We now have a pretty good idea of what the 2020 MLB regular season should look like. Beginning on July 23rd, each team will play 60 games, facing only regional opponents in order to reduce travel. Every club will be able to begin the season with an expanded roster of 30 players, which drops to 28 after two weeks and then down to 26 another two weeks after that. We already have an idea of what each team’s initial 60-player pool will look like, and for the first time, both the National and American Leagues will play with a designated hitter.
With those particulars and others established, the projection systems can re-calibrate their expectations for the “new normal” that fans will have to get used to this summer. The first ZiPS update pegged the Milwaukee Brewers to finish on the outside of the playoff picture during the upcoming shortened season, putting them in a three-way tie for second place in the NL Central division at 31-29. The most recent PECOTA projections are even more bearish on the Menomonee Valley Nine, forecasting an even 30-30 record and a fourth-place finish in the division.
PECOTA’s initial projections for the Brewers back in February were pessimistic as well, suggesting that the team would finish with 79 wins and their first losing season since 2016. So perhaps it is unsurprising that the Baseball Prospectus computers continue to project gloom for Milwaukee, giving the Brewers only a 12.1% chance to win the division and 14.9% odds to capture one of the Wild Cards. Around the Central, the Reds are seen as the favorites according to PECOTA with a 32.8 win projection and 43.8% chance to win the division, followed by the Cubs (31.6, 24.6%) and Cardinals (30.7, 18.2%). The Pirates are predicted to bring up the rear, averaging 25.9 wins across all projections.
At 30 wins, the Brewers are projected to be the eighth-best team on the Senior Circuit. The Reds, Dodgers, and Nationals are projected to be the division winners with the Mets and Cubs grabbing the two Wild Card spots. In addition to everyone already mentioned, the Braves are the only other NL team projected to finish at least .500 or better.
PECOTA believes that the Brewers will get things done at the plate this year, projecting them to tie for the league’s fourth-highest offensive output at 307 runs scored, or more than five runs per game. Christian Yelich is expected to lead the charge, of course, with PECOTA forecasting a 153 DRC+ and 13 home runs across 221 plate appearances. He is the only Brewer projected to go deep more than 10 times. Surprisingly, PECOTA sees Omar Narvaez as Milwaukee’s second-best hitter this season, projecting him for a 112 DRC+. Avisail Garcia (110 DRC+), Ryan Braun (109 DRC+), and Luis Urias (103 DRC+) are seen as other major contributors on offense, with Justin Smoak (104 DRC+) chipping in an above-average line, as well. Keston Hiura’s 102 DRC+ projection comes off as a bit disappointing, but we’ll learn more about Hiura this season as we see if he can either cut down on his punchouts or if he’ll be able to remain incredibly productive with a strikeout rate north of 30%.
The pitching, on the other hand, is where PECOTA sees problems for Craig Counsell’s squad. The Brewers are projected to allow 302 runs, which ranks 10th among National League clubs. Only three hurlers — Brandon Woodruff (3.73), Josh Hader (2.65) and prospect JP Feyereisen (3.91) — are predicted to post earned run averages below 4.00. Milwaukee’s likely #2-#5 starters — Josh Lindblom, Adrian Houser, Brett Anderson, and Eric Lauer — all have projected Deserved Run Averages above 5.00. Freddy Peralta, Corbin Burnes, Corey Knebel, Brent Suter, Alex Claudio, and Ray Black are all forecasted to be above-average, but only just barely, with each registering a DRA- projection between 90-100. The rest of the group is projected to struggle rather mightily.
This will truly be a Major League Baseball season unlike any that has ever taken place before. David Stearns, Counsell, and the rest of the brain trust will need to quickly figure out which players will be contributors and which players won’t, with each game holding a greater individual importance and less time to tread water while sorting through all the various depth options. The 2020 Brewers were built for a marathon, but how will they be able to handle a 60-game sprint?
Statistics courtesy of Baseball Prospectus