After winning 73 games last season and showing some life down the stretch in September, there’s some reason to be cautiously optimistic that the Milwaukee Brewers will continue to improve in 2017. Much of the roster that the club finished last season with remains in place as we head into spring training, and Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projection system believes the Brewers will improve by three victories this coming season and post a 76-86 record.
Milwaukee is predicted to finish tied for third in the division next season by PECOTA, behind the Cubs (91 wins) and Pirates (81 wins). The Cardinals are projected for the same 76 victories as Milwaukee, and PECOTA pegs the Reds to bring up the rear in the NL Central with a 74-88 record. Six other teams are projected to finish ahead of Milwaukee in the National League: the Mets (88 wins), Nationals (87 wins), Marlins (77 wins), Dodgers (98 wins), Giants (86 wins), and Diamondbacks (78 wins). The Brewers are slated to finish tied for ninth in the league at 76 wins with Atlanta, Colorado, and the aforementioned Cardinals.
PECOTA thinks that Milwaukee will be the fourth-best defensive team in the National League in terms of Fielding Runs Above Average, but their projected .247 True Average would rank the offense second-last in the NL. Here is how PECOTA thinks the starting lineup and bench will look:
Brewers 2017 PECOTA - offense
If these projections are to be believed, Ryan Braun should continue his strong production as starting left fielder and yield 3.1 WARP with 27 home runs and 17 steals. Orlando Arcia should also ascend to the level of an everyday-caliber shortstop and accrue 2.4 WARP, though that’s based mostly on his defense as he’s projected for just a .241 TAv (.260 being league-average). Travis Shaw should also enjoy a solid first season in Milwaukee, as he’s forecasted to put together a 2 WARP season and slug 21 home runs in 2017. Keon Broxton and Andrew Susac are both projected to be worth more than 1 WARP despite making less than 400 plate appearances. Scooter Gennett, Hernan Perez, and Jett Bandy all figure to be solid backups off the bench. Top prospect Lewis Brinson is also expected to make an impact in 2017, slugging 6 homers and accruing 0.8 WARP in just 156 plate appearances.
It’s not all encouraging, however. PECOTA obviously hasn’t bought into Jonathan Villar’s breakout campaign last year, projecting him for just a .250 TAv and 1.8 WARP over 626 plate appearances, though the computers do think he’ll rack up 48 stolen bases. Domingo Santana’s defensive issues are expected to continue, as he’s forecasted for just 1.0 WARP in 485 plate appearances despite a .273 TAv and 19 home runs. The projection system is also way down on Eric Thames, who is forecasted to be below replacement-level in his first season back stateside after three years in Korea. That outcome would obviously be a major letdown for Milwaukee’s largest free agent expenditure of the winter.
Now, for the pitching staff:
Brewers 2017 PECOTA - pitchers
Only three pitching staffs (Colorado, San Diego, Cincinnati) in the National League are projected to allow more runs than the 768 that PECOTA thinks the Brewers will cough up this year. Obviously PECOTA doesn’t believe in the excellent second half that Milwaukee’s pitching staff enjoyed. Only one regular member of the pitching staff, Zach Davies, is projected for an ERA below 4.00. Davies also happens to be the only member of the staff that PECOTA feels will eclipse 1.0 WARP in 2017.
Jimmy Nelson, Wily Peralta, Chase Anderson, and Matt Garza are all pegged for roughly the production of a #5 big league starter, each with an ERA between 4.40 and 4.80 and less than 1.0 WARP. Junior Guerra is also projected to take a big step backwards in terms of run prevention, and PECOTA apparently doesn’t believe he’ll even match last year’s innings total. New closer Neftali Feliz is predicted to rack up 36 saves, though with a 4.23 ERA and 9 home runs allowed in 63 innings.
If you want silver linings from Milwaukee’s poorly-projected pitching staff, at least none of the Brewers’ arms are forecasted to be below replacement-level. PECOTA also feels that Jorge Lopez is ready to be a useful swingman in the big leagues even after his brutal season last year, which is encouraging. Finally, Josh Hader is projected for a sub-4.00 ERA this upcoming season, though PECOTA feels he’ll pitch solely in relief upon making his major league debut.
As always, it’s important to remember to take these projection systems with a grain of salt. There numbers listed are merely the 50th percentile outcomes for each player based on thousands of simulations, so there is plenty of room for variance. The win totals especially have a lot of noise, with a standard deviation of five victories meaning that the Brewers could reasonably fall anywhere between 71 and 81 wins in 2017. If I had to bet on players who will outperform their PECOTA projections for next season, I’d put my money on Eric Thames, Jonathan Villar, Jacob Barnes, and of course, Junior Guerra.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball Prospectus