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Outfield Projection Review: Average-Superstar-Average, left to right

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The Brewer outfield has 3 different players in very different stages of their careers.

Mike McGinnis

In the past couple of weeks I have been slowly working my way through a preseason projections review series. So far I've gone back through the rotation (in part 1 and part 2). Today we look at the starting outfielders. Here's the original post from late February. In a unprecedented victory, I nailed the over/under on the projections on this one.

Khris Davis

Davis PA Average On-base Slugging Wins
ZiPS 457 .249 .330 .450 1.4
Actual 549 .244 .299 .457 1.8

What I said in February:

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)...

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 the ZiPS projection with relatively decent health.

Maybe the biggest surprise about Khris Davis's 2014 was not in the above line, but in how he accomplished it. Davis was in the neighborhood of his ZiPS projection-- his OBP was a bit low, but he logged a lot of innings and he played better defense than we thought he probably would. He still has a poor arm for an outfielder, but he took reasonably good routes to balls and came out looking like a roughly average left fielder.

The second reason I say I was a bit surprised by his season is that he didn't display the splits I expected. I thought Davis would mash lefties but in something closer to an everyday role but struggle against righties. To be fair, most righthanded hitters do hit much better against lefties, but you can't platoon everybody. That wasn't really the case, though-- he had a .336 wOBA against lefties and a .328 wOBA against righties, both near league average overall. Part of this is that Davis slumped most when he was facing lefties the most-- after the acquisition of Gerardo Parra. Davis still played against both, but had a higher proportion of his ABs against lefthanders after the break when he battled health issues and participated in the great team-wide slump of '14.

As I've said many times, a league-average player has a lot of value in Major League Baseball, and it looks like the Brewers have a cheap, effective, league average leftfielder in Khris Davis. Fortunately he's still young enough to reasonably have some upside in the next couple of years.

Carlos Gomez

Gomez PA Average On-base Slugging Wins
ZiPS 491 .260 .313 .462 4.1
Actual 644 .284 .356 .477 5.9

After raving about Gomez's cheap extension this spring, I took the over on the ZiPS line because:

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.

It turns out a healthy Gomez in his prime is a 5 WAR guy, and then some. His defense didn't rate out quite as well as his insane 2013, but his hitting line was right there and maybe even better. It's difficult to say Gomez is going to keep getting better at this point, but he doesn't have to-- over the past two years he's been approximately the fourth most valuable position player in baseball, behind Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen, and Josh Donaldson.

Ryan Braun

Braun PA Average On-base Slugging Wins
ZiPS 664 .300 .367 .540 5.4
Actual 580 .266 .324 .453 1.2

ZiPS did not know about Braun's nagging nerve issue in his thumb, but I did:

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.

It was very clear that Braun had to alter his approach all season to compensate for the injured thumb, and despite his best efforts, he was a below-average baseball player in 2014. I don't have any particular insight on Braun other than this year stunk, and let's all just hope the cryotherapy treatment worked.