For a while now, I have been advocating for the position "It is really hard for the Brewers to upgrade, because they are average at every position." Today, I decided to look and see what position groups could be most easily upgraded (predicting it would be CF, RF, 2B or 3B). That is when I discovered that the Brewers actually are not league average most places.
Using the current Fangraphs DepthChart rankings, which to date only includes Steamer, the Brewers are above average in only three position groups: SS, LF and SP. This didn't mesh with my understanding of the ZIPs graphic and was especially confusing considering that Steamer seemed higher on the Brewers position players across the board.
2.0 WAR is generally considered to be average, and the Brewers are above 2.0 WAR at every position except two (2B & DH). That is when I realized my error. I was thinking about the average player not the average production.
Take, for example, CF. The Brewers are shown on zWAR to be projected for 2.2 WAR, by Steamer it is actually 2.9 WAR. I took this to mean they were getting above average production from CF. But that is not the case. While the average Centerfielder may produce 2.0 WAR, the average production a team is projected to receive from centerfield is actually 3.2 WAR. The Brewers are projected to get 0.3-1 WAR below average production from CF.
This ends up being true across the board. Steamer has the Brewers at:
18th at C (.2 below average),
18th at 1B (.3 below average)
25th at 2B (.7 below average)
18th at 3B (.5 below average)
18th in CF (.3 below average)
24th in RF (.9 below average)
22nd at DH (.5 below average)
The bullpen is also below average (17th, 0.2 below average).
While this adds up to losing 3.5 wins to an average team, they make some back at SS, ranked 9th and 0.5 WAR above average, and LF, ranked 5th and 0.8 above average). They end up 1.9 projected WAR from hitters worse than the average team. The starting pitching compensates for this, though, and the Brewers are projected to be 1.4 WAR better than the average team overall, 7th in the NL (Reminder, only 6 teams make the playoffs).
Where can they upgrade? Like we all knew, the main areas are second base and right field (and of course second base can be upgraded by adding a third baseman and shifting Urias over there). So I didn't discover anything on that front. The main thing I learned from this exercise, is that we should think of 3.0 WAR as average for a position. For a team like the Brewers who platoons and uses more than one player for most positions, this is important to consider.