Let’s revisit my 2017 bold predictions

The annual Winter Meetings are in full swing, and while we wait for the Milwaukee Brewers to make some moves, I thought it’d be an appropriate time to check out how my bold predictions from last March fared. But don’t you worry. Once David Stearns — also known as The Wizard — starts wheeling and dealing, The First Out At Third will have all of it covered.

I made five bold predictions last season, and here’s how they turned out.

1. Eric Thames will lead the Brewers in home runs

Thames made his return to the major leagues and America after spending three years playing ball in Korea. He showed massive power out there, which is why I thought he was more than capable of hitting bombs at a high rate for the Brewers. Thames tied Travis Shaw for the team lead with 31 home runs, so we’re off to a great start.

Bold Prediction Batting Average: 1.000 (1-for-1)

2. Domingo Santana will be Milwaukee’s best hitter

I’ve always been high on Santana, which is why I predicted he’d finish with the highest wRC+ on the club. And guess what?

Rank Player wRC+
1 Domingo Santana 126
2 Eric Thames 124
3 Travis Shaw 119
4 Jesus Aguilar 112
5 Ryan Braun 110

Of the 10 Brewers’ hitters who saw at least 300 plate appearances, Santana led the way by producing 26 percent more runs than league average, and just barely beat out Thames for the team high. The 25-year-old outfielder has been subject of recent trade talks, but it’s going to take more than an arm and a leg to pry him from Milwaukee.

Bold Prediction Batting Average: 1.000 (2-for-2)

3. Kirk Nieuwenhuis will not make the Opening Day roster

The 2017 season began on April 3. Nieuwenhuis was designated for assignment on April 21. So while he technically made the Opening Day roster, he was let go just 18 days later. He was able to overachieve in 2016 (1.0 WAR), and while the Brewers gave him another shot the following season, they just had too many up-and-coming young outfielders to keep him on the roster. Nieuwenhuis posted a .245 wOBA and 43 wRC+ over 31 plate appearances before Milwaukee kicked him to the curb. I guess I’ll give myself a loss on this one, but man was it close.

Bold Prediction Batting Average: .666 (2-for-3)

4. Jacob Barnes will take over the closer’s role at some point

If you remember, Neftali Feliz began the season as Milwaukee’s closer. Boy, did that work out great. He owned a 6.00 ERA and 7.12 FIP before he was released on June 19. Corey Knebel was the clear-cut option to slide into Feliz’s role and take over, but I thought Barnes would be better suited for the ninth inning. I was wrong. Knebel dominated throughout the year (40.8 K%), while Barnes went through ups and downs, though he did lock down two saves. Still, another swing and a miss.

Bold Prediction Batting Average: .500 (2-for-4)

5. Ryan Braun doesn’t get traded

Though this doesn’t seem bold now, I assure you it was bold at the time. Braun was reportedly very close to being shipped to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Yasiel Puig in August of 2016, and while that didn’t happen, the Brewers seemed keen on moving on from him and his contract. After the Brewers and Dodgers failed to come to an agreement, I thought it’d be almost impossible for the team to trade Braun. That’s even more true now. The 34-year-old slugger finished with his lowest WAR (1.5) since 2015 and his lowest wRC+ (110) of his career in 2017. I think he’s destined to be a Brewer for life.

Bold Prediction Batting Average: .600 (3-for-5)

Free agent targets for the Milwaukee Brewers

The Winter Meetings are set to begin next week, and there should be a flurry of movement almost immediately. Well, that should be the case once Giancarlo Stanton and Shohei Otani figure out where they want to play ball in 2018. Most baseball scribes seem to think once those two sign, the free agent floodgates will open, and for the teams out on the Stanton and Otani sweepstakes, it should be extremely exciting.

The Milwaukee Brewers are one of those teams. Otani has already ruled out Milwaukee as a possible destination, and there’s just no way they can afford to take on Stanton’s salary. But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t ready to spend. They’ve already been linked to Jake Arrieta, who is one of the top free agent hurlers on the market. And while I think signing Arrieta will eventually be a tremendous mistake, there are still many options — both in the hitting and pitching department — that should pique the Brewers’ interest. The Brewers didn’t lose many players to free agency this offseason, though the few players who left will leave big holes on the roster. Neil Walker and Anthony Swarzak both elected free agency, although both have expressed interest on returning, a scenario the Brewers would likely welcome with open arms.

Here are a few free agents that I think the Brewers should target.

SP Alex Cobb

The free agent starting pitching market isn’t all that deep, but there are a few promising names, and Cobb is my favorite option. Cobb is entering his age-30 season and should be right in the middle of his prime years. The right-hander had a bit of a down campaign in 2017, finishing with a respectable 3.66 ERA, but a less impressive 4.16 FIP and 4.24 xFIP. Yet, he’s only two years removed from his second-consecutive season of sub-3.00 ERA. He has the potential to be a true No. 1 ace, and he would immediately fill that void in Milwaukee, especially considering Jimmy Nelson is expected to miss a good chunk of 2018.

In order to revert back to his dominant days, the former Rays’ hurler will need to improve his whiff numbers. His 6.7% swinging strike numbers in 2017 was a career low, and the majority of his other plate discipline numbers suffered from previous years as well. One down year in the peripheral stats department shouldn’t discourage the Brewers from any interest, though. He’s still considered one of the top arms on the market.

MLB Trade Rumors projects Cobb to receive a four-year, $48 million contract, which is something the Brewers should have no problem offering. He does, however, come with some injury risk. He missed the entirety of the 2015 season and made just five starts the following year due to Tommy John surgery. Still, his track record and arm potential is worth the risk.

2B Neil Walker

This is somewhat obvious, as Walker played 38 games with the Brewers in 2017 after being acquired from the Mets. But second base is one of the biggest holes Milwaukee needs to focus on this winter. The team tendered Jonathan Villar and re-signed Eric Sogard, but expecting those two to adequately hold down second base for 162 games is a bit of a stretch. Villar — who broke out in 2016 — was pitiful a year later, and, as much as I love the guy, Sogard is most useful off the bench or in a utility role.

Walker should be Milwaukee’s top target if they want to compete again. And the 32 year old clearly likes hitting in Miller Park. After putting up a 108 wRC+ over 299 plate appearances for New York, Walker blasted his way to a 125 wRC+ in 149 plate appearances. The dimensions of Miller Park agree with him.

MLB Trade Rumors projects just a two-year deal worth $11 million for the veteran, though the Brewers might be wise to overpay for his production. The alternative is just not good enough for a hopeful contender.

SP Chris Tillman

As a cheaper and less-talented option than Cobb, the Brewers should give Chris Tillman a call. Even though it seems like Tillman has been around since the dawn of time, he’s actually only 29 years old, and should still have plenty left in the tank. It’s true that had the worst season of his career in 2017, and yes, it’s true his 14.2% strikeout rate was his lowest mark since 2010 — his second year in the bigs. Regardless of all that, Tillman represents a terrific bounce-back option. In 2016, he posted a 3.77 ERA and 4.23 FIP, which is eerily similar to Zach Davies‘ most recent stat line.

If the Brewers were to sign the righty, it would most likely be on a short-term deal with a team option. MLB Trade Rumors has him pegged at receiving just a one-year deal worth $11 million. With Nelson out of the starting rotation for the foreseeable future, Tillman would slide in toward the back of the rotation, with his upside being a No. 2 or 3 pitcher.

He’s not the sexiest name on the open market, but he’s a reclamation project that David Stearns loves. He’d be more than useful in Milwaukee’s shallow rotation.

Honorable Mentions

Anthony Swarzak: He resurrected his career and has turned himself into a dominant reliever. He enjoyed his time in Milwaukee, and the Brewers need bullpen help.

Mike Fiers: The Brewers should bring Fiers home, like they did with Jeremy Jeffress. His stats with Houston over the past two years aren’t pretty, but I fully believe he can help Milwaukee in 2018.

Tommy Hunter: Another pitcher on my list, but that’s the main asset the Brewers should covet. Hunter has been a stud reliever since making the switch from the rotation in 2013, and while it could take a decent chunk of change to get Hunter to Milwaukee, he would greatly improve the Brewers’ bullpen.

Reviewing the pitcher projections for the 2017 Milwaukee Brewers

The World Series is over (congratulations to World Series champion Mike Fiers) but for fans of the Milwaukee Brewers, the offseason began long ago. The Brewers missed the playoffs by an inch, and although playing in October would’ve been incredible, the season as a whole was a great success. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again; the future is bright in Milwaukee. I fully believe this team is just a year or two away from being a perennial playoff team, something the Brewers have never really been.

But now that the season has ended, it’s time to revisit the projections by comparing my own system (RW23) that was created with the help of Mike Podhorzer and his book Projecting X 2, with popular projection systems Steamer and ZiPS. This was the first year I had ever created projections, and I’m curious to see how they held up.

Below you’ll find every Brewers pitcher I projected just before the season tipped off, along with Steamer and ZiPS projections, compared to said player’s actual 2017 statistical line. If you missed my hitter projection review, you can find it here.

***Note: My preseason projections included Tommy Milone, Jhan Marinez, Neftali Feliz and Taylor Jungmann, but because they were on the major league roster for such a short time, I chose not to include them below.

Junior Guerra

IP HR WHIP BABIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% ERA FIP XFIP
RW23 162 17 1.27 .281 7.48 3.25 19.8% 8.6% 3.61 3.99 4.35
Steamer 192 25 1.39 .303 8.24 3.47 21.0% 8.9% 4.43 4.29 4.25
ZiPS 123 18 1.35 .294 8.20 3.66 20.9% 9.3% 4.24 4.54 N/A
Actual 70.1 18 1.48 .236 8.57 5.50 21.3% 13.7% 5.12 6.58 5.43

Winner: Steamer

All three projection systems — especially RW23 — missed on Guerra’s meltdown in 2017, and while Steamer and ZiPS were equally accurate, neither really deserve a win here. Yet, I’m giving it to Steamer. Guerra will be 33 by the beginning of next season, and it seems like his time with Milwaukee is most likely finished. But at least we have his 2016 brilliance as a nice memory.

Zach Davies

IP HR WHIP BABIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% ERA FIP XFIP
RW23 168 22 1.32 .305 7.75 2.61 20.2% 6.8% 4.13 4.14 3.95
Steamer 174 23 1.36 .306 7.67 2.82 19.7% 7.3% 4.35 4.19 4.11
ZiPS 169 20 1.27 .307 7.76 2.55 20.2% 6.6% 3.99 3.91 N/A
Actual 191.1 20 1.35 .302 5.83 2.59 15.2% 6.7% 3.90 4.22 4.42

Winner: Steamer

RW23 should definitely get its props for being accurate, but Steamer still managed to edge out the win by just a hair. Once again, Davies outperformed his peripherals, while also finishing with the exact same BABIP and home runs allowed as he did in 2016. The 24 year old has proved he deserves to be in a major league rotation, even if most of his outs come in other ways than the strike out.

Jimmy Nelson

IP HR WHIP BABIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% ERA FIP XFIP
RW23 181 21 1.35 .296 7.83 3.47 20.1% 8.9% 4.02 4.27 4.16
Steamer 120 15 1.46 .308 7.39 3.64 18.5% 9.1% 4.80 4.57 4.48
ZiPS 170 21 1.38 .307 7.57 3.39 19.2% 8.6% 4.34 4.45 N/A
Actual 175.1 16 1.25 .340 10.21 2.46 27.3% 6.6% 3.49 3.05 3.15

Winner: RW23

Neither of the three systems were particularly close when it came to projecting Nelson, but RW23 was closer to predicting his success relative to Steamer and ZiPS. Nelson broke out in 2017, and despite a crazy .340 BABIP, posted the lowest ERA, FIP and xFIP of his career. It’s really a shame he’ll miss a significant amount of time next season.

Matt Garza

IP HR WHIP BABIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% ERA FIP XFIP
RW23 96 11 1.44 .303 6.05 3.18 15.4% 8.1% 4.45 4.46 4.53
Steamer 128 19 1.46 .308 6.54 3.06 16.5% 7.7% 4.89 4.71 4.57
ZiPS 122 18 1.43 .309 6.30 3.04 15.8% 7.6% 5.04 4.76 N/A
Actual 114.2 17 1.45 .287 6.20 3.53 15.7% 8.9% 4.94 4.91 5.12

Winner: ZiPS

ZiPS and Steamer were neck-and-neck, but I’m giving the slight edge to the former. Garza was dreadful once again, and his contract will go down as the worst free agent contract in Milwaukee Brewers franchise history. He’s now a free agent, but seeing how his last few seasons went, his career might be over. If so, he finishes a 12-year career with 23 WAR.

Wily Peralta

IP HR WHIP BABIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% ERA FIP XFIP
RW23 125 16 1.42 .310 6.66 2.94 17.0% 7.5% 4.49 4.37 4.09
Steamer 140 18 1.45 .312 6.93 3.12 17.5% 7.9% 4.64 4.43 4.26
ZiPS 149 22 1.43 .312 6.67 3.07 16.7% 7.7% 4.81 4.70 N/A
Actual 57.1 10 1.83 .362 8.16 5.02 19.3% 11.9% 7.85 5.34 4.96

Winner: N/A

Peralta was terrible in 2017. So much so that he was optioned to the minors and subsequently designated for assignment. There are no winners here.

Chase Anderson

IP HR WHIP BABIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% ERA FIP XFIP
RW23 138 25 1.40 .295 7.37 3.12 18.9% 8.0% 4.82 5.03 4.51
Steamer 133 18 1.37 .301 7.81 2.83 20.0% 7.2% 4.72 4.56 4.43
ZiPS 139 22 1.38 .308 7.28 2.96 18.5% 7.5% 4.64 4.67 N/A
Actual 141.1 14 1.09 .265 8.47 2.61 23.4% 7.2% 2.74 3.58 4.33

Winner: Steamer

So far the projections haven’t been able to figure out Brewers pitchers in 2017, but once again, Steamer was the closest on Anderson, particularly regarding his peripherals. Anderson posted a sub-3.00 ERA that no one saw coming, and he heads into next season as the Brewers top pitcher.

Jacob Barnes

IP HR WHIP BABIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% ERA FIP XFIP
RW23 52 4 1.20 .293 9.09 3.12 24.5% 8.4% 3.10 3.18 3.54
Steamer 35 4 1.32 .304 8.98 3.28 23.3% 8.5% 3.94 3.84 3.88
ZiPS 53 5 1.27 .313 9.56 3.35 24.9% 8.7% 3.52 3.46 N/A
Actual 72 8 1.25 .272 10.00 4.13 26.3% 10.9% 4.00 3.88 3.67

Winner: Steamer

ZiPS had more of Barnes’ peripheral stats correct, but Steamer takes the cake with its ERA/FIP/xFIP projections. Barnes was wild and didn’t command the strike zone as well as RW23 thought he would. However, his strikeout numbers are great, and he should once again be in the back end of the bullpen and used in high-leverage situations next season.

Corey Knebel

IP HR WHIP BABIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% ERA FIP XFIP
RW23 63 6 1.22 .297 10.32 3.48 27.6% 9.3% 3.24 3.29 3.43
Steamer 65 7 1.28 .302 10.66 3.77 27.9% 9.9% 3.56 3.49 3.56
ZiPS 54 7 1.27 .316 11.28 3.81 29.3% 9.9% 3.65 3.68 N/A
Actual 76 6 1.16 .311 14.92 4.74 40.8% 12.9% 1.78 2.53 2.97

Winner: ZiPS

I could’ve given the win to RW23, but once again, ZiPS was more consistent throughout. Knebel put together his best season of his professional career and finished with the fourth-highest strikeout rate among qualified relievers.

Carlos Torres

IP HR WHIP BABIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% ERA FIP XFIP
RW23 73 9 1.28 .285 8.16 3.26 21.5% 8.6% 3.76 4.10 4.08
Steamer 55 7 1.36 .304 8.58 3.33 22.0% 8.6% 4.17 4.09 4.09
ZiPS 80 11 1.33 .301 8.74 3.59 22.4% 9.2% 3.92 4.29 N/A
Actual 72.2 10 1.53 .309 6.94 4.09 17.4% 10.3% 4.21 4.89 4.96

Winner: Steamer

All three systems missed the target on Torres, as his ERA rose by almost 1.5 runs from 2016. He was ourighted by Milwaukee a few weeks ago.

Jared Hughes

IP HR WHIP BABIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% ERA FIP XFIP
RW23 62 5 1.38 .292 5.11 2.95 13.0% 7.5% 3.99 4.39 4.43
Steamer 10 1 1.46 .308 6.06 3.41 15.3% 8.6% 4.34 4.40 4.46
ZiPS 63 6 1.41 .303 5.12 2.98 N/A N/A 3.69 4.52 N/A
Actual 59.2 4 1.22 .278 7.24 3.62 19.7% 9.8% 3.02 3.93 3.98

Winner: RW23

At the time I published my original projections post, Steamer hadn’t updated Hughes’ projection. Same with ZiPS for K% and BB%. So I guess by default, RW23 is the winner. Hughes — who was another quality under-the-radar pickup by David Stearns — was an extremely valuable asset in Milwaukee’s bullpen, and the 32 year old should have a similar role in 2018.

Final Results

Steamer: 5 wins

ZiPS: 2 wins

RW23: 2 wins

Reviewing the hitter projections for the 2017 Milwaukee Brewers

The World Series is over (congratulations to World Series champion Mike Fiers) but for fans of the Milwaukee Brewers, the offseason began long ago. The Brewers missed the playoffs by an inch, and although playing in October would’ve been incredible, the season as a whole was a great success. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again; the future is bright in Milwaukee. I fully believe this team is just a year or two away from being a perennial playoff team, something the Brewers have never really been.

But now that the season is over, it’s time to revisit the projections by comparing my own system (RW23) that was created with the help of Mike Podhorzer and his book Projecting X 2, with popular projection systems Steamer and ZiPS. This was the first year I had ever created projections, and I’m curious to see how they held up.

Below you’ll find every Brewers hitter I projected in the preseason, along with Steamer and ZiPS projections, compared to said player’s actual 2017 statistical line. Pitcher projection results will soon follow the publication of this article.

Manny Pina

PA AB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO WOBA K% BB% BABIP HR
RW23 360 330 .246 .302 .356 .658 .110 .290 16.1% 7.0% .275 8
Steamer 109 99 .250 .305 .384 .689 .135 .298 17.2% 6.6% .282 3
ZiPS 304 278 .241 .291 .371 .662 .129 .286 16.4% 5.9% .271 6
Actual 359 330 .279 .327 .424 .751 .145 .323 22.0% 5.6% .339 9

Winner: Steamer

Even though Steamer vastly miscalculated Pina’s playing time while RW23 was dead accurate, Steamer’s projections were consistently more spot on, giving it the win. Neither of the three thought Pina would have the offensive season he mustered. Kudos to him.

Eric Thames

PA AB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO WOBA K% BB% BABIP HR
RW23 535 478 .265 .334 .517 .851 .252 .360 26.4% 9.3% .308 31
Steamer 534 470 .272 .350 .515 .864 .243 .364 24.2% 9.6% .313 29
ZiPS 507 450 .247 .321 .493 .815 .247 .343 28.2% 8.7% .297 26
Actual 551 469 .247 .359 .518 .877 .271 .369 29.6% 13.6% .309 31

Winner: RW23

Another close one with Steamer, but RW23 earns its first win. It correctly predicted Thames’ home run total and was just a point off in slugging and BABIP. Thames produced an excellent season for the Brewers and was definitely a major upgrade over Chris Carter. ZiPS, meanwhile, is still looking to get on the scoreboard.

Jonathan Villar

PA AB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO WOBA K% BB% BABIP HR
RW23 625 545 .260 .348 .398 .746 .137 .326 24.9% 11.8% .336 15
Steamer 641 563 .255 .333 .397 .731 .142 .318 25.3% 10.0% .329 15
ZiPS 584 515 .256 .332 .410 .742 .153 .322 26.9% 9.8% .338 15
Actual 436 403 .241 .293 .372 .665 .132 .287 30.3% 6.9% .330 11

Winner: N/A

Jonathan Villar was awful in 2017. While each system projected regression from his phenomenal and unsustainable 2016 campaign, none had him falling off the face of the earth. He eventually lost his starting job to Eric Sogard and Neil Walker, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he finds himself displaced from the roster next year.

Travis Shaw

PA AB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO WOBA K% BB% BABIP HR
RW23 541 485 .254 .322 .439 .761 .185 .330 24.4% 8.7% .301 22
Steamer 388 347 .245 .314 .431 .745 .186 .319 23.3% 8.6% .286 15
ZiPS 542 492 .246 .308 .433 .741 .187 .316 22.9% 7.9% .287 20
Actual 606 538 .273 .349 .513 .862 .240 .361 23.1% 9.9% .312 31

Winner: RW23

RW23 was a little more bullish than Steamer and ZiPS, though Shaw still managed to exceed all projections and expectations. He set a career high with 31 home runs and had his best season of his career. Not the most accurate projection by RW23, but it somewhat projected his breakout.

Orlando Arcia

PA AB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO WOBA K% BB% BABIP HR
RW23 580 537 .255 .304 .383 .688 .129 .300 17.5% 6.5% .293 12
Steamer 538 497 .246 .292 .375 .667 .129 .288 18.3% 5.8% .286 10
ZiPS 635 593 .245 .289 .379 .669 .135 .288 20.2% 5.5% .291 13
Actual 548 506 .277 .324 .407 .731 .130 .309 18.2% 6.6% .317 15

Winner: RW23

Once again, RW23 was overall just more consistent. Arcia managed to outperform the projections and turned out to be somewhat of a better hitter than people expected. He still only finished with an 85 wRC+, so there’s room for improvement from the 23 year old.

Ryan Braun

PA AB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO WOBA K% BB% BABIP HR
RW23 555 496 .291 .355 .495 .850 .204 .362 18.6% 8.6% .320 24
Steamer 544 487 .280 .346 .492 .838 .212 .353 19.3% 8.7% .310 24
ZiPS 548 497 .282 .343 .477 .820 .195 .347 18.4% 8.0% .313 22
Actual 425 380 .268 .336 .487 .823 .218 .347 17.9% 8.9% .292 17

Winner: ZiPS

ZiPS earns its first win, as it accurately predicted Braun’s wOBA and was just a couple points off of his OPS. Braun’s home run power disappeared in 2017, and he just didn’t look like the player he used to be. With the crop of young outfielders the Brewers are ready to employ, Braun’s future is a little up in the air.

Keon Broxton

PA AB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO WOBA K% BB% BABIP HR
RW23 522 456 .242 .331 .413 .743 .170 .325 31.0% 11.4% .337 15
Steamer 530 466 .222 .304 .378 .683 .156 .298 32.9% 10.2% .315 15
ZiPS 469 417 .216 .297 .408 .705 .192 .304 37.3% 10.0% .325 16
Actual 463 414 .220 .299 .420 .819 .200 .308 37.8% 8.6% .323 20

Winner: ZiPS

Keon Broxton led MLB in strikeout rate (minimum 400 PA), and ZiPS nailed it on the head with that one. ZiPS was scary accurate throughout Broxton’s projection, while RW23 turned out to be way too optimistic. The centerfielder was, however, able to knock out 20 home runs, but his 84 wRC+ left a lot to be desired.

Domingo Santana

PA AB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO WOBA K% BB% BABIP HR
RW23 515 441 .256 .354 .490 .843 .234 .362 31.0% 12.3% .341 23
Steamer 517 448 .253 .343 .449 .792 .197 .342 28.8% 11.4% .327 21
ZiPS 466 408 .243 .333 .441 .774 .199 .334 32.6% 11.2% .335 19
Actual 607 525 .278 .371 .505 .875 .227 .372 29.3% 12.0% .363 30

Winner: RW23

This one wasn’t all that close. RW23 correctly predicted Santana’s breakout, particularly when it came to his power numbers. Personally, I’ve been a die-hard believer in Santana as a prospect and a player, and it’s nice to see him perform at such at high level in his 25-age season. He led the Brewers in wRC+ and while 30 home runs might be his peak, expect his OBP numbers to increase as he continues to get a better feel for the strike zone.

Hernan Perez

PA AB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO WOBA K% BB% BABIP HR
RW23 315 296 .261 .296 .383 .679 .122 .295 21.6% 4.7% .314 7
Steamer 402 379 .261 .294 .385 .679 .124 .292 19.6% 4.2% .308 8
ZiPS 486 458 .266 .293 .400 .693 .133 .296 18.1% 3.7% .308 10
Actual 458 432 .259 .289 .414 .704 .155 .298 17.2% 4.4% .286 14

Winner: ZiPS

ZiPS believed Perez would get more playing than a typical utility player, and it was right. For the second straight year, Perez set a career high in home runs and is destined to play a similar role for the Brewers in 2018.

Jett Bandy

PA AB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO WOBA K% BB% BABIP HR
RW23 300 280 .267 .304 .457 .761 .190 .326 17.8% 3.9% .282 14
Steamer 218 199 .237 .288 .393 .681 .156 .294 19.7% 4.9% .267 7
ZiPS 337 307 .225 .278 .378 .655 .153 .284 22.8% 4.2% .260 11
Actual 188 169 .207 .287 .349 .636 .142 .280 27.1% 8.0% .259 6

Winner: ZiPS

Bandy started out hot to begin the year, but the catcher eventually cooled and was optioned to the minors. He has raw power and RW23 expected to see that in 2017. It’s hard to envision Bandy making the Opening Day roster in 2018 with Manny Pina and Stephen Vogt still on the roster, but a eye-opening spring could keep him in Milwaukee’s plans.

Jesus Aguilar

PA AB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO WOBA K% BB% BABIP HR
RW23 145 134 .231 .283 .334 .617 .103 .273 22.3% 6.5% .280 3
Steamer 99 90 .238 .303 .411 .714 .174 .306 23.0% 7.9% .276 4
ZiPS 568 516 .250 .310 .448 .758 .198 .322 23.1% 7.6% .283 26
Actual 311 279 .265 .331 .505 .837 .240 .351 30.2% 8.0% .337 16

Winner: ZiPS

Aguilar is arguably the biggest surprise of the 2017 campaign. He’s a relatively unknown player who just happened to post a 112 wRC+ off the bench in his first full season in MLB. RW23 and Steamer didn’t believe in him at all. Sure, he had a fantastic spring training, but spring training stats are relatively meaningless. It will be interesting to see what the projections look like for Aguilar next year.

Final Results

ZiPS: 5 wins

RW23: 4 wins

Steamer: 1 win

Jonathan Villar bet on himself and lost

Jonathan Villar put together a terrific August. His 146 wRC+ led the team and ranked as the 45th-highest mark of all MLB players whom have had at least 50 plate appearances. Villar played so well in August that manager Craig Counsell has been inserting him into the lineup on a playoff-hopeful team almost on a daily basis.

Yes, Villar has been raking lately. But this article isn’t about how good he is. Instead, the next few hundred words will focus on his miserable and not-so-surprisingly awful 2017 season — his hot August notwithstanding. If you think 55 plate appearances is a decent enough sample size to think he’s a changed player, this piece probably isn’t for you.

In late February, the Milwaukee Brewers offered Villar an extension worth around $20 million in guaranteed money. The second baseman was coming off a 3.1 WAR season in which he hit 19 home runs on his way to a 111 wRC+. He proved he could be constant threat on the bases, as he used his .369 on-base percentage to steal 62 bags in 80 attempts. Naturally, the Brewers wanted to keep him around. They even waived Scooter Gennett in order to make sure Villar had a permanent spot in their lineup. However, somewhat surprisingly, Villar passed on the extension, settling for a $500,000 salary instead of the millions he could’ve made. He instead chose to bet on himself and his future, most likely thinking he could garner more money with a subsequent strong season.

Villar bet on himself, and Villar lost.

As of Sept. 5 Villar has been worth -0.4 Wins Above Replacement, well below replacement level. In other words, only 10 players with a minimum of 400 plate appearances have performed at a lower level than the Brewers’ infielder. In case you’re still not getting it, Villar is the 11th-worst player in Major League Baseball this season.

Let’s compare his last two seasons.

2016 2017
AVG .285 .241
OBP .369 .293
HR 19 11
BABIP .373 .328
wOBA .356 .287
wRC+ 119 70
WAR 3.1 -0.4

Villar’s statistics across the board have plummeted. He went from a hitter who created 19 percent more runs than league average, to one that doesn’t warrant a spot on the major league roster. A lot of that has to do with his discipline at that plate. His walk rate has dropped by five percent and his strikeout percentage — which was already high — has ballooned to 30.1 percent, which is the 10th-highest rate in MLB.

Overall, Villar’s made considerably less contact, and has suffered more bad luck on the balls he has managed to put in play. With a career groundball rate of 56.7 percent, Villar always been a ground-ball batter. And he used that to his advantage in 2016, hitting a remarkable .313 on grounders. Even the average fan could tell you that mark was probably unsustainable going forward. And they’d be right. This year he’s hitting just .272 on ground balls, down 41 points, which is why his BABIP is has fallen almost 50 points as well.

There was just no way Villar could’ve duplicated his 2016 season. He’s a strikeout machine without enough power to make up for it, and without his ability to get on base via the walk, his value dwindles. And that’s exactly what happened. But even my projections didn’t expect him to fall of a cliff and drown in the ocean. My projection system (RW23) pegged the Brewers’ second baseman for regression, but still had him as a high-OBP guy with decent enough power for a middle infielder. I don’t think anyone foresaw his complete meltdown at the plate.

Now, I don’t blame Villar for having confidence in himself and rejecting the extension the Brewers offered. I mean, more power to him. The payoff had the opportunity to be enormous. But as the 2017 comes to an end, it’s hard to believe he doesn’t regret taking the money. But don’t get me wrong; he still has time to prove he is, in fact, the player he was in 2016. At 26 years old, the Brewers would be wise to keep giving him chances, as young players are incredibly important assets. He isn’t eligible for free agency until 2021, and although he’ll enter arbitration this winter for the first time in his career, he won’t cost the team very much.

Expect Villar to play a utility role for the Brewers in 2018, but to think he’ll be as valuable as he was in 2016 or as useless as he’s been this season, is a little outlandish. His true talent level is somewhere in the middle, and hopefully he consistently displays that in the years to come.

Who are the Brewers getting in Anthony Swarzak?

The Milwaukee Brewers are buyers in 2017. If I would’ve told you that on the eve of Opening Day, my readership would be flirting with zero. That’s how incredible this whole thing is. As of publication, the Brewers have a 0.5 game lead in the NL Central over the Chicago Cubs, and they just made a trade. And unlike in recent seasons, they shipped out a prospect (Ryan Cordell) and brought in a veteran (Anthony Swarzak). Yes, the Milwaukee Brewers are buyers in 2017, and even if it’s a soft buy, they’re still attempting to compete.

But who exactly are the Brewers getting in Swarzak?

This has been a breakout year for Swarzak, and you may have guessed that considering you’ve probably never heard of the guy. At 31 years old, he’s been worth 1.7 WAR and posted a 2.23 ERA and a 2.34 FIP across 48.1 innings of relief this year for the Chicago White Sox. For his career, however, his numbers are intensely different and not nearly has admirable. The truth is that he’s been a bad pitcher for the majority of his career. Yet the Brewers believe the pitcher he’s been in 2017 is the real deal, and they shipped away Cordell — one of the players in the Jonathan Lucroy trade a year ago — to put that belief to the test.

The Brewers are probably right about Swarzak, as he’s made significant changes. He’s a two-pitch pitcher who throws a fourseamer and a slider, and he’s managed to up his velocity this year. More importantly, though, he’s discovered a dominant slider. Swarzak has always utilized a slider, but now he’s getting more whiffs than ever with it.

The above chart shows the whiff percentages on each of Swarzak’s pitches since the beginning of his career. As you can see, his slider has gotten better.  His slider whiff rate is sitting just under 20 percent (18.48 percent to be exact) in 2017 — the highest of Swarzak’s career. Side note: He pitched just 13 innings in 2015, so I’m throwing away that sample size.  Not only has his slider improved, but his fastball has been more fierce as well. It sits in the mid-90s and has jumped up almost a full mile per hour from 2016, and batters are really struggling to hit it, managing just a .168 batting average. Quietly but surely, Swarzak has turned into a reliever that can be trusted down the stretch, not just in games but in the late innings as well.

Swarzak will help the Brewers immediately, and this is the type of soft buy the Brewers should be making. Their bullpen is anything but trustworthy, and his presence will allow relievers like Carlos Torres and Oliver Drake to pitch fewer high-leverage innings, which is a very good thing. Swarzak will most likely slide into the seventh/eighth inning role alongside Jacob Barnes, who has had an up-and-down season thus far.

Losing Ryan Cordell isn’t easy — I like him more than most — but there’s essentially no risk here on Milwaukee’s side. The Brewers wanted help for 2017, and Swarzak fits that. He’s cheap and reliable; two things David Stearns values.

Travis Shaw was snubbed

Travis Shaw didn’t make the National League All-Star team. Instead, Nolan Arenado and Jake Lamb will represent the NL as its chosen third basemen, and that’s fine. Arenado is second in WAR among the hot corner, and Lamb has been worth over two wins, as well. The fact that Shaw deserves an All-Star nod more than Lamb isn’t why the former was snubbed. Well, it is, but it’s not the argument I’m going to focus on.

On the Final Vote ballot, there are five players you can choose to nab the final spot. Three are third basemen. Guess how many of those are Travis Shaw? Zero. Shaw was shunned so much so that he wasn’t even included on the final ballot that included three of his counterparts. And that, my friends, is absolutely and utterly ridiculous.

Shaw is having a career year and is clearly enjoying his new home in Miller Park. He’s already set a career high in home runs (18) and has been worth 2.5 Wins Above Replacement through 74 games. To make that hit home a little harder, Shaw entered the season with 3 WAR to his name over 210 games. His on-base percentage has ballooned by over 50 points since 2016, all the while proving to people he is capable of stealing bases — he’s 7-for-7 in stolen base attempts. He’s essentially been more valuable in 2017 than he was in his previous two years combined. But those stats alone don’t prove he’s an All-Star. We need some perspective.

Here is that perspective. Below is a table that lists Arenado and Lamb, plus the three other final vote participant third basemen — Anthony Rendon, Kris Bryant and Justin Turner.

WAR wRC+ wOBA OBP ISO HR
Travis Shaw 2.5 136 .387 .363 0.269 18
Nolen Arenado 2.8 112 .372 .352 0.245 15
Jake Lamb 2.1 129 .380 .378 0.258 18
Anthony Rendon 3.7 145 .397 .398 0.253 16
Justin Turner 3.9 182 .446 .472 0.185 8
Kris Bryant 2.4 135 .380 .391 0.245 16

How Rendon and Turner didn’t make the All-Star Game outright is beyond me. Shame on the fans of the Nationals and Dodgers. They are crushing it and deserve major respect.

So, based on the table above, I understand why those two were among the final vote options. Meanwhile, Lamb should be nowhere near the festivities, but that’s a whole other ordeal. But how come Kris Bryant got more love then Shaw when their stats are nearly identical? Is it because Bryant won the MVP last season? Is it because Bryant won the World Series last season? Is it because Bryant is more of a household name? Yes, those are the reasons. Kudos, MLB! I love popularity contests.

And before Cubs fans start piling on me for being biased, let’s look at Shaw’s ranks among third basemen.

NL 3B Rank
WAR 4th
wRC+ 3rd
wOBA 3rd
OBP 8th
ISO 1st
HR T-1

And yet, he’s not considered among the top five third basemen in the National League. Ridiculous.

The Milwaukee Brewers only garnered one All-Star spot, with Corey Knebel earning his much-deserved first ever appearance. But Shaw deserves at least a final-vote chance. The case can also be made for Eric Thames, Chase Anderson and Jimmy Nelson, but Shaw is the biggest snub of them all.