The Milwaukee Brewers were bad in 2015. A franchise worst start at 7-18 eventually cost Ron Roenicke his job and kicked the rebuild into full gear, and we watched as our beloved local nine eventually posted a 68-94 record. That was their most losses in a season since way back in 2004.
According to the stat geeks (and I say that with the utmost reverence) over at Fangraphs, 2016 won't be much prettier for the Brew Crew. Their recently released projections have the Brewers finishing 71-91 next season. That's the worst projected record in the NL Central, even behind the lowly Reds, who are slated to just edge them out with a 73-89 record. In fact, Milwaukee's 71 forecasted victories places them ahead of just two other major league clubs who both happen to reside in the NL East: the Braves (67-95) and Phillies (63-99).
For what it's worth, Fangraphs predicts the Cubs will have the league's best record at 95-67, followed by the Red Sox at 92-70. The Indians (85-77), Astros (86-76), Nationals (88-74), and Dodgers (90-72) are each projected as the other division winners. Last year's representatives in the World Series, the Royals and Mets, are forecasted for 79 and 84 victories, respectively.
Per the projection system, the Brewers offense actually figures to get a small boost over last season's mark of 4.04 runs per game. Even minus the likes of Adam Lind, Aramis Ramirez, and Carlos Gomez, the new-look Crew is projected to score 4.14 runs per contest. Unfortunately this gain is also tempered by a step back by the pitching staff from 4.55 runs allowed per game to 4.73. The only pitching staff predicted to perform worse than Milwaukee's is Colorado (4.93 runs allowed per game), who must deal with the notoriously hitter-friendly atmosphere at Coors' Field. The Brewers also have the third worst predicted run differential at -96 runs.
It's important to remember that while this and other projection systems may give a general idea of the talent level of various teams, it's foolish to take them as gospel. For example, the reigning world champs in Kansas City were projected to win only 72 games last year by Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA system.
I don’t think people understand how bad *all* team projections are. The standard deviation is five wins. Ten win swings are in the norm.— Eno Sarris (@enosarris) January 12, 2016
As far as Milwaukee's projection goes, I'd say that 71 wins is a pretty good barometer of what to expect from this team next year. Obviously they will be relying on a lot of relatively unproven talent on both sides of the ball, but I think that the pitching staff could be a pleasant surprise. I'm still a big fan of Jimmy Nelson and also believe that Junior Guerra could be a nice diamond-in-the-rough type find as Slingin' David Stearns' first acquisition as GM of the Brewers. Depending on any moves that might still be made, the bullpen looks to remain a strength as well. I think 4.73 runs allowed per game could end up being a very conservative estimate of how the pitching staff performs.
The Brewers roster construction heading into the 2016 season is much different than it was last season, but that's definitely a good thing. Though the club is obviously rebuilding, they possess plenty of intriguing at or near MLB ready talent across the diamond and could feature countless different Opening Day 25 man roster combinations, which isn't something that could necessarily be said about the 2015 squad. To be honest, it wouldn't surprise me to see the Brewers push the mid-70s for victory totals next season. Hell, if everyone plays to their ceiling they might even make a run at .500!