Talking About Projecting the Outfield

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Wherein we talk about Khris Davis, Carlos Gomez, and Ryan Braun, who are people who stand in the grass further away from home plate during most of the games and occasionally take their turn hitting base balls.

Today we move on to the outfield, which has the potential to be a real strength of this team. I've added some value numbers, which are a bit more intuitive for position players than for pitchers. The value lines below your slash stats are the ZiPS-projected Fangraphs calculations of WAR. Defense is measured relative to other defenders at the same position, and offense is measured compared to overall league batting. There's a separate adjustment based on position. An exactly average player over a full year is worth about 2 WAR, or two wins better than an average minor league free agent could be expected to produce.

The Brewers have two players in their outfield who are capable of 7+ WAR seasons. We know this because one of them did it last year, and one of them did it in 2 out of the past 3. No team had two position players with over 7 WAR in 2013, or 2012. Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia pulled it off for the Red Sox in 2011.

Khris Davis

You would have to think it would take a pretty impressive 153-plate appearance cameo to move a 5-time All-Star from his regular position. Everything you would hope to see in a young hitter was there-- patience (7.2% walk rate), power (.316 ISO), and line drives (20% of batted balls).

Contract situation: Pre-arb 1

ZiPS: 457 PA, .249/.330/.450

8 runs below average in LF, 7 runs above average on offense, ~1.4 WAR

Jordan's over/under: Over. I think we can expect average from Davis and that would be a successful year. But it's clear that the upside is there so I would put average (2 WAR) as my mid-point projection. I have little doubt he can beat that projection with relatively decent health, and I think that's the main issue we need to watch.

Carlos Gomez

What would Carlos Gomez get if he would have gotten on the open market had he been a free agent this offseason instead of signing an extension that bought out two of his free agent years? His last 3 seasons he has put up 2, 3, and 7 fWAR in succession. Even if teams valued him as a ~4-5 win player, becoming a free agent at age 28 I think he would have beat out the 6 years and $106 million that Jose Reyes got two years ago. Not that that would be a particularly wise contract, I think, but that has not stopped teams before. I point this out to bring up the incredible bargain the Brewers have here. Even if Gomez produces as a league average-type hitter, he still can be a 4-win player, and if he hits well he is an MVP candidate. Doug Melvin deserves so much credit for making this extension happen, because if he hadn't, there is either no Gomez on this team, or there is no Garza.

Contract situation: 2014: $7 M, 2015: $8 M, 2016: $ 9 M

ZiPS: 491 PA, .260/.313/.462

13 runs above average in CF, 10 runs above average on offense, ~4.1 WAR.

Jordan's over/under: Over. I can buy the regression in the hitting line or the worse year on defense, but not both together. Those value numbers for Gomez last year were +26 offensive runs and +26 defensive runs. I certainly don't expect that again, but healthy Gomez in his prime should be a 5 WAR guy.

Ryan Braun

An underrated aspect to Braun's monster 2011 and 2012 seasons were the strides he made defensively. After putting up one of the worst defensive performances in the history of baseball his rookie year at third base (*not an exaggeration), he managed to make himself into a nearly average defensive left fielder by UZR. It certainly didn't seem fluky, either, watching him almost every day made it really look like he learned how to take better routes. I'm on board with sliding him over to right field but I think it's difficult to expect that he will pick up and be roughly average there in his first season on the other side.

Contract situation: 2014: $10 M, 2015: $12 M, 2016: $19 M, 2017: $19 M, 2018: $19 M, 2019: $18 M, 2020: $16 M.

ZiPS: 664 PA, .300/.367/.540

7 runs below average in LF, 37 runs above average on offense, ~5.4 WAR.

Jordan's over/under: Under. I want to bet on Braun, I really do, but there are a few factors that would make me put my own money on the under: the apparently nagging thumb injury, the uncertainty around the move to right field, and just the general aftermath of the suspension. I'm probably more optimistic on the Braun return than most but that's a hefty line to clear. But I think he's up to the challenge.

Contract info from Cot's Baseball Contracts, ZiPS projections helpfully now on player pages at Fangraphs.

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