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A first look at the 2012 Brewers

It's barely after New Year's Day, but believe it or not, it might actually be about as good of a time as any before spring training to get a glimpse of what this year's Brewers will look like. The starting lineup, rotation, and bullpen are all about as set as they'll be until March, and the only two big questions remaining until then are whether Ryan Braun will be suspended and whether the Brewers will sign Norichika Aoki as a backup outfielder.

Given that, I thought it'd be fun to look deeper at the Brewers' ZiPS projections, which went up earlier this week. Those projections only have some of the basic stats, and when I saw a Viva El Birdos post this week converting the Cardinals' numbers to wOBA, FIP, and ultimately WAR, I thought I'd give it a shot for the Brewers.

So these are my own 2012 WAR calculations for the Brewers based on ZiPS projections, plus a bit of my own estimates on defense and playing time. The plate appearances (and, to a lesser extent, the innings pitched) for each player are all knocked down a bit from a full season's worth to account for the possible for injury for each player. Defensive estimates are in runs relative to league average per 150 games and come from a rough average of the past two years of UZR and Baseball Prospectus' Total Zone-based FRAA. (If you want to know all the nitty-gritty stuff about how I calculated my WAR, I put the methodological details at the end.)

Here's what the offense looks like:

Hitter Pos Line wOBA Fielding/150 PAs WAR rWAR/fWAR (2011)
Jonathan Lucroy C .254/.313/.375 .309
-1 475 1.8 0.6/1.9
Mat Gamel 1B .264/.341/.433 .343 -1 515 1.7 -0.5/-0.4
Rickie Weeks 2B .260/.350/.460 .360 0 515 3.5 3/3.7
Aramis Ramirez 3B .278/.340/.476 .356 -12 525 2.5 3.6/3.6
Alex Gonzalez SS .245/.282/.399 .298 5 550 1.7 1.3/1.1
Ryan Braun LF .296/.360/.525 .390 -3 460 3.5 7.7/7.8
Nyjer Morgan CF .266/.324/.353 .309 10 475 1.9 2.0/4.0
Corey Hart RF .270/.333/.481 .354 -3 580 2.7 4.0/4.2

Bench

Hitter Pos Line wOBA Fielding/150 PAs WAR rWAR/fWAR (2011)
George Kottaras C .239/.316/.401 .318
-4 200 0.8 0.6/0.7
Cesar Izturis IF .248/.291/.306 ..273 4 200 0.1 0.2/0.1
Taylor Green IF .264/.324/.423 .333 0 225 1.0 -0.1/0.1
Carlos Gomez OF .243/.296/.374 .304 12 375 1.4 1.7/2.0
Norichika Aoki OF .289/.338/.393 .327 275 0.8

Others

Hitter Pos Line wOBA Fielding/150 PAs WAR rWAR/fWAR (2011)
Martin Maldonado C .230/.296/.332 .283
3 200 0.4 0/0
Travis Ishikawa 1B .231/.306/.365 .300 5 200 0.1
Eric Farris 2B .257/.291/.342 .284 -1 200 0.1 0/0
Caleb Gindl OF .266/.334/.401 .329 -1 200 0.6
Logan Schafer OF .262/.318/.357 .305 3 200 0.4 0.1/0.1

Several of these WAR estimates seem a bit low - that's mostly because, as I wrote earlier, I'm being pretty conservative by adding the weighted chance that each player could be injured - so in effect, these estimates are as if every starter got at least a little bit injured throughout the year.

ZiPS hates Ryan Braun. It thinks he'll have his lowest average since 2008 and a wOBA more than 40 points lower than last year. I set the PAs based on a 50-game suspension for Braun (nudging them up for Morgan, Gomez, and Aoki), and between that and the low projection, ZiPS has the Brewers getting a huge drop in production from the Brewers' outfield next year. I don't see things falling that far, but it's probably realistic that we drop our expectations for Braun down into the 4-5 WAR range next year.

It also doesn't like Aramis Ramirez, though a lot of that is my own pessimistic fielding projection - he's shown a clear decline each of the past three years, and if he stays on that course, fielding could wipe out a third of his offensive value. On the other side, I'm pleasantly surprised by what it thinks Mat Gamel will do - I think we'd all be pretty pleased with a ~2 WAR season out of him at first.

On the bench, ZiPS seems to indicate that Gindl (or possibly even Logan Schafer) could offer a feasible alternative to Norichika Aoki as fifth outfielder at a fraction of the price. I'd be curious to know what the Brewers' estimation of Gindl and Schafer are as they work out Aoki this weekend - Don Money doesn't seem to consider them big-league-ready, but that's to be taken with the Don Money Grain of Salt.

