2021 ZiPS Projections: Milwaukee Brewers

After having typically appeared in the hallowed pages of Baseball Think Factory, Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections have now been released at FanGraphs for nine years. The exercise continues this offseason. Below are the projections for the Milwaukee Brewers.

Batters

Milwaukee’s approach to replacing Yasmani Grandal (.848 OPS in 2019), Mike Moustakas (.845), and Eric Thames (.851) took the form of, well, nothing. That’s possibly a little too cruel, but it wasn’t reasonable to expect Justin Smoak, Avisaíl García, and Eric Sogard to make up for that production. Losing Lorenzo Cain due to his opt-out — and let’s be clear that nobody should fault him at all for this — caught the team by surprise as well, necessitating Garcia as the center fielder. Overall, from 2019 to ’20, the Brewers saw improved offense at one position (shortstop), held serve at a second (center), and lost ground everywhere else. Sum up everything, and the lineup combined for an 89 wRC+, the 10th-worst in team history and a 10-point drop from 2019. To put this into context, this was only slightly better than the Brew Crew did in their one season as the Seattle Pilots.

Thanks to 16 teams qualifying for the playoffs, that still wasn’t enough to prevent Milwaukee from October baseball. Like the rest of the NL Central, the Brewers were quietly dispatched in the wild-card round. With a 16-team playoff structure unlikely for 2021, a repeat performance would likely doom any quest for a postseason appearance.

Christian Yelich’s 2020 was wildly successful in one sense, in that he returned from an extremely painful broken kneecap that prematurely ended his 2019 season and played in 58 of 60 possible games. But outside of the health factor, the season was a forgettable one, with the former MVP hitting .205/.356/.430 for a wRC+ of 112 and 0.7 WAR. It says a lot about the Brewers that he led the hitters in WAR. He came back an extremely passive hitter, swinging at far fewer pitches than ever before, which was unfortunately combined with the worst contact numbers of his career. But ZiPS isn’t a doomsayer on Yelich, projecting a solid bounceback campaign in 2021. ZiPS sees Yelich’s peripheral numbers in 2020 supporting a .321 BABIP, not even in the same galaxy as his actual .259, and he’s 29, not 39.

The Brewers will need that rebound year from Yelich because the lineup is projected to continue to be underwhelming. Cain’s return will help, but there’s not a single position, outside of left field and center field, that ZiPS gauges as clearly better than league-average. And in most cases, it falls short of even that unambitious threshold. That’s not to say this roster is without upside — it would be a really bad idea to throw in the towel on Keston Hiura based on his 2020 — but run scoring looks like it will be a challenge. The Brewers would be wise to bring in someone like Justin Turner at third and perhaps Joc Pederson with a suitable platoon partner, but I don’t expect the team to make any more waves than that. It’s a pity, too, given that nobody in the NL Central looks like they’re going to chase wins this offseason.

Pitchers

The offensive magic was gone, but the pitching sorcery continued in 2020 and was the primary reason the final record was as close to .500 as it was. You may think it was driven only by the bullpen, a dependable and deep group headed by Josh Hader, Rookie of the Year Devin Williams, and the usual supporting cast of overachieving castoffs and fringe prospects. Not to say the relief corps wasn’t solid, but there were some real bright spots in the rotation. At the top was Brandon Woodruff, who continued to display ace potential and showed little residual issues from an oblique injury he suffered in 2019. I was mildly surprised he didn’t pick up a stray vote or two at the back of Cy Young ballots.

Another huge contributor was Corbin Burnes, who many might have given up on after he allowed 17 round-trippers in just 49 innings in 2019. A better year should have always been expected (ZiPS projected an ERA around four in 2020) given the extreme volatility of home run numbers for pitchers, but Burnes didn’t just rely on regression toward the mean. He revamped his repertoire, mostly abandoning his traditional fastball for a 96-mph sinker combined with a 93-mph cutter. That was enormously successful, as he struck out 13 batters per nine and saw the average exit velocity against his pitches drop by three miles per hour season-over-season. Unlike his rotation-mate Woodruff, Burnes did snag a couple boxes in the Cy voting.

ZiPS is also more optimistic about Adrian Houser and Josh Lindblom than their 2020 performances. Now, the computer isn’t saying the either is a hidden diamond in the rough — though Houser gave some indications in 2019 that he could be — but if they each could eat 150 innings with an ERA in the mid-fours, they’ll be real contributors. I do think that this roster could use one more starting pitcher, especially if Freddy Peralta isn’t given another go at the rotation in 2021. If the Brewers can fix Jordan Lyles on two separate occasions, I’d be interested to see them work with a more talented reclamation projection, like Chris Archer. Lefties have always struggled to hit for power against Jake Odorizzi, so that would be another fun player to bring in and unlikely to be a huge expense for the team.

