The Milwaukee Brewers Surprise The Market

In a season of pleasant surprises in major league baseball, the Milwaukee Brewers are certainly near the top of the list. The money standings bear that out—the Brewers have netted a $1,090 profit for the season, a figure that’s second only to the Colorado Rockies. That’s an impressive profit margin by any standard and even more so when the actual W-L record on the field is a good-but-not-great 25-19.

It’s enough to have the Brewers in first place, holding slim leads on teams vastly more accomplished and respected in the betting market in the Cardinals and Cubs. It will come as no surprise to learn that the market isn’t ready to consider Milwaukee a legit contender in the NL Central—Chicago remains the heavy 1-4 favorite, with St. Louis at 3-1. What is at least noteworthy is that the Brewers’ price of 20-1 keeps them much closer to the Reds (25-1) and Pirates (35-1).

That essentially tells us that Las Vegas doesn’t see this Milwaukee team a whole lot differently than at the start of the year. That lack of respect is going to show up in moneylines on a nightly basis, which means that as baseball handicappers we have to make a hard-nosed assessment of whether the market is right.

The case against the Brewers might run thusly—they’re offensive production is being driven mostly by players who have next to no major league track record. Before this year had anyone heard of Eric Thames (.429 on-base percentage/.664 slugging percentage), a 30-year-old first baseman who had spent the last five years in the minor leagues? Certainly no one who had heard of him thought he’d be an MVP candidate as the calendar approaches Memorial Day.

Other surprises include catcher Jett Brandy (.361/.517), third baseman Travis Shaw (.327/.555), Keon Broxton (.453 slugging) and Domingo Santana (.370 OBP). These surprise names have joined with veteran Ryan Braun (.357/.545) to create the second-best offense in the National League to date.

It’s difficult to argue that the production will continue at this level, mainly because Thames is such an outlier. It is worth noting, however, that Bandy is getting his first real shot at regular playing time at age 27. Broxton and Santana are young players for whom the production this season represents natural career growth. Shaw hit well in Boston at the end of 2015 and the early part of 2016 before fading last summer. He’s also a young hitter on a logical career arc.

Getting all these players to gel in the same season would be a stroke of good luck, but it wouldn’t be unheard of either. Milwaukee could quite realistically maintain a top-five NL offense through the summer.

The pitching is another question entirely. The rotation and closer’s spot are big question marks. Manager Craig Counsell has squeezed the most out of his bullpen, enabling the staff ERA to be sixth in the NL, but some starting pitchers are going to have step up.

What that means is that it’s hard to see the Brewers keeping this up for the long haul, making the big handicapping question not whether to jump off the bandwagon, but when.

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