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ZiPS and the 2019 Milwaukee Brewers

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

Divisional Round - Colorado Rockies v Milwaukee Brewers - Game Two Photo by Dylan Buell/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.

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

Player PA BA OBP SLG OPS+ ISO BABIP Def zWAR
Player PA BA OBP SLG OPS+ ISO BABIP Def zWAR
Christian Yelich 673 0.298 0.379 0.522 136 0.224 0.352 3 5.2
Lorenzo Cain 568 0.287 0.359 0.409 104 0.123 0.333 10 3.8
Yasmani Grandal 475 0.238 0.349 0.462 113 0.223 0.283 2 3.2
Travis Shaw 560 0.254 0.34 0.472 113 0.219 0.286 2 3.2
Jesus Aguilar 526 0.258 0.333 0.492 115 0.234 0.303 4 2.4
Ryan Braun 440 0.269 0.332 0.47 110 0.201 0.303 0 1.5
Manny Pina 334 0.247 0.303 0.385 81 0.138 0.289 5 1.3
Eric Thames 427 0.229 0.333 0.485 114 0.256 0.296 -4 1.2
Ben Gamel 530 0.267 0.331 0.413 96 0.146 0.329 -2 0.9
Erik Kratz 263 0.237 0.294 0.378 77 0.141 0.275 3 0.8
Cory Spangenberg 461 0.246 0.306 0.406 87 0.16 0.338 -4 0.7
Hernan Perez 415 0.255 0.286 0.401 80 0.145 0.301 0 0.6
Orlando Arcia 553 0.247 0.294 0.36 73 0.113 0.303 2 0.6
Tyler Saladino 321 0.228 0.292 0.345 68 0.117 0.286 2 0.5

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

Player PA BA OBP SLG OPS+ ISO BABIP Def zWAR
Player PA BA OBP SLG OPS+ ISO BABIP Def zWAR
Keston Hiura 534 0.259 0.315 0.409 90 0.151 0.325 -2 1
Tyrone Taylor 486 0.241 0.285 0.389 77 0.148 0.276 2 0.6
Nate Orf 489 0.224 0.307 0.327 69 0.103 0.274 3 0.5
Mauricio Dubon 483 0.249 0.288 0.363 72 0.114 0.294 1 0.5
Troy Stokes 557 0.206 0.295 0.373 76 0.167 0.275 5 0.4
Max McDowell 328 0.205 0.288 0.281 53 0.076 0.267 6 0.3
Corey Ray 546 0.204 0.277 0.37 70 0.166 0.311 1 0.2
Jake Hager 408 0.231 0.278 0.354 67 0.122 0.283 2 0.2
Jacob Nottingham 348 0.201 0.277 0.361 68 0.16 0.287 -1 0.1
Lucas Erceg 516 0.232 0.28 0.357 68 0.125 0.282 1 -0.2
Jake Gatewood 479 0.222 0.278 0.39 75 0.168 0.318 1 -0.5
Weston Wilson 460 0.219 0.272 0.34 61 0.12 0.295 7 -0.8
Luis Aviles 506 0.206 0.254 0.293 45 0.087 0.307 3 -0.9
Trent Grisham 487 0.2 0.308 0.316 67 0.116 0.275 -3 -0.9
Blake Allemand 405 0.226 0.284 0.325 62 0.099 0.285 -4 -0.9

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

Player TBF K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA+ FIP zWAR
Player TBF K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA+ FIP zWAR
Freddy Peralta 575 12.11 5.1 1.22 0.286 109 4.09 2.2
Corbin Burnes 581 8.71 3.26 1.13 0.293 108 4.11 2.1
Zach Davies 630 6.73 2.78 1.11 0.297 103 4.33 2.1
Jhoulys Chacin 724 7.25 3.63 1.14 0.284 98 4.55 2
Josh Hader 301 15.34 4.3 1.23 0.281 149 3.07 1.6
Brandon Woodruff 511 8.57 3.59 1.07 0.298 101 4.14 1.5
Jimmy Nelson 532 7.94 3.41 1.19 0.299 99 4.46 1.5
Brent Suter 438 7.12 2.08 1.22 0.296 104 4.13 1.4
Chase Anderson 609 7.28 3.19 1.66 0.278 95 5.12 1.4
Corey Knebel 258 13.79 4.06 1.02 0.296 147 3.05 1.3
Jeremy Jeffress 280 9.23 3.53 0.68 0.291 136 3.35 1.2
Junior Guerra 518 8.09 3.86 1.36 0.284 95 4.7 1.2
Alex Claudio 315 5.83 1.78 0.59 0.292 132 3.43 1.2
Aaron Wilkerson 442 8.02 3.48 1.34 0.297 95 4.61 1
Jacob Barnes 268 8.9 4.23 0.73 0.298 117 3.73 0.6
Josh Tomlin 405 6.61 1.12 2.05 0.286 87 5.11 0.5
Deolis Guerra 233 9.16 2.78 1.31 0.3 104 4.04 0.4
Jake Petricka 262 6.75 3.15 0.9 0.305 105 4.15 0.3
Bobby Wahl 193 12.78 5.56 1.24 0.302 107 4.09 0.3
Taylor Williams 248 9.32 4.34 1.13 0.316 98 4.2 0.1
Adrian Houser 397 7.06 3.78 1.64 0.304 81 5.38 0.1
Matt Albers 176 8.49 2.61 1.52 0.293 101 4.48 0.1
Burch Smith 317 8.61 5.22 1.7 0.303 74 5.56 -0.4

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

Player TBF K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA+ FIP zWAR
Player TBF K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA+ FIP zWAR
Trey Supak 548 7.41 4.18 1.03 0.301 95 4.55 1.3
Zack Brown 496 7.4 3.9 1.55 0.298 83 5.2 0.4
Bubba Derby 498 7.47 4.19 1.64 0.303 84 5.42 0.3
Thomas Jankins 552 5.91 3.21 1.46 0.303 82 5.19 0.3
Jon Olczak 236 8.44 4.22 1.01 0.303 101 4.31 0.2
Angel Perdomo 374 8.44 6.3 1.24 0.296 83 5.39 0.2
Tristan Archer 329 7.46 2.96 1.18 0.3 97 4.35 0.2
Quintin Torres-Costa 245 10.44 5.8 0.99 0.297 99 4.36 0.1
Cody Ponce 433 6.59 3.57 1.69 0.302 78 5.51 -0.1
Conor Harber 465 6.77 6.87 1.02 0.299 79 5.59 -0.1
Brad Kuntz 232 8.12 5.12 1.24 0.299 86 5.01 -0.1
Miguel Sanchez 261 10.43 4.6 1.69 0.297 92 5.01 -0.1
Cam Roegner 465 5.65 4.4 1.7 0.299 74 6 -0.4
Braden Webb 487 8.17 6.93 1.42 0.303 74 5.9 -0.4
Marcos Diplan 523 7.76 7.85 1.18 0.306 73 5.94 -0.5
Nate Griep 250 7.39 7.22 0.86 0.299 80 5.33 -0.5

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.