After winning 86 games in 2017, and then going out and acquiring Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain, the Milwaukee Brewers entered 2018 with heightened expectations. That was reflected in last season’s PECOTA projection, which pegged the Brewers to be right in the thick of the playoff race and finish with the 7th-best record in the National League at 83-79. But the team wound up not only surpassing that win total, they blew it out of the water; 96 wins later, the Brewers finished the year with a Central Division championship, the top record on the Senior Circuit, and a berth in the NLCS.
This year, PECOTA is even more bullish on our Menomonee Valley Nine. Baseball Prospectus unveiled yesterday what their highly-respected projection system forecasts for the upcoming 2019 season, and as their roster stands right now, the Brewers are forecasted to finish with an 89-73 record during the upcoming season and successfully defend their NL Central crown. That would be the second-highest win total in the National League (tied with Washington), trailing only the Dodgers and their 95 win projection. Only four teams in the American League are projected to finished with better records than Milwaukee.
PECOTA sees the NL Central as the most competitive division in baseball, the only one where all five teams are projected to win at least 81 games or more. In fact, the National League as a whole figures to be tough during the upcoming season, with 12 of 15 teams projected to finish with records of .500 or better. In the American League, it’s only 7 out of 15. That makes it easier to understand why AL teams likes New York (96 wins), Cleveland (96), and Houston (99) are expected to achieve such lofty win totals.
Milwaukee’s pitching staff was surprisingly what led the team into the playoffs last year, and unlike other projection systems out there, PECOTA is buying into the success of Milwaukee’s run prevention system. The Brewers are foretold to finish with the third-fewest runs allowed in the National League and tied for the sixth-fewest in all of baseball. That prognostication is due in no small part to the contributions expected to be made by their defensive unit as well; at +34.3 Fielding Runs Above Average, PECOTA expects Milwaukee’s fielders to be the most productive in the National League and the second-best unit in MLB.
2019 PECOTA - Pitchers
No hurler on Milwaukee’s staff is projected to finish with even 2.0 WARP, but the depth of the unit top-to-bottom is what figures to make it most effective in 2019. PECOTA once again sees the bullpen as the staff’s greatest strength and predicts highly successful seasons from Corey Knebel, Jeremy Jeffress, and Josh Hader in high-leverage. And though it comes with a small innings sample, newly acquired reliever Bobby Wahl is projected for a stellar 3.27 ERA; perhaps he’ll be someone to keep an eye on this spring as he competes for a spot with the relief corps.
Several pitchers in the rotational projections stand out for various reason; Zach Davies is expected to enjoy a major bounce back season, while Chase Anderson is forecasted to be more-or-less the same pitcher he was in 2018 and making that ace-like 2017 into even more of an outlier. The long-awaited Brandon Woodruff breakout is expected to finally commence as he’s pegged for the lowest ERA among starting pitchers. Right behind him, in a spot starting role, is Freddy Peralta. Interestingly enough, the most highly touted member - in the eyes of the scouting community - of Milwaukee’s trio of young starters, Corbin Burnes, is projected for the worst ERA among that group. PECOTA also sees an incredible return season for Jimmy Nelson after missing an entire year with shoulder surgery, though for us fans, it’s difficult to know what to expect until we see Nelson throwing and know what kind of velocity he’s working with.
2019 PECOTA - hitters
On the offensive side of the ball, Milwaukee’s lineup is projected to once again be led by the contributions of Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich. Cain’s top-notch defense at a premium position helps give him the nod over Yelich when it comes to WARP, and though the conjectures rate the reigning MVP as Milwaukee’s top hitter by DRC+ in 2019, he is expected to take a bit of a step back from his otherworldly numbers last year. PECOTA projections help us to see just how big the addition of Yasmani Grandal and his 4.3 WARP projection figures to be when compared to what Manny Pina (0.1 WARP) and Erik Kratz (0.3 WARP) are expected to produce. But the computers still see second base as a potential trouble spot, with Hernan Perez’s 89 DRC+ projection leading the way among candidates to see time at that position. PECOTA doesn’t see Keston Hiura as the savior at that position like many fans do; he’s projected for a rather measly .241/.280/.405 slash for an 83 DRC+. Per Jonathan Judge of the BP Stats Team, a lack of notable success at the upper levels and plate discipline issues manifesting in low walk rates are what makes PECOTA skeptical of Hiura’s 2019 production.
Overall, Milwaukee’s offense is expected to be more middle-of-the-pack than the pitching staff. The club’s 737 runs scored projection ranks sixth-best in the National League 11th-best in Major League Baseball.
As always, it’s important to remember to take these projection systems with a grain of salt. The 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 84 and 94 wins in 2019 as the roster stands today.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball Prospectus