What can you say about the bullpen? I’m disappointed that Corey Knebel isn’t returning, but of the teams ZiPS has tackled so far this offseason (Milwaukee is the 17th), this group has the fourth-best projection overall, even with Williams falling back from his phenomenal rookie campaign. There’s still space at the back for another arm or two, however, as ZiPS is not crazy about Justin Topa or Ray Black. I had hoped that Alex Claudio was going to be tendered, as he still has enough upside to be interesting as depth, but the Brewers cut ties with him for the second straight offseason.

Ballpark graphic courtesy Eephus League. Depth charts constructed by way of those listed here.

Batters – Standard
Player B Age PO PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Christian Yelich L 29 RF 618 524 97 143 29 3 32 88 85 150 18 4
Lorenzo Cain R 35 CF 511 460 64 127 21 2 8 35 44 84 14 5
Luis Urías R 24 SS 545 479 64 118 24 5 11 60 53 128 6 4
Daniel Vogelbach L 28 DH 490 414 64 99 18 0 24 72 72 120 0 0
Keston Hiura R 24 2B 610 548 79 135 27 3 28 86 42 184 12 6
Jedd Gyorko R 32 3B 358 316 40 76 12 1 15 46 36 91 2 0
Manny Piña R 34 C 275 247 25 58 11 1 8 29 18 68 1 0
Avisaíl García R 30 RF 525 479 59 129 24 2 16 64 34 121 5 4
Billy McKinney L 26 RF 439 395 55 93 21 5 17 48 36 114 1 2
Mark Mathias R 26 2B 426 381 44 89 23 2 8 37 33 100 9 1
Orlando Arcia R 26 SS 531 488 54 122 21 2 13 55 37 106 8 4
Jace Peterson L 31 3B 364 313 38 72 15 3 7 36 47 85 10 3
Omar Narváez L 29 C 393 343 38 84 14 0 13 39 44 88 0 0
Logan Morrison L 33 1B 335 298 41 68 15 1 18 48 32 84 1 1
David Freitas R 32 C 359 324 39 83 18 0 7 34 30 67 0 0
Ronny Rodríguez R 29 2B 495 466 53 115 22 4 19 69 20 118 8 3
Ryan Braun R 37 1B 422 389 48 98 23 3 17 65 24 89 5 1
Mario Feliciano R 22 C 515 477 56 104 21 5 18 65 27 185 1 2
Tyrone Taylor R 27 RF 390 359 45 84 19 3 14 47 22 91 5 1
Zach Green R 27 3B 395 356 46 74 19 2 18 55 31 152 1 1
Brice Turang L 21 SS 571 503 60 109 18 6 6 34 62 147 22 5
Eric Sogard L 35 3B 364 323 37 77 16 1 5 26 34 56 4 1
Ben Gamel L 29 LF 430 384 50 95 22 4 8 37 41 111 4 3
Jacob Nottingham R 26 C 312 278 34 54 12 1 11 40 24 111 3 1
Lucas Erceg L 26 3B 490 450 51 98 20 1 14 49 35 128 3 3
Luke Maile R 30 C 234 215 20 43 9 1 4 22 16 58 1 0
Cooper Hummel B 26 LF 407 344 46 67 12 2 11 37 53 135 3 4
Keon Broxton R 31 CF 368 329 41 60 9 2 13 34 33 165 17 6
Andres Blanco B 37 2B 410 366 43 76 16 2 9 36 32 98 2 3
Jamie Westbrook R 26 LF 513 473 55 112 19 2 14 51 28 99 2 2
Tuffy Gosewisch R 37 C 239 217 20 38 8 0 4 17 15 71 0 1
Tristen Lutz R 22 CF 524 475 55 94 22 3 16 56 40 192 4 3
Payton Henry R 24 C 471 429 43 78 15 2 13 45 26 185 1 2
Corey Ray L 26 CF 482 437 49 80 19 3 14 46 41 207 16 8
Chad Spanberger L 25 RF 502 462 50 93 20 2 16 54 33 169 6 3
Ryan Aguilar L 26 1B 491 429 47 75 13 3 8 33 54 191 6 2
Jake Gatewood R 25 3B 466 430 46 79 17 2 15 48 31 197 4 1

 

