NL Central Preview: Milwaukee Brewers

Milwaukee Brewers

Manager: Craig Counsell (5th Season)

2018 Record: 96-67 (1st in NL Central)    2019 Payroll: $123,887,500 (14th in MLB)

Additions: C Yasmani Grandal, 3B Mike Moustakas (re-signed), OF Ben Gamel, 2B Cory Spangenberg, RP Jake Petricka, RP Alex Claudio, RP Bobby Wahl

Losses:  2B Jonathan Schoop (Twins), SP Wade Miley (Astros), RP Joakim Soria (A’s), SP Gio Gonzalez, OF Curtis Granderson, Keon Broxton (Mets), SS Eric Sogard (Blue Jays), RP Dan Jennings (Angels), C Stephen Vogt (Giants)

The Brewers were quiet for most of the off season, but then they signed Yasmani Grandal to a 1-year, $18.25 million deal. Grandal hit .241 with 24 homers and 68 RBI in 2018. He wasn’t very valuable on offense last year as shown by his -.57 WPA last season, meaning he actually decreased his team’s chances of winning more than increasing it last season when he was in the batter’s box. However, defensively Yasmani Grandal was the BEST pitch framer in all of baseball in 2018! That sort of stat can make anything he brings to the plate a bonus. The Brewers also brought back Mike Moustakas, which definitely improves their offense, but also forces either Moustakas or Travis Shaw to probably play second base if they’re going to get regular at-bats. Another move the Brewers made was trading Keon Broxton to the Mets for RHP Bobby Wahl, RHP Adam Hill and INF Felix Valerio. Wahl is the only one that might be seen in 2019, with a fastball sitting around 95 mph, and a slider, curveball and changeup. Wahl hasn’t gotten much big league time, but has looked good in AAA with high strikeout numbers and is right on the cusp. Broxton isn’t a big loss considering the team already has the outfield filled. One of the players already slotted to fill the backup outfielder role is Ben Gamel. Gamel was acquired alongside minor league pitcher Noah Zavalos from Seattle for Domingo Santana. Gamel hit .272 in 2018, but had just 1 home run versus 11 in 2017 while having just over half as many at-bats.

Let’s take a look at what I think will be the 2019 lineup to start the season and along with some projected stats from Fangraphs.

2019 Brewers Lineup (Projected Statistics)

Pos Batter HR RBI AVG OBP SLG OPS Fld WAR
CF Lorenzo Cain 14 59 0.284 0.356 0.422 0.778 3.3 3.8
RF Christian Yelich 27 87 0.297 0.381 0.515 0.896 1.6 5.1
LF Ryan Braun 23 73 0.265 0.331 0.477 0.807 -2.0 1.6
1B Jesus Aguilar 28 84 0.242 0.317 0.454 0.771 1.1 1.1
2B Mike Moustakas 32 78 0.261 0.321 0.489 0.809 -4.3 2.5
3B Travis Shaw 27 86 0.249 0.334 0.457 0.792 -1.8 2.7
C Yasmani Grandal 22 65 0.237 0.344 0.453 0.797 0.1 3.2
SS Orlando Arcia 10 50 0.254 0.302 0.377 0.679 -0.4 1.0
Bench
1B Eric Thames 9 25 0.235 0.329 0.459 0.789 -0.5 0.4
2B Hernan Perez 7 32 0.253 0.291 0.394 0.685 -2.5 0.3
OF Ben Gamel 2 11 0.267 0.333 0.393 0.726 -0.3 0.1
C Manny Pina 1 3 0.25 0.306 0.388 0.694 0.2 0.1

Reigning MVP Christian Yelich is back in right field. Many think that there’s no way he can repeat the season he had, but who knows. Even if there is a drop off, he’s still a very productive player. Lorenzo Cain looks to be solid again atop the Brewers’ order and is the best defensive outfielder in terms of outs above average. Overall, the Brewers have the same guys back offensively from a team that was 7th in the MLB in offensive WAR last season, with an upgrade at catcher. Their offense should be fine in 2019, but of course we all want to see what Yelich is going to do as an encore. Jesus Aguilar and Yasmani Grandal were both top 5 in the MLB in pitches per plate appearance last season so the Brewers are going to make pitchers work.

There’s also a chance top prospect Keston Hiura gets called up at some point this season. Hiura made it all the way to AA last season in just his first full season and won the Arizona Fall League MVP. He’s not great defensively, but at second base he’s still better than Moustakas or Shaw. Hiura has lightning-quick hands that allow him to catch up to top-level velocity and he has both power and bat control. He’ll have to work on his footwork and plate discipline a little more before he gets the call up, but Brewers fans should be excited for this one. There is also a chance top 5 prospects Corey Ray and Mauricio Dubon find themselves in Milwaukee sometime this season. There is a lot of young positional talent close to the majors for the Brewers.

