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.
The latest ZiPS post takes a shot at projecting our Milwaukee Brewers for 2019. Like the PECOTA projections released by Baseball Prospectus last week, ZiPS views the Brewers as a talented club that projects for a win total in the high-80s, but Szymborski’s system sees the team as more of an offensive juggernaut that won’t match last year’s run prevention totals
Here’s how ZiPS thinks the current in-house position player group will do:
2019 ZiPS - Hitters
Six players of the position players that figure to be ticketed for mostly everyday roles - Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, Yasmani Grandal, Travis Shaw, Jesus Aguilar, and Ryan Braun - should post better-than-average OPS+ totals in 2019, according to ZiPS, with a seventh above-average bat in Eric Thames available off the bench. Aguilar, Yelich, Shaw, Grandal, and Thames all figure to mash 20+ home runs if they reach their forecasted plate appearance totals. ZiPS doesn’t think very highly of Milwaukee’s current trio of second base candidates, with Hernan Perez and Tyler Saladino both slated for sub-.300 OBPs. Cory Spangenberg projects for slightly more useful offensive production and the most power potential of the group (13 homers), but ZiPS does not expect him to be much of a contributor with the glove. Finally, the computers do not seem to believe in much of an Orlando Arcia bounce back season. Per Szymborski, Arcia is “not much of a starter unless his bat rebounds in a big way.”
Now, here is how the system sees some of Milwaukee’s prospects performing:
2019 ZiPS - Hitting Prospects
Obviously the biggest name to keep an eye on here is Keston Hiura, who is projected as already being a solid - if slightly below-average - bat at the MLB level. ZiPS sees him providing some solid pop, but struggling a touch with strikeouts. Beyond him, none of Milwaukee’s minor league reinforcements are seen as capable of making much of an impact during the coming season. Tyrone Taylor, Nate Orf, and Mauricio Dubon are the only other players projected for a half-win or more of value at their forecasted plate appearnce totals, and each draws most of that value from positive defense.
Here are how things look on the pitching side:
2019 ZiPS - Pitchers
Freddy Peralta projects as the Brewers surprise leader in pitching WAR for 2019, leading the starting pitching candidates in forecasted ERA+ and strikeouts per nine innings. Corbin Burnes, Zach Davies, Brent Suter, and Brandon Woodruff all project as better-than-average when it comes to preventing runs in 2019, as well, while Jhoulys Chacin, Jimmy Nelson, and Chase Anderson all fall just on the other side of that threshold. While the starting pitching looks like it’ll once again fall around the middle of the pack, ZiPS sees the relief corps as potentially dominant. Josh Hader is striking out more than 15 batters per nine while posting an ERA nearly 50% better than league average; meanwhile Jeremy Jeffress, Corey Knebel, and Alex Claudio project 30%+ than average in terms of ERA, with Jacob Barnes, Bobby Wahl, Deolis Guerra, Jake Petricka, and yes, even Matt Albers slated for above-average run prevention totals.
Now, for the pitching prospects:
2019 ZiPS - Pitching Prospects
Interestingly enough, ZiPS likes Trey Supak, and not the org’s #1 pitching prospect in Zack Brown, as the most MLB capable starter currently on reserve in the minor leagues. If he could post 1.3 WAR and a 95 ERA+, Supak would already be on par with most back-end starters around the big leagues. Brown, Bowdien Derby, and Thomas Jankins do at least project as above-replacement level pitchers if they were to be forced into MLB starting roles this season. The volume of useful bullpen depth is quite a bit more notable than in the rotation, with Jon Olczak, Tristan Archer, Quintin Torres-Costa, and Miguel Sanchez all projected for close to league-average run prevention numbers.
When you put it all together and apply the unified replacement level theory, these projections should add up to something in the range of 85-90 victories for our beloved Cream City Nine in 2019. The pitching staff is built much like last season's, with some solid starting arms backed up by an outstanding bullpen that figures to be relied upon quite heavily. The offense should see increased production over last season, as well, with six of the eight projected starting position players forecasted for above-average contributions with the bat. ZiPS, like PECOTA, believes that the Milwaukee Brewers should be legitimate contenders once again during the coming season. We will begin to get a sense of if these projections and expectations can come to fruition when pitchers and catchers report to Arizona on Wednesday.