Braun

If you’ve been following along with my previews you’ll realize we’re half done with half the league being covered already. I’m going to move onto the National League Central now and today discuss the bottom feeding Milwaukee Brewers. A number of years back the Brewers were a legit playoff team with a young core of all-stars. The money conscious Brewers have failed to develop any key internal prospects since and cannot compete in free agency. The air was let out of the balloon a long time ago and the Brewers are once again a limp dick excuse of a franchise with few bright spots to look forward to. I present to you today the worst team in baseball, The Milwaukee Brewers!

The Players

Third base will be manned by former Red Sox, Travis Shaw. While his bat is slightly underwhelming for a third basemen, his defense is well above average. In acquiring Shaw, the Brewers are banking on improvement to Shaw’s bat while hoping his defense at a minimum provides enough value warranting trading their best reliever from 2016. The deal was likely a wise one for a rebuilding club and I do believe Shaw can provide at least a WAR of 2.0 due to that above average defense and possibly even 20 home runs at the plate. Shaw will have to cut down on in his infield pop ups (9.6% of his fly balls) to find improvement as the rest of his hitting ratios are average or slightly above average already. Shaw should hit in the heart of the Brewers batting line which is good but this isn’t the Red Sox batting order so his counting stats will likely go down if anything.

Orlando Orcia will likely be the Brewers starting shortop and this will allow Jonathan Villar to move back to second base. Arcia was signed out of Venezuela as a free agent in 2010 and he’s now only 22 years old. In his 2016 call up Orcia was over matched at the plate, but he should be able to find his way in time. His defense is supposed to be above average at shortstop due to good range and his speed will create havoc on the base paths with potential to steal 20+ bases every year. His power and average will likely remain below average so some improvement to his approach at the plate is needed if he is going to be anything more than a bottom of the order bat.

Jonathan Villar had quite the break out year in 2016. The former Astros infielder surprised the baseball world by hitting 19 home runs and stole 62 bases in his first full season in the bigs. While his defense is average, he had one of the better hitting seasons for a speedster. While Reds, outfielder Billy Hamilton gets all the publicity for speed, Villar proved he isn’t a one trick pony like Hamilton. Villar showed flashes of this potential in the minors but couldn’t piece it together in limited playing time with the Astros. I don’t believe he will hit 19 home runs again but reaching double digits is a possibility as his hard hit rate was well above average at 35%.

‘Member, Eric Thames Blue Jays fans? Thames was last seen in the majors with the Seattle Mariners in 2012 when he was traded by the Jays for reliever, Steve Delabar. After that stint he could not stick in the majors and Thames took his talents to Korea where he became Babe Ruth like from 2014 through 2016. In his two major league seasons, Thames played in 181 games and slashed a very vanilla 250/.296/.431 rate with 21 homers. His outfield defense was deemed below average so the Jays cut bait. The Mariners and Orioles thought the same because the power was legit but he profiled as a Quad A player at best for those franchises as well. Once he arrived in Korea, he put up video game numbers along the lines of 47 Homers, 140 RBI’s, .381/.497/.790 which led to a Korean league MVP award in 2015. Korean ballparks are smaller and the pitching isn’t as good as the MLB, but Thames can likely be at worst an average MLB player after that kind of performance. The Brewers are betting that Mr. Baseball (if you haven’t seen that awesome movie with Tom Selick, stop reading and go watch it right now) can be an above average bat because they let NL home run champ, Chris Carter go for nothing in order to sign Eric Thames. Projecting his final stat line is going to be tough but I think he will have the chance to hit at least 20 to 25 home runs at worst as the new first basemen for the Brewers.

Longtime all-star catcher Jonathan Lucroy was traded last deadline to the Rangers hence the Jett Bandy era has begun! Who names their kid Jett by the way? Although Bandy’s bat is nothing special at this time, he has already shown his defensive prowess as he was an above average catcher in limited action last year with the Angels. I would expect him to be the 8th hitter in the Brewers order due to a poor average and limited power, but defense matters more with catchers then the offense so the Brewers will take it.

Former 2011 NL MVP, Ryan Braun, is the heart and soul of the Brewers. From 2010 to 2012 he put up great performances, but since his PED suspension in 2013, injuries and age have slowed Braun down. His defense is still slightly above average but will likely begin to take a dip as father time catches up to him. At age 33, he still can hit, but with a weak lineup around him his RBI opportunities are going to continue to diminish. Braun still hits the ball harder then most but it’s been slowly diminishing over the past few years. He has begun hitting more ground balls than ever, thus his batting average is no longer elite. I’d expect him to carry a still above average in the .280 range as well as 25 HR’s, 80 RBI’s and 80 Runs but with so many other options for speed on the Brewers and with his own wheels slowing down, a slide in stolen bases into the low teens is realistic.

In centre field, 27 year old Keon Broxton will begin his third season in the majors. To date he’s only played in 82 total games but has stolen 24 bases and hit 9 home runs. He has a nice combination of speed and power as well as borderline elite defense in centre field. Broxton strikes out far too much (36%!!!) but when he does connect with the ball he makes things happen. He had one of the hardest hit ratings in the baseball last year at 43.3% and has an above average line drive rate at 25%. He’s a true boom or bust batter due to his swing at everything approach. With his speed, he has the ability to swipe 30 to 40 bags but he will have to get on base more if he wants the run totals to increase. It will be interesting to see if Broxton can tone down the strike outs even just a bit because if he cannot do so, his batting average will likely be in the .220 range. That would be a shame for a player with such a combination of speed and power.

