There are plenty of projection systems that are released before the beginning of baseball season each year. One of the more notable ones was developed by Dan Szymborski of ESPN and Fangraphs called "ZiPS." The ZiPS system is a computer-based projection of performance that predicts a player's rate and advanced stats, though its way of measuring predicted playing time isn't exactly 100% accurate. Often times players are projected for far more major league at-bats than they figure to receive, and some players projected won't even make the majors at all in 2016.
The Milwaukee Brewers' ZiPS projections were released on Friday, and they actually didn't look half bad. No, the Brewers don't have any players who project to have MVP-type campaigns, but many of the players who figure to receive regular playing time are predicted to perform modestly well on the field. When looking at some of these projections, it becomes harder to envision a club that is worse than the 68-94 record that the Brewers' produced last season.
I won't necessarily look at the zWAR component of ZiPS given that projected playing time is skewed for many of the players, but here is the Brewers' likely Opening Day lineup is projected to perform in 2016:
C Jonathan Lucroy - .276/.340/.415 || 8.7% BB || 13.1% K
1B Chris Carter - .237/.333/.506 || 11.9% BB || 30.5% K
2B Scooter Gennett - .278/.309/.407 || 3.9% BB || 16.1% K
3B Aaron Hill - .256/.310/.406 || 7.0% BB || 15.1% K
SS Jonathan Villar - .240/.303/.374 || 7.7% BB || 27.4% K
LF Khris Davis - .251/.320/.484 || 8.3% BB || 24.8% K
CF Rymer Liriano - .233/.299/.381 || 7.6% BB || 30.5% K
RF Ryan Braun - .280/.345/.480 || 8.4% BB || 19.6% K
One thing that's easy to notice is that this year's iteration of the Brewers project to have a much better walk rate than last year's team, which is something that David Stearns has looked to specifically improve upon this offseason. However the club also figures to strike out A LOT, with four regular players projected to whiff more than 24% of the time. Chris Carter, Ryan Braun, and Khris Davis all project to pack the most home run punch in the lineup, and that trio figures to make up the middle part of the order. Finally, Jonathan Lucroy is also projected for a nice little bounceback season. Though his number don't figure to come close to his high water marks of 2014, he should at least return to levels closer to his career norms.
ZiPS also projected bench players and prospects, and here are some of the notable ones:
OF Domingo Santana - .252/.337/.467 || 10.4% BB || 31.2% K
SS Orlando Arcia - .258/.297/.385 || 5.0% BB || 17.6% K
CF Brett Phillips - .252/.302/.414 || 5.8% BB || 22.2% K
3B Garin Cecchini - .247/.312/.360 || 7.7% BB || 23.6% K
OF Clint Coulter - .236/.312/.437 || 7.6% BB || 23.5% K
ZiPS is rather high on Domingo Santana, even projecting him for 2.5 zWAR in regular playing time in center field though we in Milwaukee know that is not going to happen. ZiPS also likes Orlando Arcia, projecting him to already be an average starter at the MLB level with 2.3 zWAR across 579 plate appearances. Of course Arcia doesn't figure to make his big league debut until sometime later this summer, and the Robin Yount comp slapped on him by the system places dangerous expectations on him at this point. ZiPS isn't all that enamored with Garin Cecchini, projecting him to produce well below-average numbers offensively. The Brewers will obviously be hoping for more from their reclamation project at the hot corner.
On the pitching side, here is how the starting rotation is projected to perform:
Jimmy Nelson - 3.90 ERA || 3.93 FIP || 20.2% K || 8.8% BB
Matt Garza - 4.43 ERA || 4.22 FIP || 17.5% K || 7.3% BB
Wily Peralta - 4.57 ERA || 4.46 FIP || 16.1% K || 7.6% BB
Taylor Jungmann - 3.90 ERA || 3.90 FIP || 21.3% K || 9.4% BB
Chase Anderson - 4.30 ERA || 4.14 FIP || 19.6% K || 6.9% BB
Jimmy Nelson and Taylor Jungmann are projected for eerily similar seasons, and both figure to be the top performers of what looks to be a rather mediocre rotation. Still it will be difficult for the rotation to be as bad as it was in 2015. Matt Garza figures to improve upon his nightmare 2015 and Chase Anderson is projected to do much better work than the departed Kyle Lohse. It wouldn't surprise me to see someone Nelson take the next step and outperform his projections, though I'm not certain any of the other pitchers in the rotation have that same capability and their projections figure to be rather accurate.
Some key members of the bullpen:
Will Smith - 3.06 ERA || 2.98 FIP || 30.7% K || 8.8% BB
Jeremy Jeffress - 3.30 ERA || 3.13 FIP || 22.3% K || 8.5% BB
Corey Knebel - 3.29 ERA || 3.34 FIP || 29.9% K || 9.1% BB
Michael Blazek - 3.57 ERA || 3.63 FIP || 21.0% K || 8.5% BB
The Brewers relief corps again figures to be a strength for the 2016 ball club, anchored by the dominant Will Smith. Jeremy Jeffress and Corey Knebel are both projected to have strong seasons as well, and together that triumvirate figures to receive most of the high-leverage innings. Manager Craig Counsell has yet to name an official "closer" though, and given the way he's spoken about the role this winter we might actually get treated to a real situational bullpen rather than the rigidly defined roles that most of us are used to seeing.
And finally, the top pitching prospects:
Zach Davies - 3.96 ERA || 3.94 FIP || 19.7% K || 8.2% BB
Josh Hader - 4.47 ERA || 4.39 FIP || 22.8% K || 10.0% BB
Jorge Lopez - 5.28 ERA || 5.16 FIP || 19.6% K || 9.1% BB
Adrian Houser - 5.37 ERA || 5.15 FIP || 16.9% K || 9.5% BB
Junior Guerra - 4.22 ERA || 4.24 FIP || 26.4% K || 10.8% BB
Unlike the positional prospects, ZiPS is much more down on the Brewers' top pitching prospects outside of Zach Davies. Junior Guerra looks like he'd be roughly a league-average pitcher in the big leagues right now, but the ballyhooed duo of Hader and Lopez could definitely use some more refinement in the minor leagues according to the projections.