It is pretty safe to say that David Stearns and the Milwaukee Brewers didn’t win many new fans with the way they went about the offseason. There was no shortage of transactions, to be sure, but the central focus of this winter seemed to be “cost-efficiency.” Slingin’ Stearns and company waved goodbye to several players who had been staples of the roster in recent years, opting instead for a bevy of slightly cheaper veterans, bounce back candidates, and buy-low depth all over the depth chart. It was an awful lot of wheel-spinning to arrive at the end result of a payroll reduction greater than 20% from last year and a group full of “ifs” that looks slightly worse on paper than the team that took the field to begin the 2019 season.
The major projection systems aren’t very impressed by the work Stearns and his brain trust undertook this season, either. The initial PECOTA projections from Baseball Prospectus forecasted 79 wins for Milwaukee, which would be their first under .500 season since 2016. Late last week the first ZiPS record projections came out, and while that system feels slightly better about the Brewers, the team would still fall on the outside of the playoff picture if the standings presented by Dan Szymborski come to fruition.
The first run of the ZiPS standings have the Menomonee Valley Nine finishing with an 82-80 record, which would place them in a tie with the Cardinals for runner-up in the National League Central. The Cubs are forecasted to finish first with an 85-77 record, and the Reds would finish fourth at 81-81. The Pirates are projected to finish much further back in the cellar at 71-91.
ZiPS sees the Central as the most competitive division in baseball this year; only the NL East is projected to have as many as four teams finish at .500 or better, and no other division has the top four teams all forecasted to finish within four games of each other. Six teams on the Senior Circuit are listed as having better odds of making the playoffs than the Brewers (30.4%), and six teams also have better chances of winning the World Series (1.9%).
Remember, these standings are created by taking the 50th percentile win projections for each team after running thousands upon thousands of 162-game season simulations, with each arriving at different results for varying reasons that include injuries, under- and over-performance of individual players, under- and over-performance of run differential, etc. With that in mind, the 50th percentile win projection to win the NL Central according to ZiPS is 89.2 wins, lowest of any division in baseball. The 50th percentile projection for the second Wild Card slot is 88.3 wins.
The team over at MLB.com also released their list of World Series favorites ranked #1-30 over the weekend, and the Brewers checked in at 19th, behind division rivals Cubs (#9), Cardinals (#13), and Reds (#14). Here is what Will Leitch had to say about our local nine:
The Cardinals aren’t the only team in the NL Central whose offseason I don’t understand. The Brewers added a little more than the Cardinals did, and they didn’t trade Josh Hader (yet), but for a team with a mega-MVP at his absolute peak, there’s an odd lack of urgency here, no? They still stubbornly refuse to address the rotation outside of absolute bargain-basement deals, and without Yasmani Grandal, their lineup looks like Yelich and a whole lot of wishcasting.
Regardless of how one feels about the moves executed during the offseason and the overall quality of the team, it is clear that once again, the team will have to defy the national expectations in order to qualify for their third-straight postseason berth. Stearns has quieted the doubters before, but coming off a cost-cutting offseason where the tenor was significantly different from the splashy dealings of the previous two winters, the executive is facing more criticism than ever.