The Milwaukee Brewers are rebuilding, and they've made no bones about it. The owner acknowledged the need to take a "step back" in an open letter to the fans following last season and he hired a young, analytically-slanted GM in David Stearns to carry out what Doug Melvin started last summer. Since taking over, Slingin' Stearns has been one of the most active general manager's in all of baseball, turning over half of the Brewers' 40 man roster inluding trading their starting first baseman, shortstop, left fielder, and closer.
Because they're rebuilding no one is really expecting the Brewers to win many games next season, but there has been a variance in the forecasted totals. Fangraphs has the Brewers winning 71 games, USA Today picked them to win 64 games, and the over/under betting line has been set at 71.5 for Milwaukee. Yesterday, the fine folks over at Baseball Prospectus released their vaunted PECOTA projections, and they paint a slightly rosier picture of how Milwaukee should perform in 2016. PECOTA is the highest so far that I have seen on the Brewers' win total for the upcoming season, predicting them to finish 77-85.
According to PECOTA, Milwaukee's forecasted 77 victories would place them fourth in the NL Central and three games ahead of the Cincinnati Reds. The Cubs are projected to run away with the division and win 92 games, followed by the Pirates at a projected 83-79 record and the Cardinals at 82-80.
While some outlets have the Brewers as one of the worst teams in baseball, PECOTA pegs has five National League teams finishing worse than the Brewers, who are pegged for the 11th overall draft pick in 2017. They're projected to finish with more wins than some teams thought of as possible contenders like the Orioles, Angels, and even the defending World Series champion Royals who are predicted to go 76-86.
Milwaukee is predicted to have a middle-of-the-pack offense and score about 4.24 runs per game. Unlike the ZiPS forecasting system, PECOTA actually attempts to project playing time so it provides a more precise calculation for Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP, Baseball Prospectus' version of WAR). Here's how PECOTA projects their lineup to look:
|C Jonathan Lucroy||613 PA||.276/.339/.429||15 HR||3.7 WARP|
|1B Chris Carter||518 PA||.226/.317/.457||27 HR||0.8 WARP|
|2B Scooter Gennett||592 PA||.277/.307/.415||13 HR||0.9 WARP|
|3B Aaron Hill||543 PA||.254/.309/.395||13 HR||0.3 WARP|
|SS Jonathan Villar||470 PA||.240/.300/.370||9 HR||1.4 WARP|
|LF Domingo Santana||480 PA||.246/.329/.438||19 HR||1.6 WARP|
|CF Kirk Nieuwenhuis||442 PA||.230/.299/.414||16 HR||0.2 WARP|
|RF Ryan Braun||600 PA||.286/.352/.502||27 HR||3.2 WARP|
PECOTA predicts a nice bounce back for Jonathan Lucroy, pegging him for nearly four wins above replacement. Ryan Braun is also projected to have another strong campaign, nearly identical to last season's numbers. Another year like 2015 would certainly help make it easier to move Braun and his rather large contract. Beyond those two, however, there's a lot of mediocrity. Domingo Santana and Jonathan Villar have the two next highest projected WARP totals and if they were given a full season's worth of plate appearances they'd likely wind up with right around two wins above replacement and be considered "average regulars."
Veterans Aaron Hill and Kirk Nieuwenhuis are both pegged to win everyday gigs, but both are projected to get perform well below-average. Rymer Liriano is projected to be the top player off the bench with a .241/.315/.392 slash and 0.4 WARP in 151 plate appearances, though in actuality he probably has a good chance to be Milwaukee's regular center fielder in 2016. Finally, PECOTA predicts Orlando Arcia will end up seeing about 30% of the playing time at shortstop and hit .251/.281/.375 in 200 plate appearances, which is a good reminder that Arcia's offensive ceiling is lower than one might expect for one of the league's top 10 prospects. He's projected for 0.7 WARP thanks to his defensive prowess.
