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ZiPS and the 2017 Milwaukee Brewers

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How does the computer-based projection system think our local nine with perform?

Milwaukee Brewers v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Throughout the winter, Fangraphs has been releasing ZiPS projections for each of the 30 Major League Baseball teams for the 2017 season. Developed by Dan Szymborski, ZiPS is a computer-based projection system that predicts a player’s rate and advanced stats. The system doesn’t necessarily project accurate playing time, however, instead generally forecasting each player for a full-time or heavily-used bench role, including prospects that we know won’t even sniff the big leagues this year.

Yesterday, it was the Milwaukee Brewers’ turn to be run through the computers. ZiPS doesn’t predict the Brewers to have any ‘star’ level contributors this year, but one thing that Slingin’ David Stearns has done is to create a significant pool of depth. As Carson Cistulli points out, the estimation for 20 position players in the organization this year is at least 1 WAR. The Cubs have only 16 such players, and the Giants have a measly 10. Regarding Milwaukee’s stable of talent, Cistulli writes “Milwaukee, in other words, has gathered a large collection of players whose median probable outcome is slightly below average. Given the youth of that group, however, and the vagaries of the world, some of those players will develop into average or better players.”

We won’t necessarily look at the rate stats and zWAR components of the projections since ZiPS doesn’t accurately forecast playing time, but here is how Milwaukee’s lineup (as currently assembled) stacks up:

C Andrew Susac - .233/.306/.385 || 27.9% K || 9% BB || 89 OPS+
1B Eric Thames - .247/.321/.493 || 28.2% K || 8.7% BB || 116 OPS+
2B Jonathan Villar - .256/.332/.410 || 26.9% K || 9.8% BB || 103 OPS+
3B Travis Shaw - .246/.308/.433 || 22.9% K || 7.9% BB || 98 OPS+
SS Orlando Arcia - .245/.289/.379 || 20.2% K || 5.5% BB || 82 OPS+
LF Ryan Braun - .282/.343/.477 || 18.4% K || 8% BB || 123 OPS+
CF Keon Broxton - .216/.297/.408 || 37.3% K || 10% BB || 92 OPS+
RF Domingo Santana - .243/.333/.441 || 32.6% K || 11.2% BB || 111 OPS+

Last year’s team set the major league record for most strikeouts in a season, but if these projections are any indication that record may not be safe next year. Seven of the eight members of the everyday lineup are predicted to strikeout in 20% or more of their plate appearances, and as a result just one player figures to have a batting average over .260. Some significant regression is predicted for Keon Broxton and Jonathan Villar, both of whom ran up rather high BABIP numbers last year. New acquisitions Travis Shaw and Eric Thames are both projected to be league-average regulars in full playing time at their respective positions. Ryan Braun just keeps on hitting, while Orlando Arcia may be facing a uphill battle to be useful at the plate.

Here’s how the bench looks:

UTIL Hernan Perez - .266/.293/.400 || 18.1% K || 3.7% BB || 88 OPS+
C Jett Bandy - .225/.278/.378 || 22.8% K || 4.2% BB || 78 OPS+
OF Kirk Niewenhuis - .218/.305/.412 || 31.2% K || 10.6% BB || 95 OPS+
2B Scooter Gennett - .270/.311/.417 || 18.7% K || 5.4% BB || 98 OPS+

The system predicts that a Jett Bandy/Andrew Susac timeshare behind home plate should result in about 2 WAR between the two, which would be pretty acceptable for two mostly unknown commodities. Hernan Perez and Kirk Nieuwenhuis both project as solid backups whose bats won’t kill you if they’re in the lineup, much how they performed last season. Scooter’s projections show that he should still be fully capable of producing starter-caliber numbers with the bat, and that a trade to another team with a spot available in its lineup for a second baseman may yield more value for the Brewers than simply using Gennett off the bench.