In right field will be 24 year old, Domingo Santana who is another under rated player but who battled injuries in 2016. His defense in right field is bad but his bat has potential. In a partial 2016 season, Santana batted .256/.345/.447 with 11 home runs. The power is real and over a whole season will likely eclipse 20 home runs. The other attribute that’s real is his hard hitting line drive swing. Similar to Broxton, Santana strikes out too much (32% rate) but when he connects it’s very hard and his line drive rate is borderline elite at 30%. Santana would make a much better first baseman or DH but it’s the National League so he will continue to plod around right field. It’s also possible that his D is so bad that he gets pulled in key defensive situations for bench outfielder Hernan Perez.

Starting Pitching
The Brewers starting rotation is a mess and might be one of the worst rotations in baseball. While, Zach Davies and Junior Guerra had above average seasons last year, they will likely regress. Jimmy Nelson, Chase Anderson, Matt Garza and Willy Peralta were average at best in their 2016 campaign’s and really don’t have the “stuff” or track record of health to improve. The biggest challenge the Brewers rotation faces is that they do not strike out a lot of batters and put way too many balls in play.

Zach Davies was solid in his full season debut, but he does not have the pitching repertoire to improve upon that debut. He tops out at 89 Mph and doesn’t miss enough bats to generate anymore then his 7 K/9 ratio. His walk rate is okay at 2 BB/9 but he has shown worse walk rates in every other season to date so I would think he will regress closer to 2.5 BB/9. He was hit slightly harder than league average at 33% and will need to generate more soft contact if he’s going to have any hope in maintaining his ERA from 2016. Expect a slight regression and the ERA will be closer to 4.20 while the K% may even drop a bit too.

Junior Guerra had a sparkling season for the Brewers. Do not be fooled by the 32 year’s old baseball card stats though. His ERA of 2.81 should have been closer to 4.3 due to very favourable BABIP luck as well as a 79% strand rate. Like Davies, he does not have the strike out stuff to improve upon his 2016 totals. He was hit relatively hard at times but essentially had luck to thank for getting out of many jams. He also showed issues with command at times and I expect this to continue in 2017. He’s going to fall back to earth hard in 2017 and is a back of the rotation option or AAA starter in most other organizations.

The last time Matt Garza had a healthy season was 2011. Let that sink in… as he’s now 33 years old and has missed substantial time in every season since and while he is an adequate pitcher when healthy, there’s no reason to believe he will remain so for 33 starts. He still walks too many batters and no longer possesses the strike out numbers from his early prime. He is controlled by the Brewers for 2018 by a 5 million dollar team option and that option falls to only 1 million if he spends just over 4 months on the DL at any time. He’s a good bet to outproduce that modest salary if his health is even moderately good so expect him to be traded mid season by the Brewers for a prospect if Garza is healthy at that time.

Rounding out the rotation will be Chase Anderson, Willy Peralta and Jimmy Nelson. All three starters have shown to be capable major league players but all three lack the command, strike out ability and/or health to be counted upon for 33 starts. Next…

The Bullpen

Top reliever from the 2016 season, Tyler Thornburg was traded to the Red Sox to acquire Travis Shaw. Thornburg was never much for the Brewers until last season where he became a strike out machine and stole the closer role and never looked back. The Brewers intelligently flipped him for a useful asset in Shaw but now have a big hole to fill in their pen.

Neftali Feliz will be the defacto closer due to his previous experience in years past down in Texas. He does not have the strike out or command that you would want for a high leverage reliever but he’s the best option for the gig at this point in time. Expect 20 saves at most, but an ERA close to 4.00 and WHIP of around 1.3. This is not good for a closer and I predict this puts him amongst the worst five closers in ball this year until he loses his job.

Jacob Barnes is likely the most interesting bullpen arm the Brewers possess. He is 26 and just finished his first MLB season but saw time on the DL in 2016. He has a 94 Mph fastball and decent slider. In the minor leagues he showed some major strike out potential and I could see him improving this season and eventually taking the closing gig. He has decent command and home run suppression so look for Barnes to become the lead set up man up until that point.

Corey Knebel was rumoured to be in line for save opportunities but the acquisition of Feliz killed that dream. He has command issues but does have the strike out “stuff” that most closers have. He could be in the mix for the job if Feliz fails, but the poor command will limit him.

Carlos Torres is just another guy who is 34 and had his best major league season last year and even at that he was only slightly above average. The last few sport will go to one of the rotation guys who don’t cut it (most likely Chase Anderson), Michael Blazek (garbage) and Jhan Marinez.

Outlook

I’m hard pressed to believe the Brewers can improve on their 2016 season. The pieces are just not in place and their pitching is well below average across the board. The Brewers will come in last in the NL and possibly the entire MLB with only 67 wins. I also don’t see them improving much in the near future so a long rebuild is going to be required.

Fantasy Studs

Nobody – outside of outfielder, Ryan Braun and shortstop, Jonathan Villar, the Brewers are a misfit cast of flawed players who may or may not achieve their potential. I don’t believe Braun or Villar will be bad players but I also don’t feel good enough about making them high draft picks on my draft day especially since run production will be hard to come by for the Brewers. Braun is clearly in decline but will still come at a premium while Villar doesn’t have the track record for me to justify a top 40 pick when shortstop is so deep this year.

Fantasy Dud

Junior Guerra – His 2.81 ERA was a mirage and he really should not be drafted in almost any fantasy baseball format. The strike out stuff isn’t there and the BABIP and strand luck will not continue especially at his age. He won’t come at a high price but the opportunity cost of making his bad pick in lieu of someone with actual upside isn’t worth it.

Sleeper

Domingo Santana – His draft day price is very cheap right now and he has the tools to hit for 20+ HR’s. I expect a final slash of .254/.344/.449 with 75 RBI’s and 75 runs to boot. As your last pick of your fantasy draft this will be a steal.