Upon the recent acquisition of 2007 AL Cy Young Award winner C.C. Sabathia, I thought it appropriate to take a look back at the best Brewer team that I followed (I was only 4 for the '82 team). The 1992 squad finished 92-70, and took the Blue Jays down to the final weekend. They would've been the Wild Card team that year, but the extra playoff team wasn't introduced for two more years.
For the purposes of the debate, OPS+ , which measures the production of a hitter against that season's league averages, will be the main statistic used for the offensive side, while ERA+ will do it for the pitchers.
1992 Brewers vs. 2008 Brewers
C Jason Kendall (.258, .339, .333, 79 OPS +) v. BJ Surhoff (.252, .314, .321, 80 OPS +)
Kendall came to the '08 squad as a free agent signee over the winter. Coming off the worst season of his 13-year career, Kendall has proven to a be terrific defensively, throwing out 41% of would-be base stealers, while maintaining a solid average, walking above that 1BB/10 PA mark that baseball people look for, and calling a great game. The last one is indeed tough to quantify, but there can be no question that these pitchers simply love throwing to him. I've never seen so many comments regarding the way he calls a game, and keeps the pitchers mentally sharp. He's also the best catcher that I've seen on a daily basis at popping out from behind the plates and fielding bunts, nubbers, etc. He has been a terrific signing. Kendall's backup is Mike Rivera, is rarely used, but is effective when deployed, posting a 112 OPS+.
Surhoff, meanwhile, was in the 6th year of his long career, and like Kendall, didn't have a lot of pop (4 HR's), rarely struck out (just 41 times all season, versus 46 walks), and was decent behind the plate, throwing out 35% of runners. In what was a hallmark of his career, B.J. got off to a slow start at the plate (just .136 in April), but turned it on the rest of the way, including hitting .274 in the 2nd half. One major difference between the two was that Surhoff started just 105 games behind the dish, while Kendall is on pace to start nearly 150 times for the '08 team. Surhoff's backups were Tim McIntosh (28 OPS+!) and rookie Dave Nilsson, who posted a respectable 85.
1B Prince Fielder (.270, .357, .488, 121 OPS+) v. John Jaha (.226, .291, 308, 70 OPS+) /Franklin Stubbs (.229, .297, .368, 87 OPS+)
Fielder, coming off a record 50-home run season in 2007, has not approached those kinds of numbers in 2008. He is currently on pace to hit over 30 home runs, and walks at a good rate, and his numbers overall are still very good.
1st base was a real trouble spot for the Brewers in '92. Franklin Stubbs manned the bag for 43 of the first 58 games, and was benched based on his .203 average with just six home runs. The bag was manned by normal DH Paul Molitor and the brutal McIntosh in Stubbs' stead, until after the All-Star break, when prized prospect John Jaha was recalled from AAA and handed the keys to 1st base. Unfortunately, Jaha proved to be even worse than Stubbs, hitting for no power at all. He started 14 of the first 18 games after the break, and posted a line of .222/.250/.296, which landed him back on the bench. Molitor, Stubbs, Jaha, and even Surhoff rotated the final games, and the position posted a .752 OPS for the season, brutal even for 1992.
2B Rickie Weeks (.217, .320, .367, 81 OPS+) v. Scott Fletcher (.275, .335, .360, 96 OPS+)
Weeks, expected by many observers to have a breakout season following a torrid final two months of 2007, has largely struggled again in his 4th season in the bigs. In fact, by OPS measures, he's having the worst season of his career, as his slugging percentage is down, along with his BA and OBP. His defense has improved, but is still no better than average.
Fletcher, meanwhile, was a revelation for the '92 team. He was coming off an awful season for the White Sox, which saw him post an ungodly .528 OPS, and was signed by the Brewers just before camp started in '92. Interestingly, he started the first six games of the year at shortstop, but Pat Listach stepped in after that, and for a while, Fletcher wasn't getting much time, as Jim Gantner was holding down the fort at 2nd. However, he stepped in on June 14, and started 85 of the final 103 games, and put up largely unspectacular numbers (.268, .328, .340). However, I have always remembered Fletcher coming up with huge hits in that season, and indeed that does seem to be the case. To wit: he hit .336 with runners in scoring position, and .344 with two outs and RISP. In