briggs the most underrated player in Brewers history? That case can be made, since many modern fans may have never heard of a player who ranks 21st in franchise history in fWAR (12.8) and is tied for 20th (with Yelich) in bWAR (14.3) despite wearing the uniform for only five years. Briggs came from the Phillies in April 1971 in one of the Brewers’ first notable trades and hit 21 homers that season and again in '72 while posting an adjusted OPS of 141 each year. Briggs' most memorable day in a Brewers uniform was Aug. 4, 1973, when he went 6-for-6 in a win over Cleveland. Those six base knocks were a single-game franchise record for 20 years, until Kevin Reimer collected six hits of his own in '93 in an extra-inning game. In the Brewers’ first 50 seasons, only five players have tallied six hits in a game (Briggs, Reimer, Jean Segura, Yelich and Braun). All but Briggs had extra innings to work with, and only Braun matched the perfect 6-for-6.

Honorable mentions
Glenn Braggs never reached his full potential, but he was rarely robbed on a swing in Milwaukee and elsewhere. After parts of five years in a Brewers uniform from 1986-90, he was traded to Cincinnati, where he swung so hard at a Dave Stewart pitch during the '90 World Series that he broke the bat over his back. ... made back-to-back All-Star teams with the Brewers in 2005 and ’06 before he was traded to Texas. In his only full season in Milwaukee in '05, Lee hit 32 homers with 114 RBIs and played all 162 games. ... One of general manager David Stearns’ few regrettable trades so far is the February '16 deal that sent to Oakland, where he became one of baseball’s best power hitters. Davis hit 60 homers in two and a half seasons in Milwaukee, including 27 homers in '15, before topping 40 home runs in each of his first three seasons with the A’s.