Now the pitchers:

Starting Rotation

Pitcher ERA FIP K/BB IP WAR rWAR/fWAR (2011)
Zack Greinke 2.98 2.80 224/49 199 6.6 1.7/3.9
Yovani Gallardo 3.46 3.50 206/70 195.1 4.8 2.7/3.1
Shaun Marcum 3.51 3.68 129/41 151.1 3.5 3.3/2.7
Randy Wolf 4.04 4.49 120/61 178 2.8 3.1/1.4
Chris Narveson 4.32 4.32 122/59 150 2.2 0.9/1.5

Bullpen

Pitcher ERA FIP K/BB IP WAR rWAR/fWAR (2011)
John Axford 3.07 3.35 69/29 60 1.5 2.7/1.9
Francisco Rodriguez 3.23 3.43 62/23 55 1.2 2.4/1.4
Kameron Loe 3.61 3.93 43/17 55 0.9 0.7/1.2
Jose Veras 3.86 4.07 55/27 50 0.7 0.7/0.5
Zach Braddock 3.65 3.66 42/21 35 0.6 -0.4/-0.1
Marco Estrada 4.03 3.98 73/28 87 1.6 0.4/0.8
Manny Parra 4.80 4.58 35/20 40 0.4

Others

Pitcher ERA FIP K/BB IP WAR rWAR/fWAR (2011)
Tim Dillard 3.93 3.99 23/10 30 0.4 0.1/0.3
Brandon Kintzler 3.71 3.72 26/8 30 0.5 -0.1/0
Mike McClendon 4.01 3.71 19/9 30 0.5 0.1/0.1
Michael Fiers 4.01 4.22 27/12 30 0.5 0.1/0
Frankie de la Cruz 4.50 4.54 23/16 30 0.4 0.2/0.1
Wily Peralta 4.67 4.50 23/15 30 0.4

As you can see, ZiPS seems to like the Brewers' pitchers a lot more than the hitters. I think a lot of that has do with the less conservative playing time estimates here (I pretty much just stuck to ZiPS' innings-pitched totals on the rotation), though it could very well be due to a glitch in my pitching WAR calculations, too.

Either way, ZiPS pretty much wants to have Zack Greinke's babies - it trusts the defense-independent numbers from his 2011 season a lot more than the overall numbers and projects a monster year from him. Honestly, anything approaching these numbers would be fantastic to get out of our starting rotation, even if the overall value got knocked down a bit by a few injuries.

In the pen, we have quite a few solid pitchers to go to, and ZiPS really seems to love Marco Estrada for some reason. (I calculated his WAR as being split between the bullpen and rotation.) I also didn't realize until I went through this how much bullpen depth the Brewers have the potential to have. They'll need it, too, because I'm certainly not confident that Manny Parra, Zach Braddock, or Brandon Kintzler will be healthy and in anything near normal form. Tim Dillard and Mike McClendon are solid options for the back of the pen, and I'm starting to get really bullish on Mike Fiers filling a long-man role at some point this year.

Overall, I see a much more well-rounded 2012 team than in 2011 on offense, with the extreme highs of Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder's MVP-caliber seasons and the extreme lows of Casey McGehee and Mr. Golden Hands replaced with a lot of blessedly circa-league average play. (Projections are always going to shade out the extremes, so take this paragraph with a grain of salt, of course.)

And that's just fine with me, because if the pitching staff stays healthy (not necessarily likely) and the defense behind it improves (much more likely), it could carry this team to playoff contention. This team doesn't strike me as a potential 96-win juggernaut like last year, but despite that, it seems just a bit better built overall, with a few of last year's strengths maintained and gaping holes plugged - something that, with good health, should at least keep 2012 interesting for Brewers fans into August or September.

Methodological details:

For the basics, I relied pretty heavily on vivaelpujols' two awesome VEB posts on calculating WAR for hitters and pitchers. For wOBA, I used the basic (1.75*OBP+SLG)/3 formula and adjusted for baserunning using the SB and CS weights from Beyond the Boxscore.

To get from wOBA to WAR, I pretty closely followed the formula from the BtB spreadsheet here, slightly adjusting a couple of numbers to fit with Tom Tango's original formula. As I wrote above, fielding came from a two-year average of UZR and Total Zone, plus my own estimates in the case of wildly disparate numbers or a clear decline (Aramis Ramirez).

For pitching, I averaged FIP and ERA, then adjusted for unearned runs to get runs allowed. I then calculated WAR through the Pythagorean formula, with a modified run-environment exponent per this Hardball Times formula. I used separate 2011 NL league averages for starting pitching and bullpen pitching, and adjusted replacement levels accordingly. Any questions? Ask me in the comments.

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