The Milwaukee Brewers won 86 games last season and put their rebuild firmly in the rear view mirror with their acquisitions of Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain this winter. Last year’s team was projected by most outlets to post a win total somewhere in the mid-70s, leading many to quickly suggest that their success was fluky even as they contended for a playoff spot until the very end of the season. But the Brewers won’t be surprising anyone this season and according to the recently released PECOTA projections from Baseball Prospectus, we should expect our beloved local nine to be right in the thick of the postseason chase once again in 2018.
As their roster stands right now, the Brewers are forecasted to finish with an 83-79 record during the upcoming season. Only seven teams in the National League are projected to finish with a record over .500 and the Brewers are one of them, though PECOTA has them sitting on the outside of the playoff picture. The Dodgers are clearly the class of the NL according to the computer algorithms, with an expected record of 99-63. The Cubs and Nationals are both projected to win their respective divisions as well and finish with matching records of 89-73. Arizona would win the first Wild Card with an 86-76 record, while the Cardinals and Giants would have to go to a tiebreaker for the second Wild Card if they match their 84-78 projections.
PECOTA forecasts the Brewers to finish with a cumulative -4 Fielding Runs Above Average, but that total would also be good enough for sixth-best in the league. Milwaukee’s offense wound up being their Achilles heel last season but the projections think the lineup will be able to produce the league’s fourth-most runs in 2018 at 762. Here’s how PECOTA thinks the starting lineup and bench will look:
If the projections are to be believed, both of Milwaukee’s big winter additions will be their best hitters by WARP in 2018. Lorenzo Cain posted an elite 5.6 WARP in 2017 with Kansas City and the computers believe he’ll continue to be highly productive in his upcoming age-32 season, forecasting 3.5 WARP with a league-average batting line and his usual excellent center field defense. Christian Yelich is projected for 18 home runs and the team’s best True Average at .279, and that may undersell the positive effect that moving to Miller Park could have on his production at the dish. Eric Thames, Domingo Santana, Ryan Braun, Travis Shaw, and Jesus Aguilar are also projected for league-average or better offensive contributions in 2018.
Overall, though, PECOTA expects most of Milwaukee’s biggest producers to take a step back during the upcoming season. With that in mind, it’s certainly encouraging that the Brewers are still projected to have one of the top run-scoring offenses in the league even though none of their returning starters are expected to match their production from last season. One could posit that the team’s offensive ceiling may well be much higher if any or all of Travis Shaw, Eric Thames, Manny Pina, Domingo Santana, or Orlando Arcia approach their numbers from last season.
Run prevention was the strength of the team last year but the loss of Jimmy Nelson has Milwaukee’s staff slated to take a step back in 2018. Their collection of hurlers is projected to finish ninth in the league with 738 runs allowed and no one currently in-house is projected to surpass 2.0 WARP. Zach Davies, Chase Anderson, and Jhoulys Chacin are the three pitchers right now that are ticketed for the Opening Day starting rotation, and all three of them are expected to finish with an ERA between 4.10-4.30. That level of production seems like par for the course for Davies and Chacin but would be quite a sharp regression from the sub-3.00 mark that Anderson compiled in 2017. None of the group battling for the #4 and #5 spots – Brent Suter, Yovani Gallardo, Junior Guerra, Brandon Woodruff, and Aaron Wilkerson – jump off the page with their projections. A healthy Jimmy Nelson would be the far-and-away the top pitcher in the rotation with a 3.58 ERA, but there’s no telling how effective he’ll actually be upon his return from shoulder surgery. Interestingly, PECOTA appears to be pretty high on top pitching prospect Corbin Burnes and projects him to be roughly a league-average starter even before stepping foot on a AAA mound.
Things look better in the bullpen, which figures to be anchored by another All-Star level season from Corey Knebel. Josh Hader and Jacob Barnes ought to form an effective setup combo, and the computers are pretty high on Oliver Drake, too. Jeremy Jeffress and Matt Albers look more like roster filler in the eyes of PECOTA and according to the projections, Adrian Houser and Taylor Williams may be nipping at their heels before too long.
What these projections illustrate are the same sorts of things that have been suggested throughout the winter – it’s a top-heavy National League with only a handful of teams projected to finish with winning records, creating an ideal situation for a team like the Brewers to try and boost their postseason hopes. Five teams have projected win totals between 81 and 86 games, including the Milwaukee Nine, which ought to make for a hotly contested Wild Card race. We have been saying it all offseason, but the numbers make it even easier to see where the team should look to upgrade their roster – in the starting rotation and at second base. There is still time for Slingin’ Stearns to shore up those needs before the regular season begins and give his team a further boost in their quest for a championship.
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 78 and 88 wins in 2018 as the roster stands today. If I had to bet on players who will outperform their PECOTA projections for next season, I’d put my money on Travis Shaw, Chase Anderson, Christian Yelich, Orlando Arcia, and of course, Junior Guerra.