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ZiPS and the 2018 Milwaukee Brewers

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

Cincinnati Reds V Milwaukee Brewers Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

Throughout the winter, Fangraphs has been releasing ZiPS projections for each of the 30 Major League Baseball teams for the 2018 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.

Today, it was the Milwaukee Brewers’ turn to be run through the computers. ZiPS seems to confirm what we’ve known about this club all along; almost all of the key contributors from last year’s 86-win team are slated to return, and while they lack a true star-caliber producer, Milwaukee’s depth across the board should make for another competitive ball club in 2018.

Here’s how ZiPS thinks the current in-house position player group will do:

ZiPS believes that the Brewers may have some struggles offensively, with only four players producing at an above-average at the plate (as measured by wRC+). The team is projected to strike out A LOT, with six players receiving forecasts of K-rates greater than 25%. The 2017 Brewers lived and died with the long ball, and ZiPS sees more of the same in 2018 - if the plate appearances projected for each player were to come to fruition (although they probably won’t, the average NL team compiled 6,178 PA in 2017, which is about 175 less than the above projections add up to), the club would combine for 232 dingers. The computers peg Eric Thames, Travis Shaw, Domingo Santana, Brett Phillips, Ryan Braun, and Keon Broxton to each club 20+ home runs during the span of the season. Aggressiveness on the base paths also figures to once again be a prevalent feature of the Milwaukee Nine, as the group is projected to swipe 145 bags.

Now, here are some of the more notable prospects in Milwaukee’s farm system:

Milwaukee’s #1 prospect, Lewis Brinson, is also its most big league-ready according to ZiPS. His offense projects to come in a fair bit below average, but ZiPS does think he would hit 16 home runs and collect 11 steals across his 439 projected plate appearances. He would generate 1.6 wins above replacement in what amounts to slightly less than everyday playing time. Mauricio Dubon, Monte Harrison, and Jacob Nottingham also project as better-than-replacement level players for 2018. Notable younger players like Lucas Erceg, Isan Diaz, Trent Grisham, and Corey Ray are still believed to have a long ways to go before they are positive MLB contributors.

On the pitching side, here’s how the staff (as currently assembled) is projected to hold up next season:

Once again, the name of the game here is depth. The Brewers lack for a true ace, especially since Jimmy Nelson, who is projected to be their best pitcher, will begin the season on the shelf after undergoing shoulder surgery. ZiPS believes that Zach Davies will serve as the nominal “ace” of next year’s staff, racking up 3.4 WAR across 189.0 innings pitched. Some noticeable regression is expected from Chase Anderson, but he’s still slated for 1.9 WAR across 135.1 innings. ZiPS is quite high on Brandon Woodruff, believing him to already be a capable mid-rotation starter who will produce a better-than-average ERA and FIP next season while accruing 1.9 WAR in 121.0 innings. Newcomer Jhoulys Chacin figures to eat up plenty of innings, but the results (108 ERA-, 1.2 WAR) don’t project to be as strong as most are probably hoping for. According to ZiPS, Brent Suter is the most capable option for the 5th starter, with both Junior Guerra and Yovani Gallardo projected for ERAs above 5.00.

If ZiPS is any indication, the Brewers could have a very strong bullpen made up of the current candidates on-hand. Corey Knebel projects to build on his outstanding breakout campaign from last season; post author Carson Cistulli notes that his projection is not dissimilar from Kenley Jansen of the Dodgers. Jacob Barnes, Jeremy Jeffress, and Oliver Drake all experienced their ups-and-downs last season, but ZiPS believes they’ll form a potent group of set-up men in 2018. Josh Hader’s success also looks like it has a good chance of carrying over into next year, including a forecasted 13.36 K/9 for the southpaw.

Now, for the top pitching prospects and other prominent members of the 40 man roster:

ZiPS, like seemingly every Brewers fan on Twitter and in our comments section, is already a big fan of Corbin Burnes even though he has yet to throw a single pitch above AA. The computer algorithms like Burnes as a league-average starter, and also see Aaron Wilkerson, Jon Perrin, and Taylor Jungmann as capable of soaking up some quality innings if the need arises. Beyond that quartet of arms, the projections aren’t exactly promising for the rest of Milwaukee’s minor league depth; only Wei-Chung Wang (104 ERA-) is projected for an earned run average within shouting distance of the league mean.

In taking stock of what the Milwaukee Brewers have using ZiPS, it’s not difficult to see the making of a competitive ball club. As assembled, the probable 25 man roster for 2018 projects for somewhere between 80-85 wins next season based on the WAR totals presented (remember, a team of replacement-level players would win about 48 games in a given season). It’s clear that the Brewers have an outstanding collection of depth in place, but these projections also highlight the areas of need that this site has identified on numerous occasions throughout the winter. A front-line caliber starting pitcher would make a significant impact on the rotation, with someone like Chris Archer or Jake Arrieta filling the shoes of the injured Nelson much more capably than Brent Suter figures to. A modest upgrade at second base would also be a big help (for example, Neil Walker projects for 2.2 WAR and a 108 wRC+ in 483 PA according to ZiPS), as would adding another reliable bullpen arm.

The latest projections from ZiPS should help instill confidence in the local faithful that our beloved nine will once again challenge for the postseason in 2018. But they should also make fans eager to see more activity as the winter continues and the calendar turns to 2018, the types of moves designed to help this team get over the top and into October. Let’s hope that David Stearns doesn’t rest on his laurels for the remainder of the offseason, and that he’s got one or two more impactful transactions up his sleeve before his team heads to Arizona for Spring Training.