2018 Season Preview: Milwakee Brewers

This piece is part of the Replacement Level 2018 Team Preview Series. An introduction to the series, as well as a brief explanation of the projections used, can be found here.

2017 Review

Record

Pythag Record

BaseRuns Record

Runs Scored

Runs Against

86-76

85-77

84-78

732

697

Christmas came early in Milwaukee, and not just because it started snowing in September. A bountiful collection of young talent broke out left and right across the Brewers’ roster, especially in a pitching staff that rose to 9th in WAR and featured four pitchers in the 3+ win range last year.

The Brewers managed to stay in contention all season – thanks mostly to a hot start – and while some of their gains may not be entirely sustainable, it’s clear that the intention is to win now.

Offseason in Review:

Key Additions – Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, Jhoulys Chacin, Boone Logan

Despite a strong record, there is no shortage of concerns on the Brewers’ roster. Coming into the offseason, it was generally believed that the team could use another reliable starter or two in the wake of Jimmy Nelson’s injury, with help in the lineup being focused on the middle infield positions as Jonathan Villar and Orlando Arcia combined for 0.7 WAR in nearly a thousand PAs in 2017. Instead, they elected to massively upgrade a deep (but possibly not strong) outfield core with Yelich and old friend Cain, leaving limited time for cogs Domingo Santana, Ryan Braun, and Eric Thames. Chacin and Logan represent needed upgrades to the staff, though at $17.5 million combined, Milwaukee would likely have been better served to wait out the free-agent market.

Key Losses – Lewis Brinson, Neil Walker, Anthony Swarzak

Evidently, nobody thought Walker’s ability to put up at least two WAR per season, every season, was worth anything. His departure puts additional pressure on Villar to go out and steal another 60 bases, but replacement level is likely about all that should be hoped. Brinson was sent to Miami for Yelich and represents a potentially huge loss if he can develop into his potential, though ample depth in the outfield and Yelich more than mitigate that risk. Swarzak threw 29 strong innings after coming in from the White Sox, and likely wasn’t a long-term fit with a young team that has quite a few starting prospects who will likely end up in relief.

2018 Projections

ZiPS

Steamer

Pecota

 78-84

78-84

84-78

Pecota is optimistic, thinking the Brewers will once again fall a single game short of a wild-card berth, which maybe isn’t so optimistic when you think about it. ZiPS generally agrees, seeing one of the majors’ deeper rosters, though no one stands out as a superstar-caliber player. Yet there is a real reason to be worried that the 2017 Brewers will take a significant step back, even with the additions of Yelich and Cain; Steamer projects only three above-average hitters between two and Travis Shaw, with Zach Davies the sole two-win starting pitcher.

Key Players:

No doubt the hired guns of Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain will be critical to the Brewers’ success both now and in the future – no small amount of resources were spent in acquiring the two, and they both bring strong overall packages that should age reasonably well. Good defense, high on-base numbers, and occasional power are certainly useful qualities. Lineup mate Travis Shaw was stolen from the 3B-needy Red Sox for a song, leading the offense in value last year, nearly doubling his previous high in home runs with 31. A repeat performance would go a long way to beating the naysaying projections, though they think new ace Zach Davies will do just that as he takes over the reins from the injured Nelson. The Brewers may yet trade for that extra starter everyone seems to think they need, but in either case, Davies will need to be a rotation cog.

Key Minor League 2018 Impacts:

If he can find any playing time – which would likely only come from a litany of injuries – Brett Phillips is probably the biggest impact option in the minor leagues, highlighting the amount of depth available in the Brewers’ outfield. Starter Brandon Woodruff might open 2018 in the majors if no additional starter is acquired, though he and Luis Ortiz are more valuable because of their proximity to the majors than their potential, as neither is likely to be more than a fine mid-rotation arm.

Future Outlook:

The future of the Brewers hinges on a single trade they haven’t made yet. This is a team with a deep lineup and offensive prospects who will shortly be major-league ready, held back by the lack of a dominant starter. Perhaps not surprising given the hitter-friendliness of the lovely Miller Park, still a weakness that needs to be addressed. Nelson likely isn’t the ace they’re looking for, especially considering he’s coming off a significant injury – if they are able to pick up a rotation leader on a cheap contract and pick the right bevy of prospects to send in return, Milwaukee could end up a top team for some years.

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