The Brewers' pitching staff, on the other hand, is projected to be bad. PECOTA has them giving up 4.45 runs per game, which the eighth-worst mark in the league. Here's how the starting rotation is projected to look:
|Wily Peralta||177 IP||127 K||60 BB||22 HR||4.48 ERA||0.8 WARP|
|Jimmy Nelson||180 IP||154 K||64 BB||21 HR||4.15 ERA||1.5 WARP|
|Matt Garza||151 IP||114 K||51 BB||20 HR||4.46 ERA||0.7 WARP|
|Taylor Jungmann||137 IP||115 K||55 BB||16 HR||4.31 ERA||0.9 WARP|
|Chase Anderson||131 IP||104 K||41 BB||17 HR||4.33 ERA||0.8 WARP|
|Zach Davies||65 IP||52 K||23 BB||7 HR||4.19 ERA||0.5 WARP|
Matt Garza and Wily Peralta are both slated to make improvements over their awful 2015 campaigns, but still neither is projected to crack even the 1 WARP threshold. In fact, the only starter projected to do that is Jimmy Nelson and even he is pegged for some regression in 2016. Both Taylor Jungmann and Chase Anderson are also projected to take a step back from their 2015 numbers. Prospect Zach Davies is slotted in as the spot-starter/swingman and the numbers he's projected to put up are commensurate with your typical number four starter, which is about where most scouts think his ceiling is.
Things look a little bit better in the bullpen, but not much:
|Will Smith||62 IP||75 K||22 BB||6 HR||2.90 ERA||1.1 WARP|
|Corey Knebel||57 IP||60 K||21 BB||8 HR||3.86 ERA||0.4 WARP|
|Jeremy Jeffress||57 IP||53 K||21 BB||7 HR||4.00 ERA||0.4 WARP|
|Tyler Thornburg||57 IP||49 K||23 BB||7 HR||4.49 ERA||0.1 WARP|
|Michael Blazek||52 IP||44 K||21 BB||6 HR||4.26 ERA||0.2 WARP|
|Zack Jones||52 IP||52 K||28 BB||6 HR||4.45 ERA||0.1 WARP|
|Junior Guerra||21 IP||24 K||9 BB||2 HR||3.37 ERA||0.3 WARP|
After being one of the bright spots during a dismal 2015, PECOTA predicts regression almost all around for the Brewers' bullpen. Will Smith is still forecasted to put up stellar numbers, but other high-leverage guys in Jeremy Jeffress, Michael Blazek, and Corey Knebel (who PECOTA predicts will be the closer) are all picked to see rather large increases in their earned run averages. PECOTA likes Rule 5 pick Zack Jones well enough to at least peg him as a positive contributor despite the obvious control issues he has shown in the lower levels of the minor leagues. And, for what it's worth, my favorite 31-year-old prospect Junior Guerra is predicted to be an above-average pitcher out of the bullpen with the second-lowest ERA and fourth-best WARP.
Pecota is smart to have such terrible projections every year. Might be a marketing scheme.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) February 17, 2016
As always, it's important to remember to take these projections with a grain of salt. PECOTA caught a lot of flack last season after predicting that the Royals would finish 72-90 before they went on to win the World Series. While I don't necessarily have any issues with the projections that PECOTA made for the Brewers' hitters, I do think that someone like Rymer Liriano or Garin Cecchini could perhaps have a breakout performance if offered more than their projected amount of playing time. On the pitching side, I could see Jimmy Nelson outperforming his projections rather easily in the starting rotation if he continues to progress as he has the ability to, and it's not hard to envision someone like Jeremy Jeffress performing better out of the bullpen than the 4.00 ERA he's predicted to have.
All that being said, 77-85 is obviously on the more optimistic side of the possible win-loss record we could see for the Brewers this season. I personally think they could get to that amount of wins, but that would be pretty close to the ceiling of what this 2016 club figures to be capable of. It's also important to bear in mind that significant contributors like Jonathan Lucroy or, less likely, Ryan Braun could find themselves playing for a different organization by the end of the season which would obviously affect Milwaukee's win-loss total. Still, it's nice to know that the smart group of folks over at Baseball Prospectus agree that there's a likely chance that the 2016 Brewers will be much improved over the 2015 ball club, and certainly could be better than the 90+ losses that some outlets are prognosticating.