The Rain Delay

Hard-Hitting Baseball Analysis

2016 MLB Team Preview: Milwaukee Brewers

This is part of my 2016 MLB team preview series. I will preview each team before Opening Day, unveiling teams in reverse order according to my power rankings. 

Previous: 30) Braves 29) Phillies

2016 Milwaukee Brewers28. Milwaukee Brewers

  • 2015 Record: 68-94, 4th in NL Central
  • Key Additions: 1B Chris Carter, IF Jonathan Villar, 3B/2B Aaron Hill
  • Key Losses: OF Khris Davis, 1B Adam Lind, RP Francisco Rodriguez, SS Jean Segura

Brewers fans surely miss the halcyon days of 2011, when their team won 96 games en route to reaching the National League Championship Series. The tag-team of Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun was the most feared in baseball, with the two enjoying a symbiotic relationship of the highest order. But after Fielder bolted in free agency in the offseason, the Brew Crew were never the same. Milwaukee was unable to come close to replacing Fielder’s prolific numbers and stumbled to a third place finish in the NL Central in 2012. Moreover, a dark cloud was cast over Braun’s 2011 MVP season after a positive test for performance-enhancing drugs (The subsequent suspension was overruled after the process was deemed to be tainted, but many believe Braun skirted punishment on a technicality.) Since that 2011 season, baseball in the Badger state simply hasn’t been the same, and the Brewers are currently mired in a painful rebuilding process.

Projected Line-Up (with 2015 Slash Lines)2016 Milwaukee Brewers Lineup

The Brewers’ offense plated only 655 runs last season, finishing just 22nd in Major League Baseball – and that was with sluggers Khris Davis and Adam Lind, who each left Milwaukee this offseason. Replacing them in the starting lineup are Chris Carter – who is gifted with Herculean strength, but cursed with a propensity to strikeout with alarming frequency – and dynamic 25-year old Domingo Santana. Both players have a little upside, but will be hard-pressed to match their predecessors’ production.

Milwaukee Brewers Left Fielder Ryan Braun

Ryan Braun surely misses being protected by Prince Fielder in the lineup.

Ryan Braun and Jonathan Lucroy, two franchise mainstays, must have excellent seasons if this lineup has any chance of approaching competency. If Lucroy can rebound from an injury-plagued 2015 campaign, I would anticipate the Brewers flipping him for cost-controlled assets near the July 31st Trade Deadline. Besides these two stars, the rest of the lineup would garner only tepid enthusiasm from even the most ardent Brewers supporter.

The Brewers’ lineup will get some much-needed juice upon the inevitable arrival of stud prospect, Orlando Arcia. Arcia, a 21-year old shortstop, hit .307/.347/.453 with 25 stolen bases last year in Double A Biloxi. Arcia, whose presence rendered incumbent shortstop Jean Segura expendable this offseason, projects to be a star at the next level. Even with Arcia’s anticipated impact, the prospects for Milwaukee’s 2016 lineup appear bleak. Players such as Kirk Nieuwenhuis simply have no business starting on a Major League team in 2016.

Projected Starting Rotation (with 2015 Stats)2016 Milwaukee Brewers Starting Rotation

The Brewers return four of their five starters from last year, and welcome newcomer Chase Anderson into the mix. The rotation is headlined by two hard-throwers, Jimmy Nelson and Wily Peralta, who appear headed in divergent paths. Nelson had his finest season in the big leagues last year, posting a 4.11 ERA and 4.10 FIP across 177.1 innings. He’s able to generate an extreme number of groundballs with his sinker and slider, and looks to take another step forward in 2016.

After shining in 2014 with a 17-11 record (yes, I still think wins matter a little bit) and 3.53 ERA, sinkerballer Wily Peralta took a considerable step back in 2015, seeing his ERA rise to 4.72 and his ability to miss bats vanish. While still one of baseball’s most prolific groundball pitchers in 2015, Peralta saw his strikeout rate plummet to a meager 12.6%, by far the worst in his career. Peralta appears to suffer from Nathan Eovaldi disorder, a rare affliction affecting hard-throwers who cannot induce swings-and-misses with their fastballs. Last year, batters hit an inconceivable .459 against his fastball and struck out just 4 times against the pitch. Peralta will have to find a way to evade the barrel of the bat with his four-seamer in 2016 if he has any chance of being a good Major League pitcher again.

After a strong first season in Milwaukee, Matt Garza was an unmitigated disaster in his sophomore go-around, finishing the year with an unsightly 5.63 ERA and 4.94 FIP. So, what happened? Unlike most veteran hurlers whose performance falls off a cliff, Garza maintained his usual fastball velocity last season. Did he simply throw too many meatballs? Not according to Brooks Baseball.

What about his off-speed pitches? Now we’re heading the right direction. In 2015, Garza’s out pitches – his slider and curveball – betrayed him. Check out these graphs from Brooks Baseball, whose data are from the 2014 and 2015 regular seasons :

Brooksbaseball-Chart (1)

Brooksbaseball-Chart

As you can see from the batting average and slugging percentage ascension in 2015, Garza’s slider and curveball were hammered relative to 2014. I believe Garza will have a bounce-back season if he can rediscover the feel of his breaking stuff.

Rounding out Milwaukee’s rotation are righties Taylor Jungmann and Chase Anderson. In his rookie year, Jungmann took the league by storm, maintaining a sterling 2.48 ERA through August. Unfortunately for Jungmann, his peripherals (like walk rate, for example) caught up to him in September, leading to an implosion in the season’s final month. The Brewers can only hope that Jungmann’s fast start at the big league level wasn’t just smoke and mirrors.

Anderson, acquired by Milwaukee in the offseason, acquitted himself well despite pitching his home games in a hitters’ haven – Chase Field. Anderson doesn’t have any distinguishing traits, but you can do a lot worse than having him as your 5th starter. Milwaukee’s starting rotation projects to be below-average in 2016, but the group could be much-improved if Matt Garza can rebound.

Projected Bullpen (with 2015 Stats)2016 Milwaukee Brewers Bullpen

After shipping incumbent closer Francisco Rodriguez to Detroit this offseason, the Brewers will move forward with righty Jeremy Jeffress and southpaw Will Smith sharing closing duties. Featuring a mid-90s heater with sink, Jeffress has proven himself to be a highly effective groundball pitcher the past two seasons. Smith has been able to strike out batters with ease, and will form a nice 1-2 punch with Jeffress at the back end of the bullpen. Another guy to keep an eye on is right-hander Corey Knebel, who possesses a powerful fastball and a sharp, biting breaking ball. Led by these three powers arms, Milwaukee has the potential to have a sneaky good bullpen in 2016. The problem is that this group won’t have too many leads to preserve.

Conclusion

The Brewers will struggle in 2016. There are some bright spots like Jimmy Nelson and Jeremy Jeffress on the roster, but there are simply too many holes throughout the roster to envision any scenario in which the Brewers come close to making the playoffs. The best bet for Brewers fans is to temper expectations and wait patiently for phenom Orlando Arcia to be called up. He will be worth the wait.

Prediction: 5th place, NL Central

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