In an age where the run environment has calmed down and most players don’t get supernaturally better into their mid-30s anymore, plenty of question marks arise when it comes to the veterans of a team. For the Milwaukee Brewers this year, there weren’t many of those.
In fact, Ryan Braun is the only position player age 32 or older with the club right now (Aaron Hill, 34, was traded last month). With age, injuries and curiosity about his performance without the aid of banned substances as he goes forward, it was fair to wonder what to expect in 2016.
Through the Brewers’ first 111 games, Braun has a good choice to record the best season in team history for a position player 32+ years of age.
In what’s shaping up to be his most productive year since 2012, Braun remains the premier bat in the Crew’s lineup and among the top sticks in baseball. With his 5th HR in 8 games on Tuesday – and a 2 HR, 7 RBI game on Saturday – Braun has done what he can to carry the offense.
He’s currently a top 20 player in MLB, ranking among the leaders in the NL with a .323 batting average (6th), .389 OBP (9th), .546 slugging percentage (12th), and a .934 OPS (7th).
In the key advanced statistic of weighted on-base average (wOBA), Braun is 8th with a .393 wOBA, right next to Kris Bryant and ahead of Joey Votto.
If Braun can stay relatively healthy and get to 140 games played this year, he’s on pace to reach 30 HR, 27 doubles, and around 85 runs and RBI each. He’d also swipe 20+ bases, giving him his 5th season of at least 20 homers and 20 steals
Should he continue to hit near this level the remainder of 2016, he’d have a strong argument as the best Brewers’ position player at age 32 or above. The current top 5 have some familiar names and maybe a couple of surprises.
To qualify, I wanted only players that had a WAR (wins above replacement) of 4.0 or greater. This accounts for defense as well, so keep that in mind. For perspective, Braun’s WAR so far this season is 4.0 (with about 50 games to play), so that gives you some perspective on reaching that level.
There have been only 10 times in Brewers’ history where a player earned a 4.0 WAR or better at the age of 32+, and half of those occurrences came from 2 players (I think you can guess who those are).
Below are the 5 best seasons (in no particular order) by a Brewer in his age 32-season or older:
Sal Bando (34 years old) – 1978
In what was his last solid season as a pro, Bando hit .285 with a stellar .371 OBP in his second year in Milwaukee. Bando’s .810 OPS and 85 runs scored in 1978 were his best marks since 1973 when he blasted 29 HR for the Oakland A’s.
He was a solid contributor to a club that led the American League in scoring at 4.96 runs per game, and his 128 OPS+ ranks 8th on the Brewers’ all-time list for players at least 32 years old.
The 3rd baseman also played well defensively as one of the top 5 guys at the hot corner that season. His 1.2 defensive WAR (dWAR) was the 2nd-highest of his career.
Cecil Cooper (32 years old) – 1982
Still one of the more underrated Brewers, Coop put up some huge numbers during his 11 seasons in Milwaukee. His 5-year run from 1979-1983 was one of the most impressive stretches in club history.
Cooper’s 32 HR and 121 RBI in ’82 are the highest totals in a season for any Brewer 32 years of age or older. One of many offensive contributors in the powerful ’82 lineup, Cooper scored 104 runs, tallied 205 hits, and batted .313 en route to an .870 OPS (142 OPS+).
His 5.6 WAR is 4th-highest of this group, and he was actually hurt by a -0.6 dWAR at first base that season. All the numbers are worth noting, but he’s still most-remembered for his 2-out, 2-run base hit to left, begging for the ball the drop to help send the Brewers to their first World Series.
Aramis Ramirez (34 years old) – 2012
In his first year with the Brewers, Ramirez went off for an MLB-best 50 doubles (a career high) and a .901 OPS – the highest for him in 4 years. Ramirez’s single-year OPS tops all Brewers in their 32+ season.
Ramirez was 2nd on the 2012 team with 105 RBI, 92 runs and a .300 average as he tried to fill the void left by Prince Fielder. The veteran 3rd baseman added 27 HR, a total he hadn’t surpassed since 2006. Another oddity that year that only I may find interesting – he had a career-best 9 stolen bases.
This was also one of the few seasons in his 18 years that Ramirez had a positive dWAR, posting a 0.7 at the hot corner. For all his efforts, Ramirez actually garnered 10% of the NL MVP vote in 2012 in placing 9th overall – the best MVP finish of his career.
Paul Molitor (34 years old) – 1991
The first-ballot Hall of Famer had 3 seasons at 32 or older with a 4.0 WAR or higher, most among all Brewers. His 1989 campaign was actually better in terms of WAR – 5.7 compared to 5.3 in 1991 – but he was hurt in ’91 by his dWAR as he played 1B and DH, as opposed to 2B and 3B in ’89.
So despite the WAR figures, I see ’91 as being his best season in this age bracket and it all has to do with his offensive output.
Molitor led MLB in hits (216), triples (13), and runs scored (133) in 1991, each representing the 2nd-highest totals in his career. He scored 136 runs in ’82 and had 225 hits as a 39-year-old with the Minnesota Twins. Molitor was an all-around force and leader for the ’91 club.
On top of the stats above, Molitor also led the team in doubles (32), stolen bases (19), walks (77), slugging percentage (.489) and OPS (.888). He also finished 2nd on the team in HR (17) and 3rd in RBI (75).
The “Ignitor” hit .325 that season – 5th in the AL – with a .399 OBP (6th) and a 147 OPS+ (7th). Filling up the stat lines, Molitor earned an All-Star bid and picked up 13% of the MVP votes. He would post a similar year in ’92, again going to the All-Star game and this time finishing in the top 10 for MVP.
This was the first year Molitor was the DH a majority of the time, and since it kept him healthier than ever before, he took off and had an amazing latter half of his career. If he could’ve avoided so many injuries – minor and major – he may hold the all-time hits record on top of his other elite stats.
Robin Yount (33 years old) – 1989
Much like Molitor’s ’91 efforts, Yount’s offensive presence was all over the Brewers’ leaderboard in 1989. His consistent, multifaceted performance throughout the year earned Yount his 2nd MVP award, this time as a center fielder.
His 5.8 WAR is the best in club history (age 32+), and it was actually hurt by a -1.4 dWAR in his 4th year playing the premier position in center. That only further shows how terrific his bat was in 1989 as the heart of Milwaukee’s lineup.
Yount led the Brewers in runs scored (101), hits (195), doubles (38), triples (9), and RBI (103). He also topped the team in each of the 4 slash line categories of batting average, OBP, slugging and OPS – .318/.384/.511/.896.
Most of his numbers put him in the top 10 in the AL, including the top 5 in a handful of stats: 3rd in runs, slugging and OPS; 4th in hits, triples and batting average; and 5th in doubles. Yount was locked in all season and showed off his talents one last time.
“The Kid’s” numbers would tail off quickly over the last 4 seasons of his career, but 1989 was one to remember, giving his countless fans flashbacks to the prime years of his illustrious 20-year journey with the Milwaukee Brewers.