Throughout the winter, Fangraphs has been releasing ZiPS projections for each of the 30 Major League Baseball teams for the 2020 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 2020. Despite a lack of big-name players and an offseason more focused on stockpiling buy-low depth than surround Christian Yelich with a star-studded supporting cast, ZiPS views the Brewers as a talented club that projects for a win total in the mid-80s who should be competitive for the postseason.
Here’s how ZiPS thinks the current in-house position player group will do:
2020 ZiPS — Hitters
ZiPS believes that five of the players who are ticketed for regular playing time — Christian Yelich, Keston Hiura, Ryan Braun, Avisail Garcia, Omar Narveaz, and Justin Smoak — should post better-than-average offensive lines by OPS. Interestingly enough, the only two other players projected by ZiPS to be average or better by OPS+ are Logan Morrison and Ryon Healy, who are both viewed more as depth pieces at this point. Yelich (34), Hiura (27), Smoak (22), and Garcia (21) should mash 20+ dingers, and so too would Healy (23) and LoMo (21) if they were to receive enough playing time. Luis Urias is seen as a legitimate starter at shortstop (2.6 WAR) while Orlando Arcia continues to flounder (75 OPS+, 0.7 WAR). In fact, ZiPS likes Ronny Rodriguez — who was claimed off waivers from one of baseball’s worst teams, the Tigers — even better than Arcia.
Now, here is how the system sees some of Milwaukee’s prospects performing:
2019 ZiPS — Hitting Prospects
Milwaukee’s farm system is routinely rated as one of the worst in baseball these days, and that shows through in these ZiPS projections, at least on the hitting side of things. Only Mark Mathias is projected to be even moderately useful by WAR, and that number is buoyed in large part by his defensive projections; he’s only forecasted for a meager 73 OPS+. The only other two prospects projected to be above replacement level are a pair of catchers — Max McDowell and Mario Feliciano. Top prospect Brice Turang may be a pretty good big leaguer someday, but ZiPS thinks that if he were to get regular MLB at-bats in 2020, he’d post and OPS below .600 and a negative wins above replacement.
Here are how things look on the pitching side:
2020 ZiPS — Pitchers
No surprise here — Brandon Woodruff is projected to be the “ace” of the Milwaukee Nine in 2020, striking out nearly 10 batters per nine while posting a far better than average ERA and an even better 3.52 FIP. The one concern about Woody may be his durability as ZiPS projects him to toss only 122.2 innings. Worth keeping in mind that he’s suffered oblique injuries now in two of the last three seasons. Adrian Houser is the only other starter who the computer predicts to post a better-than-average earned run average, while import Josh Lindblom, trade pickup Eric Lauer, and free agent signee Brett Anderson should all be somewhere within shouting distance of the league midpoint. ZiPS believes that Josh Hader will continue his dominance, and that Corey Knebel will resume his role as late-inning stopper as he returns from Tommy John surgery. In fact, ZiPS thinks pretty highly of Milwaukee’s bullpen group, with Brent Suter, Alex Claudio, and even Deolis Guerra all projected to be 13+% better than league average. Corbin Burnes should bounce back, Freddy Peralta should be a fine swingman, and Eric Yardley, JP Feyereisen, and Ray Black should all be solid.
Now, for the pitching prospects:
2020 ZiPS — Pitching Prospects
Unlike their position players, Milwaukee’s collection of pitching prospects look pretty solid. Alec Bettinger and recent minor league signee Jesus Castillo could both be back-end starters right now. Clayton Andrews projects to be a better-than-average reliever by ERA even though he’s a soft-tossing lefty without much Double-A experience, and he has the added bonus of being a legitimate two-way prospect who has so far posted a .391 OBP with plus defense in center field in 69 plate appearances. Luke Barker, Tyler Spurlin, Miguel Sanchez, Jon Olczak, and Drew Rasmussen would all be within range of league average run prevention as full-time relievers too, if ZiPS is to be believed.
When you put it all together and apply the unified replacement level theory, these projections should add up to something in the range of 85-88 victories for the Brew Crew in 2020. This team is built much like pretty much every David Stearns squad so far — the pitching is made up of some solid starting arms backed up by an outstanding bullpen that figures to be relied upon quite heavily. Christian Yelich should have some help on offense from Keston Hiura as well as a host of useful depth and bit players. ZiPS believes that the Milwaukee Brewers should be legitimate contenders once again during the coming season. And there is still another month or so left for Slingin’ Stearns to work his magic and add more upside to the roster before Spring Training begins in Arizona.