Batters – Advanced
Player BA OBP SLG OPS+ ISO BABIP RC/27 Def WAR No. 1 Comp
Christian Yelich .273 .379 .523 135 .250 .325 7.6 0 4.3 Bobby Abreu
Lorenzo Cain .276 .344 .383 92 .107 .323 5.0 7 2.3 Fred Schulte
Luis Urías .246 .333 .386 90 .140 .315 4.6 4 2.1 Kurt Stillwell
Daniel Vogelbach .239 .353 .457 112 .217 .278 5.7 0 1.8 Kila Ka’aihue
Keston Hiura .246 .318 .460 102 .214 .318 5.2 -6 1.8 Rick Schu
Jedd Gyorko .241 .318 .427 95 .187 .290 4.9 1 1.2 Rich Rollins
Manny Piña .235 .303 .385 80 .150 .292 4.2 4 1.0 Mike Heath
Avisaíl García .269 .328 .428 98 .159 .330 5.1 0 1.0 Pat Tabler
Billy McKinney .235 .304 .443 94 .208 .288 4.7 4 1.0 Nick Evans 에반스
Mark Mathias .234 .301 .367 76 .134 .297 4.1 5 1.0 Edgar Gonzalez
Orlando Arcia .250 .304 .381 80 .131 .295 4.2 1 1.0 Greg Legg
Jace Peterson .230 .332 .364 85 .134 .294 4.4 0 0.8 Tony Piet
Omar Narváez .245 .337 .399 94 .155 .293 4.8 -9 0.8 Earl Grace
Logan Morrison .228 .310 .466 102 .238 .255 5.0 1 0.8 Dave May
David Freitas .256 .323 .377 85 .120 .304 4.4 -3 0.7 Robert Machado
Ronny Rodríguez .247 .276 .433 84 .187 .292 4.3 0 0.7 Clint Barmes
Ryan Braun .252 .303 .458 97 .206 .286 5.1 -1 0.6 Al Simmons
Mario Feliciano .218 .268 .396 72 .178 .314 3.6 1 0.5 Bill Worden
Tyrone Taylor .234 .285 .421 83 .187 .276 4.3 4 0.5 Jorge Piedra
Zach Green .208 .281 .424 83 .216 .301 4.0 0 0.5 Josh Bonifay
Brice Turang .217 .303 .312 64 .095 .294 3.5 1 0.4 Ryne Sandberg
Eric Sogard .238 .314 .341 74 .102 .275 3.9 1 0.3 Rico Rossy
Ben Gamel .247 .323 .388 87 .141 .328 4.4 -1 0.3 Pat Sheridan
Jacob Nottingham .194 .276 .363 67 .169 .276 3.4 -2 0.0 Jonathan Aceves
Lucas Erceg .218 .276 .360 66 .142 .273 3.4 3 -0.1 Eric Duncan
Luke Maile .200 .258 .307 49 .107 .255 2.7 1 -0.3 Tom Nieto
Cooper Hummel .195 .317 .337 74 .142 .283 3.4 -1 -0.3 Jason Evans
Keon Broxton .182 .262 .340 58 .158 .311 3.1 1 -0.3 Bo Porter
Andres Blanco .208 .288 .336 65 .128 .259 3.2 -3 -0.5 Gene Michael
Jamie Westbrook .237 .287 .374 73 .137 .272 3.7 0 -0.6 Ron Henika
Tuffy Gosewisch .175 .244 .267 35 .092 .239 2.0 1 -0.8 Tony Pena
Tristen Lutz .198 .265 .358 63 .160 .292 3.2 -3 -0.8 Brent Clevlen
Payton Henry .182 .248 .317 48 .135 .281 2.5 1 -0.9 Alan Probst
Corey Ray .183 .255 .336 55 .153 .306 2.8 1 -0.9 Colin Porter
Chad Spanberger .201 .259 .357 61 .156 .278 3.1 -2 -1.6 Brian Turner
Ryan Aguilar .175 .270 .275 45 .100 .291 2.5 5 -1.7 Jeff Conger
Jake Gatewood .184 .240 .337 50 .153 .294 2.7 -4 -1.7 Chris Shaddy

 

