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How the Brewers can sort out an overstuffed infield

August 1, 2018

We've been saying for weeks that the Brewers desperately needed some help in the infield, because starters Jonathan Villar and Orlando Arcia simply weren't performing well enough to continue to start for a playoff-caliber team. Milwaukee middle infielders combined to hit .226/.281/.330 before July 31, which wasn't just poor, it

We've been saying for weeks that the Brewers desperately needed some help in the infield, because starters Jonathan Villar and Orlando Arcia simply weren't performing well enough to continue to start for a playoff-caliber team. Milwaukee middle infielders combined to hit .226/.281/.330 before July 31, which wasn't just poor, it was the weakest mark in baseball.
Clearly the Crew agreed with us, because they didn't just acknowledge the problem, they overwhelmed it, acquiring both Mike Moustakas from Kansas City and Jonathan Schoop from Baltimore. A team without a shortstop added a third baseman and a second baseman while also shifting their incumbent third baseman to second base, where he'd never played before, and… well, how will all of these pieces fit together?

Let's think of this as the National League position player version of the Rays' "opener" plan. It might not be the traditional way you assemble the roster, but baseball in 2018 is anything but traditional.

As things stand, the Brewers are staring at this overloaded situation in their infield. (This no longer includes Villar, who was sent to Baltimore in the Schoop trade.)
First base: They have two, Jesus Aguilar and Eric Thames, but maybe four, because Ryan Braun and Travis Shaw have combined for 13 starts there this year.
Second base: They have two, kind of, in Schoop and Shaw, though only Schoop had played the position before last weekend.
Shortstop: They have one shortstop, Arcia, though his .196/.233/.249 is the weakest of any regular shortstop in baseball, and is in fact one of the lowest lines from any shortstop with as much playing time as he has in the last century. It's earned him two separate Minor League demotions this year, though he's considered to be a strong defender. Schoop is expected to see some time here as well.
Third base: They have two, in Moustakas and Shaw, though even Aguilar has made a pair of starts there.
This doesn't even count utility players Hernan Perez and Tyler Saladino, who, despite being the starting shortstop for most of July, was optioned to the minors to make room for Schoop. Moustakas, Shaw and Thames are lefty hitters, while Schoop, Aguilar, Braun, Arcia and Perez hit from the right side. There are just so many options here.

It sounds like there's a combination of uncertainty and acceptance, regarding how to find time for everyone, as reported by's Adam McCalvy.
"We're at a point in the season here where they're all going to have to make a sacrifice with this addition," said manager Craig Counsell.
Shaw probably got to the heart of it best, by pointing out that "it seems like there's a lot of things this year all around baseball, where people are starting to go different avenues. It's not the traditional route anymore. Baseball is changing, and everybody is kind of adapting."
He's right. Let's help the Brewers by pointing out the various ways they could play this, and it helps to think about this not as "a starting infield" so much as "a collection of platoons." There's not one quartet you'll see every day. There shouldn't be.

First, a few things to keep in mind…
Schoop is better than you think he is
It's true that Schoop's line is about the same as Villar's this year. It's also true that it doesn't matter, because a huge part of that came while he was attempting to come back from an April oblique injury. Over 2016 and '17, only three second basemen hit more home runs than his 57. Over his final month in Baltimore, during which Schoop has hit .360/.356/.700, he was legitimately been one of the best hitters in baseball.
He's also got 1,907 1/3 innings of shortstop in the Minors under his belt, though none since 2014, when he moved over to second -- in part because Manny Machado and J.J. Hardy had shortstop more than spoken for in Baltimore. (Schoop also started there twice in the bigs last year.)
The Brewers shift more than most teams
The average Major League team is in a "standard" configuration just over 73 percent of the time. For the Brewers, that's only 64 percent, eighth-lowest, which is to say that about one-third of the time, they have someone moved out of their regular position anyway.
That's especially true at third base, where only the Astros play in the standard spot less often than Milwaukee does, just 54 percent of the time, and at second, where they're in a "standard" spot the fourth-fewest times. The point here is that sometimes it doesn't matter what the name of the position you're playing is, just where you're standing.
The Brewers' outfield defense is spectacular
This has nothing to do with the infield defense, but it does help you feel a little better about giving something back on the infield. Milwaukee's outfield, primarily Lorenzo Cain, Christian Yelich and Keon Broxton, rate No. 1 in Statcast™'s range-based outfield metric, Outs Above Average, at plus-23.
The Brewers pitchers prevent dangerous grounders
Milwaukee pitchers have the ninth-highest strikeout rate and the ninth-lowest grounder rate, so the number of grounders in play is limited to begin with. When they do let the ball on the ground, they're essentially tied for the lowest exit velocity allowed, so there's at least something to be said about what kind of balls Brewer infielders need to get to -- though the loss of Brent Suter will hurt this somewhat.
With all that in mind, think about the different versions of an infield Counsell could roll out on a day-to-day basis (not to mention how strong his bench will be), and remember that it doesn't really matter who starts. They'll all play, and this is a situational idea, like deploying relievers.
The Extreme Lefty-on-Righty Platoon
1B: Thames (L)
2B: Shaw (L)
SS: Schoop (R)
3B: Moustakas (L)
This quartet has hit .248/.320/.509 against righties this year, an above-average line that's roughly the equivalent of what Ozzie Albies or Giancarlo Stanton has produced in 2018.

The Extreme Righty-on-Lefty Platoon
1B: Aguilar (R)
2B: Schoop (R)
SS: Perez (R)
3B: Moustakas (L)
Aguilar doesn't really have any noticable platoon splits, but Thames (.199/.263/.387 career against lefties) and Shaw (.242/.294/.425 against lefties) do, more than Moustakas does, so this is available for Counsell as well. This group has hit .256/.304/.445 this year, or about what Joe Mauer and Tommy Pham have done. This is exactly the group that started against Dodger lefty Rich Hillon Wednesday night, with Arcia entering late for defense.
The Extreme Defense Platoon
1B: Aguilar (R)
2B: Schoop (R)
SS: Arcia (R)
3B: Moustakas or Shaw (L)
Obviously, this is where Arcia comes in, despite his complete lack of offense. You could take either Moustakas or Shaw at third base here, though it's worth nothing that no player has added more speed from 2017 to '18 than Moustakas has.
Basically, this isn't as big of a mess as it seems. There are only 51 games left to worry about before the playoffs, and this also helps set Milwaukee up for 2019, when Moustakas will likely depart as a free agent and Shaw can return to third, with Schoop at second -- at least until Keston Hiura arrives. The gamble here is that the expected downgrade on defense will be more than made up for by the upgrade in offense, in that Schoop and Moustakas should easily out-hit Saladino, Villar, Nate Orf, Eric Sogard, Brad Miller and everyone else the team has trotted out this year. It's not a high bar to clear.
The takeaway appears to be this: If there's a problem, it's that the Brewers have too many good players. That's a nice problem to have. It's the problem you want.

Mike Petriello is an analyst for and the host of the Statcast podcast.