2014 Team Previews: Milwaukee Brewers

Miller Park, home of the Milwaukee Brewers - Jared Wickerham

What are the prospects for the 2014 Brewers?

Intentional or not, there are several development paths baseball teams find themselves on. Some like the Red Sox and Cardinals are ready to win as constructed. Other are works in progress ready to blossom, such as the Cubs (hopefully) or the Royals. Still others can be in flux and difficult to pinpoint like the Astros or Marlins. Or they could be the Brewers and defy description.

2013 Season in Review

The Brewers had reason for optimism as 2013 opened. After making the playoffs in 2011, they lost Prince Fielder in free agency to the Tigers and still managed a winning record in 2012. They expected solid pitching from Yovani Gallardo and new additions Kyle Lohse and Wily Peralta, but lost first baseman Corey Hart to injury before the season began. They tried to replace Hart with the old "let's use two light-hitting past-their-prime shortstops" approach. The platoon of Yuniesky Betancourt, Alex Gonzalez and Juan Francisco combined to rank 30th in hits and OPS among first basemen. It was a harbinger of a less-than-successful season that saw real improvements by Jean Segura and Carlos Gomez along with the continuing development of Jonathan Lucroy, but it wasn't enough as they finished 74-88, fourth in the NL Central.

Key Offseason Acquisitions

Clearly the first base situation had to be addressed as Gonzalez was jettisoned during 2013 and Betancourt not retained. After letting Hart sign with Seattle, they're attempting another one-two-three punch with Mark Reynolds, Lyle Overbay and Francisco. This chart compares the production of the 2013 Brewers first basemen with their replacement's projections:

2013 Offense Defense fWAR $Value
Yuniesky Betancourt -21.5 -7.5 -1.8 ($9.00)
Juan Francisco -3.5 -16.5 -0.9 ($4.60)
Alex Gonzalez -10.8 -2.7 -1.1 ($5.30)
2014 Offense Defense WAR Dollars
Mark Reynolds 0.2 -0.5 0.0
Lyle Overbay -0.4 -0.4 0.0
Juan Francisco
-2.4 -11.0 0.0

I can see the marketing poster already--"They can't be worse!"--a true rallying cry if ever there was one. Anything improving a combined fWAR of -3.9 is better, but this solution significantly debases the meaning of "solution." And "better." And "improving."

The other key acquisition was Matt Garza, signed for $50 million through 2017 with a 2018 option. This is the second time the Angels have helped the Brewers in less than two years:

  1. Trading Jean Segura and two other players for 3-month rental Zack Greinke at the 2012 trade deadline
  2. Garza not looking at the Angels offer this past offseason because he was on vacation

Garza is 30 and on his fifth team--four other teams had multiyear looks at him and passed. With the premium placed on quality pitching, it's possible the baggage Garza brings exceeds the value he delivers, and he's reached the point in his career where promise has to translate into production.

One to Watch

Khris Davis is slotted to play left field. Baseball Prospectus PECOTA projections have him with 20 home runs, 65 RBIs and batting around .260, and if he can do that he'll add production to a lineup that needs it. If he can't, the Brewers will have a hole in right field with little available. They traded Norichika Aoki with the expectation that not only would Davis be ready, but that Ryan Braun would be able to successfully switch to right. Braun wasn't exactly a good fielding left fielder, so this move is by no means guaranteed.

Brewers by the Numbers: 30

30 is the rank the Brewers were given in the Baseball Prospectus Under-25 rankings (available to BP subscribers only), so when a team is running out a lineup filled with 30+ players like Reynolds, Overbay and Ramirez it's important to know who's in the wings. According to BP, not much, as they have exactly zero prospects listed in BP's Top 101 Prospects.

30 is also the rank of the number of pitches Brewers hitters saw in 2013. They saw 22,583 pitches, compared to league leader Boston (25,668). This was partially due to fewer plate appearances (6,394 to 6,085) but also selectivity at the plate, as they were also 30th in pitches seen per plate appearance. To place this number in perspective, the 3,000 extra pitches the Red Sox saw were the equivalent of around 20 full games of pitches. A hat tip to fellow Beyond the Box Score contributor Ryan Morrison for noting this in a post last month.

2014 Team Outlook

My wife is from Wisconsin, our older daughter went to college 20 miles north of Milwaukee and we've attended Brewers games with her. It's a good time--ample parking, modern stadium, a tailgating tradition and sausage races! Bernie Brewer will probably go down the slide after a home run 150-160 times, and between June 25th and July 6th you can make a side trip to Summerfest and catch a show (Bruno Mars! Lady Gaga! Paramore with Fall Out Boy! Maybe even someone good!).

Unfortunately, I suspect the atmosphere will be the highlight of 2014. It's not written in stone, since any team with decent pitching has a chance at making an expanded playoff slate, and if it all comes together with Lucroy, Davis, Gomez, Segura and Braun, and if Ramirez can return to 2012 form, it can happen. But that's a lot of "ifs," no matter how good they've looked in spring training. They have no left-handed starters and a pretty thin bench if any of these players are injured. Baseball Prospectus projects them with 80 wins, and if they can make it to 85-87 wins they'll be in the hunt for the wild card. It can happen, it just probably won't.

...

Data is from Baseball-Reference.com, FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus.

Follow Scott on Twitter @ScottLindholm.

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