Pitchers – Standard
Player T Age W L ERA G GS IP H ER HR BB SO FIP
Brandon Woodruff R 28 9 6 3.71 28 25 138.3 121 57 18 42 160 3.62
Corbin Burnes R 26 6 4 3.73 38 18 115.7 98 48 14 43 143 3.53
Josh Hader L 27 5 2 2.77 60 0 68.3 40 21 9 27 117 2.83
Adrian Houser R 28 7 7 4.37 35 23 123.7 121 60 18 43 118 4.38
Freddy Peralta R 25 7 6 4.18 40 13 107.7 88 50 17 48 139 4.13
Brent Suter L 31 5 4 4.02 28 14 87.3 83 39 15 19 89 4.13
Josh Lindblom R 34 8 7 4.58 24 22 125.7 125 64 21 35 123 4.37
Brett Anderson L 33 8 8 4.69 23 23 117.0 129 61 16 32 71 4.67
Alec Bettinger R 25 6 7 4.90 26 26 132.3 134 72 26 43 131 4.89
Devin Williams R 26 6 4 3.49 52 0 67.0 51 26 8 37 95 3.73
Thomas Jankins R 25 8 9 5.09 27 24 138.0 153 78 25 40 102 5.08
Dylan File R 25 10 12 5.15 26 26 138.0 153 79 29 31 112 5.14
Eric Lauer L 26 6 7 5.01 24 23 116.7 121 65 21 45 113 4.89
Drew Rasmussen R 25 3 2 4.43 21 11 69.0 59 34 11 37 87 4.51
Jake Faria R 27 6 7 4.89 36 15 103.0 99 56 18 49 106 4.97
Bowden Francis R 25 7 9 5.28 28 26 129.7 132 76 24 62 127 5.22
Aaron Wilkerson R 32 4 5 5.11 21 16 86.3 88 49 16 35 83 5.02
Alex Claudio L 29 2 2 3.92 66 0 59.7 60 26 5 17 42 3.87
Chris Lee L 28 3 3 4.86 20 7 66.7 68 36 8 33 53 4.77
Johan Belisario R 27 4 5 4.91 23 7 66.0 69 36 10 25 53 4.82
Eric Yardley R 30 3 2 4.13 50 0 61.0 62 28 7 20 45 4.33
Clayton Andrews L 24 3 3 4.31 40 0 56.3 48 27 8 30 69 4.28
Zack Brown R 26 4 5 5.51 23 21 111.0 118 68 21 55 92 5.63
Angel Perdomo L 27 3 3 4.92 30 6 60.3 51 33 8 46 76 4.87
Luke Barker R 29 3 3 4.38 41 0 51.3 49 25 7 20 52 4.27
Miguel Sanchez R 27 3 3 4.88 38 3 59.0 56 32 10 28 65 4.76
J.P. Feyereisen R 28 4 4 4.47 35 0 50.3 43 25 7 29 61 4.47
Justin Topa R 30 2 3 4.98 20 2 34.3 37 19 5 13 27 4.81
Bobby Wahl R 29 2 2 4.50 26 0 26.0 22 13 4 16 34 4.53
Shelby Miller R 30 3 4 5.63 23 16 76.7 82 48 14 41 69 5.48
Ray Black R 31 2 2 4.89 40 0 35.0 29 19 6 22 44 4.87
Anthony Bender R 26 3 4 5.48 30 6 64.0 70 39 11 30 46 5.57
Phil Bickford R 25 1 1 5.23 21 1 32.7 32 19 5 20 31 5.29
Quintin Torres-Costa L 26 3 4 5.02 41 0 52.0 46 29 8 36 58 5.20
Justin Grimm R 32 2 3 5.24 41 0 46.3 42 27 9 28 53 5.36
Victor Castaneda R 22 2 4 6.02 25 3 40.3 44 27 8 23 31 6.16
Braden Webb R 26 4 7 6.22 23 21 76.7 78 53 14 61 70 6.31

 