Time to take a look at the starting rotation for the 2019 Brewers.

2019 Brewers Starting Rotation (Projected Statistics)

Pitcher ERA GS IP SO WHIP K/9 BB/9 WAR
Jhoulys Chacin 4.70 32 187 155 1.43 7.49 3.44 1.2
Zach Davies 4.62 28 161 121 1.41 6.78 2.91 1.1
Chase Anderson 4.99 26 145 125 1.39 7.75 3.11 0.8
Brandon Woodruff 4.45 24 134 121 1.39 8.11 3.54 1.2
Jimmy Nelson 4.21 19 112 108 1.32 8.67 3.12 1.6

The starting rotation is the Brewers biggest weakness. Last year, Counsell used the bullpen heavily at the end of the year. The Brewers’ starters as a unit were 11th in the MLB in ERA and 17th in WAR; which was good enough to contend for the division because the Cubs were 10th in starter ERA and 18th in WAR. Jhoulys Chacin was a big surprise in 2018 with a 3.50 ERA along with Wade Miley and his 2.57 ERA. Miley is now in Houston and Chacin’s projected ERA is over a run higher than last season. Chacin and Miley succeeded despite low strikeout rates because they kept the ball in the ballpark last season. Zach Davies is another guy with a low strikeout rate (2.86 per 9 innings) and low walk rate (6.68 per 9 innings) in 2018.

Chase Anderson had an ERA around 4 last year and was only worth 0.4 WAR and seems to be a typical sort of 4-5 starter. Anderson has struggled in his first 2 spring training starts giving up 4 home runs and 9 runs total in just 10 innings. Brandon Woodruff has been on the verge of cracking the Brewers’ rotation for the past few years. He was good last year during Milwaukee’s playoff run and of course all Brewers fans will remember him for his homer in Game 1 of the NLCS off Clayton Kershaw. Jimmy Nelson is a big factor in how the Brewers’ pitching staff will look in 2019. He was really impressive in 2017, but he missed the entire 2018 season. Overall, projections have the Brewers’ staff being worse in 2019, but projections also probably had them a lot worse before last season too.

2019 Brewers Bullpen (Projected Statistics)

Pitcher ERA G IP SO WHIP K/9 BB/9 WAR
Corey Knebel 3.06 65 65 92 1.16 12.7 3.87 1
Josh Hader 2.95 65 65 98 1.12 13.58 3.93 1
Jeremy Jeffress 3.44 55 55 58 1.3 9.48 3.51 0.5
Matt Albers 4.24 55 55 50 1.35 8.16 3.13 0.1
Junior Guerra 3.89 45 45 48 1.26 9.64 3.15 0.3
Alex Claudio 3.65 40 40 29 1.34 6.56 2.5 0.3
Taylor Williams 4.12 35 35 37 1.35 9.61 3.93 0.1
Jacob Barnes 4.06 30 30 29 1.39 8.84 3.97 0.1
Bobby Wahl 3.66 20 20 25 1.29 11.33 4.39 0.2

It’s no secret Milwaukee’s key to success in 2018 was their bullpen. It was the 4th best bullpen in the MLB in terms of WAR and 5th in terms of ERA. Josh Hader was unbelievable, leading the National League in strikeouts per 9 innings. Hader also led the team in pitching WAR. That is really impressive for a reliever and speaks to how often he was used in 2018. Not only did they have the National League leader in strikeouts per 9 innings, but they had number three on the list too in Corey Knebel. Knebel was another great late game option for Craig Counsell last season. Jeremy Jeffress was another important option during the season for the Brewers. Jeffress led the staff in WPA and pitching in many high leverage innings. Jeffress really struggled in the playoffs and can hopefully put that behind him going into 2019. After that, Jacob Barnes still throws hard. We’ll see if the Brewers go with Corbin Burnes, but he might be better as a future starter. Claudio is a newly-signed lefty that throws slow as molasses with a big curve. Guerra could be solid again and a long relief man. The Brewers have some bullpen depth; but getting into the playoffs will be on those core guys of Hader, Knebel and Jeffress.

Lastly, a look at the future for the Milwaukee Brewers.

Top 10 Prospects: Milwaukee Brewers

Rank Player Age Highest Level Position ETA
1 Keston Hiura 22 AA 2B 2019
2 Tristen Lutz 20 A RF 2022
3 Corey Ray 24 AA CF 2019
4 Brice Turang 19 R SS 2022
5 Mauricio Dubon 24 AAA SS 2019
6 Zack Brown 24 AA RHP 2019
7 Mario Feliciano 20 A+ C 2022
8 Eduardo Garcia 16 N/A SS 2024
9 Aaron Ashby 20.6 A LHP 2022
10 Joe Gray 18.8 R CF 2023

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