Some of the top prospects:

OF Lewis Brinson - .254/.294/.458 || 23.9% K || 5.1% BB || 103 OPS+
OF Brett Phillips - .228/.297/.407 || 31.7% K || 8.3% BB || 91 OPS+
INF Mauricio Dubon - .257/.303/.366 || 15.8% K || 5.8% BB || 80 OPS+
OF Ryan Cordell - .239/.283/.299 || 26.7% K || 5.3% BB || 85 OPS+
C Jacob Nottingham - .236/.285/.380 || 31% K || 5.1% BB || 81 OPS+
OF Tyrone Taylor - .249/.296/.357 || 16.5% K || 5.1% BB || 79 OPS+

Despite being projected for rather lackluster OBPs, ZiPS feels as though Lewis Brinson and Brett Phillips could hold their own in the big leagues with the bat right now. Dubon, Cordell, Nottingham, and Taylor all project for 1+ WAR in a full-time capacity at the MLB level, though each of their offensive games could use some polish.

On the pitching side, here’s how the starting rotation looks:

RHP Junior Guerra - 4.24 ERA || 4.54 FIP || 8.2 K/9 || 3.66 BB/9 || 96 ERA+
RHP Zach Davies - 3.99 ERA || 3.95 FIP || 7.76 K/9 || 2.55 BB/9 || 102 ERA+
RHP Jimmy Nelson - 4.34 ERA || 4.45 FIP || 7.57 K/9 || 3.39 BB/9 || 94 ERA+
RHP Wily Peralta - 4.81 ERA || 4.72 FIP || 6.67 K/9 || 3.07 BB/9 || 85 ERA+
RHP Matt Garza - 5.04 ERA || 4.75 FIP || 6.31 K/9 || 3.04 BB/9 || 81 ERA+
RHP Chase Anderson - 4.64 ERA || 4.69 FIP || 7.28 K/9 || 2.96 BB/9 || 88 ERA+

Yikes. Only one starter, Zach Davies, is projected for a better-than-league-average ERA. Junior Guerra is predicted to take a rather significant step back from his work in 2016, but should still be a capable back of the rotation starter. ZiPS thinks Jimmy Nelson will bounce back from his rough close to last season and eat some solid innings, as well. If Peralta, Garza, and Anderson wind up pitching along the lines of their projections, it’d be a surprise to see them remain in the big league rotation all season.

Some key members of the bullpen:

RHP Jacob Barnes - 3.52 ERA || 3.45 FIP || 9.55 K/9 || 3.35 BB/9 || 116 ERA+
RHP Corey Knebel - 3.65 ERA || 3.61 FIP || 11.27 K/9 || 3.81 BB/9 || 111 ERA+
RHP Carlos Torres - 3.92 ERA || 4.22 FIP || 8.74 K/9 || 3.59 BB/9 || 104 ERA+
RHP Jhan Marinez - 3.84 ERA || 4.11 FIP || 8.07 K/9 || 3.31 BB/9 || 106 ERA+
LHP Tommy Milone - 4.71 ERA || 4.60 FIP || 7.03 K/9 || 2.46 BB/9 || 86 ERA+

Things look a little better in the bullpen, which figures to be anchored by Jacob Barnes and Corey Knebel unless the Brewers make another addition before the season starts. Carlos Torres and Jhan Marinez should continue their capable work in the middle innings, but lefty free agent signee Tommy Milone looks like his non-guaranteed contract might not work out.

And finally, the top pitching prospects:

LHP Josh Hader - 3.90 ERA || 3.85 FIP || 10.88 K/9 || 3.9 BB/9 || 104 ERA+
RHP Brandon Woodruff - 4.27 ERA || 4.15 FIP || 8 K/9 || 3.05 BB/9 || 95 ERA+
RHP Aaron Wilkerson - 4.43 ERA || 4.32 FIP || 8.52 K/9 || 3.18 BB/9 || 92 ERA+
RHP Luis Ortiz - 4.67 ERA || 4.66 FIP || 6.75 K/9 || 2.91 BB/9 || 87 ERA+
RHP Jorge Lopez - 5.55 ERA || 5.52 FIP || 8.02 K/9 || 4.52 BB/9 || 73 ERA+

ZiPS loves Josh Hader and clearly thinks he could be an asset to the big league club right now, giving him the best ERA+ projection of any starting pitcher in the system. Brandon Woodruff, coming off his org MiLB pitcher of the year season in 2016, looks like he could fill some innings in the back of the rotation. Same with Aaron Wilkerson, who received a surprisingly strong projection despite struggling after coming over last July from the Red Sox. Luis Ortiz could still use some polish and after his disastrous campaign last year, ZiPS has soured on Jorge Lopez as a useful big league piece.