Pitchers – Advanced
Player K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BB% K% BABIP ERA+ ERA- WAR No. 1 Comp
Brandon Woodruff 10.4 2.7 1.2 7.3% 27.8% .295 122 82 2.9 Red Munger
Corbin Burnes 11.1 3.3 1.1 8.8% 29.4% .299 121 82 2.3 Denny Galehouse
Josh Hader 15.4 3.6 1.2 9.9% 42.9% .267 164 61 2.0 Mitch Williams
Adrian Houser 8.6 3.1 1.3 8.1% 22.1% .297 104 96 1.7 Aaron Cook
Freddy Peralta 11.6 4.0 1.4 10.5% 30.3% .285 109 92 1.6 Alan Mills
Brent Suter 9.2 2.0 1.5 5.3% 24.7% .289 113 89 1.5 Bob Tewksbury
Josh Lindblom 8.8 2.5 1.5 6.6% 23.0% .298 99 101 1.5 Aaron Small
Brett Anderson 5.5 2.5 1.2 6.3% 14.0% .295 97 103 1.3 Paul Minner
Alec Bettinger 8.9 2.9 1.8 7.5% 22.9% .296 93 108 1.2 Josh Fogg
Devin Williams 12.8 5.0 1.1 12.8% 32.9% .297 130 77 1.0 Buddy Hernandez
Thomas Jankins 6.7 2.6 1.6 6.6% 16.9% .298 89 112 1.0 Rick Wise
Dylan File 7.3 2.0 1.9 5.2% 18.8% .298 88 114 0.9 Dave Geeve
Eric Lauer 8.7 3.5 1.6 8.8% 22.0% .304 90 111 0.9 Jeff Mutis
Drew Rasmussen 11.3 4.8 1.4 12.2% 28.7% .293 102 98 0.8 Richie Lewis 리치
Jake Faria 9.3 4.3 1.6 10.8% 23.3% .292 93 108 0.8 Greg Booker
Bowden Francis 8.8 4.3 1.7 10.7% 21.9% .299 86 116 0.7 Jake Dittler
Aaron Wilkerson 8.7 3.6 1.7 9.2% 21.8% .298 89 113 0.6 Omar Olivares
Alex Claudio 6.3 2.6 0.8 6.7% 16.5% .294 116 86 0.5 Leo Kiely
Chris Lee 7.2 4.5 1.1 11.0% 17.7% .297 93 107 0.5 Hal Woodeshick
Johan Belisario 7.2 3.4 1.4 8.6% 18.3% .296 92 108 0.4 Tommie Sisk
Eric Yardley 6.6 3.0 1.0 7.6% 17.1% .293 110 91 0.4 Frank Linzy
Clayton Andrews 11.0 4.8 1.3 12.2% 28.0% .292 105 95 0.3 Grant Jackson
Zack Brown 7.5 4.5 1.7 10.9% 18.3% .294 82 122 0.3 Sean White
Angel Perdomo 11.3 6.9 1.2 16.5% 27.3% .299 92 109 0.3 Bobby Sprowl
Luke Barker 9.1 3.5 1.2 9.0% 23.3% .298 103 97 0.2 Todd Williams
Miguel Sanchez 9.9 4.3 1.5 10.8% 25.0% .299 93 108 0.2 Michael Gardner
J.P. Feyereisen 10.9 5.2 1.3 13.0% 27.4% .293 101 99 0.2 George Smith
Justin Topa 7.1 3.4 1.3 8.6% 17.8% .305 91 110 0.1 Steve Comer
Bobby Wahl 11.8 5.5 1.4 13.8% 29.3% .295 101 99 0.1 Roy Corcoran
Shelby Miller 8.1 4.8 1.6 11.7% 19.7% .304 80 124 0.1 Jarod Juelsgaard
Ray Black 11.3 5.7 1.5 14.2% 28.4% .280 93 108 0.0 Craig McMurtry
Anthony Bender 6.5 4.2 1.5 10.3% 15.8% .295 83 121 -0.1 Kevin Joseph
Phil Bickford 8.5 5.5 1.4 13.3% 20.7% .293 87 115 -0.1 Ron Willis
Quintin Torres-Costa 10.0 6.2 1.4 15.1% 24.4% .286 90 111 -0.1 Chris Marchok
Justin Grimm 10.3 5.4 1.7 13.5% 25.5% .284 86 116 -0.2 Jason Bullard
Victor Castaneda 6.9 5.1 1.8 12.2% 16.5% .293 75 133 -0.3 Cuddles Marshall
Braden Webb 8.2 7.2 1.6 16.5% 19.0% .292 73 137 -0.4 Rob Purvis

Players are listed with their most recent teams wherever possible. This includes players who are unsigned, players who will miss 2021 due to injury, and players who were released in 2020. So yes, if you see Joe Schmoe, who quit baseball back in August to form a Finnish industrial death metal fourth-wave ska J-pop band, he’s still listed here intentionally.

Both hitters and pitchers are ranked by projected zWAR, which is to say, WAR values as calculated by me, Dan Szymborski, whose surname is spelled with a z. WAR values might differ slightly from those which appear in the full release of ZiPS. Finally, I will advise anyone against — and might karate chop anyone guilty of — merely adding up WAR totals on a depth chart to produce projected team WAR. ZiPS is assuming that the designated hitter will continue in force in 2021; if it does not, there will be widespread minor adjustments across the board come April.

ZiPS is agnostic about future playing time by design. For more information about ZiPS, please refer to this article, or get angry at Dan on Twitter or something.





Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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grandbranyan
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grandbranyan

Too small of a sample for ZiPS to buy into Omar’s improvement via the framing metrics?