The year 2015 has now come on gone, and with it came plenty of changes for the Brewers. The rebuild is well under way with a new front office and coaching staff in place, and there has been a significant amount of roster turnover since this time last year. A whopping 23 players on the current full 40 man roster are new additions since January 1st, 2015. Since it's the time for New Year's resolutions, what are some thing the new-look Brewers can focus on in order to improve on their 94 loss season from 2015?
1. Improve Fastball Efficiency
The Brewers pitching staff ranked among the bottom 10 in all of baseball least season by both ERA (4.28) and FIP (4.17). A significant reason for this was that as a whole, opponents teed off on the Brewers' fastballs all season long. According to Pitch F/X's pitch type value ratings, Milwaukee ranked worst in baseball with a -61.5 wFA (weighted fastball runs above average), meaning that Brewers' four seamers were more than 61 runs below league average in 2015. Similarly, they ranked 29th overall with a -22.0 wSI (weighted sinker runs above average) and posted a below-average -1.4 wFT (weighted two-seam fastball runs above average) as well.
The worst offenders were Matt Garza (-12.7 wFA) and Wily Peralta (-11.9 wFA), both pitchers who often had difficulty hitting their intended low-and-away targets this past season. Rookies Tyler Wagner (-5.5 wFA in 13.2 IP) and David Goforth (-6.6 wFA in 24.2 IP) also struggled significantly with their fastballs in their first limited big league action. Removing Kyle Lohse will from the equation with definitely help, as his sinker was rated as tied for the worst in baseball last season (with Kyle Kendrick) at -17.2 wSI and he also posted a -1.9 wFA.
With new pitching coach Derek Johnson in place one of his most important tasks will be fixing how the Brewers use their hard stuff.
2. Get More Outs
The Brewers defense was bad last year. They ranked tied for 24th with -15 defensive runs saved last season and 24th with a -24.4 UZR. Only four teams committed more than Milwaukee's 116 errors last season, and they had a league-high 64 throwing errors. Plain and simple, the Brewers' inability to make outs consistently hurt the pitching staff and lead to 55 unearned runs in 2015.
In the outfield, Ryan Braun (-1 DRS, -6.0 UZR), Khris Davis (-6 DRS, -6.0 UZR), and Domingo Santana (-3 DRS, -3.9 UZR) are all currently slated to return and play sizeable roles, so it remains to be seen how much the defense out there can actually improve. Newcomers Keon Broxton and Kirk Neiuwenhuis should both be able to hold down center field better than Santana, who barring a trade looks to be slotted for a 4th outfielder role similar to that of Gerardo Parra (-3 DRS, -11.7 UZR) from last year.
In the infield things will look much different than they did to start last season. Unless he's traded Jean Segura should still provide steady defense at shortstop and Scooter Gennett still figures to play on the strong side of a second base platoon, where he's about an average defender (3 DRS, -3.2 UZR). Gone are Aramis Ramirez, Adam Lind, Jason Rogers, Hernan Perez, and Elian Herrera, all of whom handled most of the action on the infield corners. It will now be up to the newcomes like Colin Walsh, Jonathan Villar, and Garin Cecchini to fill in around the infield and the first base situation still needs to be settled, unless you believe the club will enter the spring with a competition between recent waiver claim Andy Wilkins and non-roster invitee Will Middlebrooks.
3. Be Patient
The Brewers' offense was known for it's boom-or-bust tendencies under former GM Doug Melvin, and 2015 was no different. Overall the club tied for the seventh-highest strikeout rate at 21.6% and their 6.8% walk rate ranked 25th in the MLB. While a high strikeout rate isn't inherently a bad thing, when combined with a poor walk rate it will lead to a below-average offense and the Brewers hit a combined .251/.307/.393 in 2015 and their 86 wRC+ was better than only two teams. The aforementioned returning keystone combo of Segura and Gennett combined to walk in just 25 of their 975 plate total plate appearances (2.6%).
New GM Slingin' David Stearns has emphasized how important simply getting on base is, and recent acquisitions like Villar, Cecchini, Walsh, and injured outfielder Ramon Flores are all known more for their patient approach than outgoing players like Perez, Herrera, and Hector Gomez. The loss of Adam Lind and his 11.5% walk rate will hurt, but other regular contributors like Braun, Santana, Davis, and Jonathan Lucroy are able to draw free passes at an above average rate. With the new roster composition and in the second year under hitting coach Darnell Coles, the Brewers should be able to see a decent up-tick in their on-base rates in 2016.
As fans, patience is most certainly a virtue that we'll have to exercise often in 2016 and the coming seasons. A young rebuilding team is sure to be frustrating to watch at time, but it will be important to remember to trust the process and not rush along any of the prospects from our now-lauded minor league pipeline. It's a new year and a new Brew Crew in 2016, and hopefully the club can stick to their resolutions better than most of the rest of us figure to.
New Year. New Me. Jk I'm essentially the same just a little more hungover than yesterday.— Monika M. (@WINsconsin26) January 1, 2016
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs