Tag Archives: Kirk Nieuwenhuis

Bold predictions for the 2017 Milwaukee Brewers

I’ve never published bold predictions on here before. In large part I’ve focused on providing analysis and staying away from clickbait articles, especially when my site was in its infancy. But this year I wanted to try it. Plus, when the season wraps up, you can all laugh at me and tell me how stupid I am. That’s what the internet’s for, right?

Here are my five bold predictions for the 2017 Milwaukee Brewers:

1. Eric Thames will lead the Brewers in home runs

Thames is coming back to the major leagues after a three-year hiatus in Korea where he played like Barry Bonds. He launched 147 home runs in the KBO league and earned a three-year, $16 million deal from the Brewers, which could ultimately be the steal of the offseason.

RW23 thinks he’ll finish with 31 home runs this season, besting Ryan Braun and Domingo Santana for the lead. With the power he showed in Korea and his perceived plate discipline improvement, it comes as little surprise that other projection models are spitting out similar numbers.

2. Domingo Santana will be Milwaukee’s best hitter

I’ve been driving Domingo’s bandwagon since he was acquired from Houston, and I went more in depth about my love for him in an article a few weeks ago. But to sum up, I think he’ll produce the highest wRC+ on the Brewers.

Santana hits the ball hard (he had one of the highest increases in exit velocity from 2015 to 2016), which should lead to more home runs and better production in 2017. His plate discipline is tremendous, but he’ll flourish even more if he becomes just a little more aggressive. He took too many called strikes in 2016 and will need to take the bat off his shoulder if my prediction has a chance to come through. He has a real chance to be an All-Star.

3. Kirk Nieuwenhuis will not make the Opening Day roster

This maybe shouldn’t be classified as a “bold” prediction, but I’m putting it on here nonetheless. The Brewers have a plethora of young, highly regarded outfielders who will eventually need playing time. Therefore, Nieuwenhuis could be the odd-man out, despite hitting 13 home runs in limited playing time a season ago.

Nieuwenhuis is a useful bat off the bench, but at this point of his career, he is what he is. He’s produced just one season as an above-average hitter and will never get on base at a consistent clip. I believe Michael Reed — who has more upside — will take his spot on the 25-man roster, as Nieuwenhuis is owed just $900,000 this season. Cutting him loose will be easy.

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

Barnes is really good. Like really, really good. RW23 absolutely adores him, and with his high strikeout rate and exceptional command that he showed throughout the minors and last year during his rookie debut, I think he’ll eventually supplant Neftali Feliz as closer, who will struggle a bit for the Brewers. He struck out 24 percent of batters faced and allowed just one home run in 26.2 innings last season, along with a 2.70 ERA and an even better 2.36 FIP.

If Feliz doesn’t adapt well in Milwaukee, Corey Knebel might get the first shot to replace him, but Barnes has the stuff to be a lockdown late-inning guy.

5. Ryan Braun doesn’t get traded

I thought for sure he’d be gone by now. After a 133 wRC+ season, Braun’s value is the highest its been since 2012, and I was convinced David Stearns would take advantage of that. But spring training games have started, and Braun remains a Brewer. I now believe he’ll remain one for the duration of the season.

However, I do think he’ll be traded this winter, especially if he produces at a high level again. But if he were to take a step back, Stearns may be kicking himself for not finding a trade partner sooner.

The Santana/Nieuwenhuis situation

This will be one of my shorter posts, but there’s something I just need to get off my chest.

I’ve never really had a problem with Craig Counsell as a manager before. Sure, he sometimes uses his bullpen in explicable ways, and yeah, he puts Scooter Gennett in his lineup, but for the most part he’s fine. But now that Domingo Santana is back from a long DL stint, I have an issue with the young manager.

For some reason,  Counsell has been penciling in Nieuwenhuis’ name into the lineup just as often as Santana’s. Since Santana was reinstated from the disabled list on Aug. 19, he’s had just 25 plate appearances. Nieuwenhuis has 27. And that just doesn’t make sense to me.

The Brewers are rebuilding, right? They don’t care about winning in 2016, right? They’re focused on prospect development, right? Then why in the hell isn’t Santana starting every single game?

Nieuwenhuis isn’t by any means in Milwaukee’s future plans. He’s 29 years old and has been worth just 3.5 WAR in his career. There’s a very high chance that 2016 will be the former Mets’ outfielder only season in Milwaukee. The same cannot be said for Santana. He was just acquired last year in a blockbuster trade for Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers and figures to be a fixture in the Brewers’ outfield for many years to come.

Santana’s development was already stalled because of his prolonged DL trip, and Counsell placing him on the bench is furthering that. He needs at bats. He needs to see major league pitching, He needs work in the outfield. Having him ride the pine in favor of Nieuwenheis is prohibiting all of that, which makes me wonder if Counsell has any idea how to manage a rebuilding team. And why hasn’t David Stearns stepped in and demanded that Counsell act like a rebuilding skipper?

All of this seems fishy to me.

Two unlikely stars

The title of this post has the word “stars” in it, leading you to think I’m going to be writing about two players on the Brewers whom are performing at All-Star caliber levels. I’m not. However, I will be writing about two players whom were projected to be no more than replacement-level performers, but have so far greatly exceeded expectations.

The aforementioned “stars” are Jonathan Villar and Kirk Nieuwenhuis.

Let’s first start with the projections. Below are two of the most popular projection systems we have at our disposal, ZiPS and Steamer. FanGraphs features them on its website, and they are both highly regarded. The third projection in the table is The First Out At Third’s.

Jonathan Villar WAR Kirk Nieuwenhuis WAR
ZiPS 0.7 ZiPS 0.5
Steamer 0.2 Steamer 0.4
FOAT 0.5 FOAT 0.3
Actual 0.7 Actual 1.0

The projections were underwhelming, but by all means fair. Villar was never much of a hitter in the minors, and Nieuwenhuis was just a 2.5-win player coming into the season. Nothing was expected from them; yet they’ve been the third- and fourth-most valuable players for Milwaukee.

Villar has not only been an above-average hitter (114 wRC+), he’s also been a savage on the base paths (15 SB) and a surprisingly average defender at shortstop. He’s already surpassed Steamer’s WAR projection and could be playing his way out of Milwaukee. A player the Brewers acquired in exchange for a minor-league pitcher has turned into an interesting trade chip. How about that? The Brewers are most likely motivated to move him, too. With Orlando Arcia patiently waiting for his time down in Triple-A, Villar is no more than a shortstop filler, although having him replace Scooter Gennett at second base in the future should at least be discussed.

Nieuwenhuis was one of the last players to make the Brewers’ roster after being claimed off waivers in December 2015. He now has the third-highest WAR on the team, thanks to league-average hitting (100 wRC+) and good defense (2 DRS in centerfield). Nieuwenhuis will never be a power guy, but his walk rate has skyrocketed this year, and that, along with a high .356 BABIP, has led to a .351 on-base percentage. He’s been the only competent centerfielder for the Brewers, as Keon Broxton (-0.2 WAR) and Ramon Flores (-0.2 WAR) have been abysmal.

ZiPS now projects Villar to finish with 1.6 WAR and Nieuwenhuis to finish with 1.7 WAR. Steamer is a little less bullish on the two, predicting a final WAR of 1.0 and 1.5, respectively, but nonetheless, the Brewers have found two diamonds in the rough, which is something a rebuilding team needs to dig for.