Tag Archives: Ryan Braun

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.

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Regression candidates for the Milwaukee Brewers

“Regression” is a commonly used phrase in the baseball community, particularly among those who consider themselves statheads or sabermetric-minded. It’s even popular among fantasy baseballers. Listen to a fantasy baseball podcast and I guarantee you’ll hear the word “regression” at least 49 times. It might become redundant, but it’s important to understand and expect regression, especially if a player has a stat that looks like an outlier and/or is getting up there in age.

Take Gary Sanchez of the New York Yankees, for example. Forty percent of his fly balls flew out of the park in 2016. There’s absolutely no chance he repeats that. If he does (he won’t), his home-run-to-fly-ball ratio would be the highest of any qualified hitter in Major League Baseball history. Sanchez has terrific power for a catcher, but even Barry Bonds’ fly balls didn’t carry that much. Sanchez will regress, that much is certain.

Like the Yankees’ backstop, there were a few players on the Milwaukee Brewers last season that produced numbers that are more than likely unsustainable.

Jonathan Villar

Villar is coming off a .373 BABIP, meaning 37 percent of his batted balls went for hits. To put that in perspective, he ranked fourth in MLB in that category, and he was better than Mike freakin’ Trout. Right away, the odds of him sustaining that high of a BABIP are extremely low, just because that’s insane. But there are other warning signs, as well.

Villar hit the ball on the ground 55.6 percent of the time in 2016, which doesn’t leave much room for other types of batted balls, including line drives. In order to try and predict his regression, I looked at every player who was within about three percentage points of Villar’s GB%, so I could see how their BABIP compared to the Brewers’ infielder.

Player GB% BABIP
Eric Hosmer 58.9% .301
Yunel Escobar 58.1% .339
Christian Yelich 56.6% .356
Ryan Braun 55.7% .326
Jonathan Villar 55.6% .373
Cesar Hernandez 54.9% .363
Wilson Ramos 54.3% .327
Adam Eaton 53.7% .329
Ian Desmond 53.4% .350
Jean Segura 53.1% .353
Denard Span 52.7% .291
Adonis Garcia 52.4% .308
Brett Gardner 52.3% .310
Average .333

This list actually shows the 14 players with the highest GB% last season — which illustrates just how frequently Villar put the ball on the ground — and out of all these guys, Villar’s BABIP was far and away the highest, which essentially points to automatic regression. Now, keep in mind that league average batting average on balls in play is usually around .300, and aside from Span, every player above exceeded that, so Villar is still likely to as well. He has the speed which allows him to use ground balls to his advantage — which is why most of these players have admirable marks — but while Villar’s BABIP probably won’t crater down to earth like President Donald Trump’s approval rating, it’s definitely going to drop closer toward the mean (.333) in 2017, and as a result, his overall offensive production will falter a bit.

Ryan Braun

During the last two seasons, Braun has looked like the same fearsome hitter that he was when he produced MVP-caliber campaigns back in 2011 and 2012. He has 55 home runs during that span, 30 of which came last year, and while that has been an impressive run, it’s likely going to come to an end, as Braun is about to experience some serious home run regression.

braun

Above is a chart of Braun’s HR/FB ratio over the course of his career. His fly balls have always carried over the wall at a higher rate than most other players, but 2017 was an entirely different story. Braun not only posted a career high with a 28 percent home-run-to-fly-ball ratio, but he actually led all of baseball in this statistic, and it wasn’t all that close, either. Before last year, Braun never even came close to hitting 25 percent, much less flirting with 30, so predicting a home run regression isn’t exactly a shot in the dark. Not to mention the fact that he recently turned 33, and power usually evaporates with age.

Braun turned in one his best seasons in recent memory, but if his fly balls stop carrying out of the ball park, can we really expect him to put up similar numbers?

Junior Guerra

Guerra came out of nowhere and provided 2.5 WAR in 20 starts for the Brewers last year, second only to Zach Davies. He’ll battle Davies for the right to start on Opening Day, but it’s unwise to believe he can repeat a 2.81 ERA. Just look at his peripherals. His 3.71 FIP and 4.29 xFIP are huge warning signs going into 2018. Those two marks were considerably higher than his ERA because he wasn’t much of a strikeout pitcher, had some issues with walks and kept the ball in the park at an alarming rate — all of which suggest that regression is about to hit him hard.

The then 31-year-old rookie was also quite lucky last season. His .250 BABIP was the fifth-lowest mark among starting pitchers (min. 120 IP), just ahead of Clayton Kershaw and a fraction behind Kyle Hendricks. And even when he did allow hits, he did an unusually terrific job at stranding them, as is evident by his 79.4 percent strand rate.

Steamer projections are predicting him to fall off a cliff with a 4.32 ERA, and while I could definitely see that happening, that may be a bit too much projected regression.

Offseason questions surrounding the Milwaukee Brewers

During the 2015-16 NBA season, the Golden State Warriors won 73 games, a number later matched by the 2016 Milwaukee Brewers, which is admittedly more than most people projected. Granted, Counsell’s Crew lost 89 games, but there’s very little credibility to the people who say that this was a lost season. It’s just not true.

Year one of the Milwaukee’s rebuilding plan has come to an end, and there’s probably at least three more seasons of inadequacy still to come. That means there are questions the Brewers need to address, particularly during this offseason.

Let’s get started, shall we?

Will Scooter Gennett be on the Opening Day roster in 2017?

Gennett followed his replacement-level season in 2015 with another forgettable campaign in 2016. His 0.1 WAR was the fifth-worst in Major League Baseball, and although he hit a career-high 14 home runs, he struck out 21% of the time and the worst defensive season of his major league life.

With Orlando Arcia now a mainstay at shortstop, the Brewers may move Jonathan Villar — who struggled at third base — to second, effectively ending Gennet’s time as a Brewer. On the other hand, the Brewers may choose to live with Villar’s incompetence in the hot corner for the time being, seeing as how they really have no other viable option.

 

Will Ryan Braun be traded this winter?

Rumor has it that the Milwaukee Brewers and the Los Angeles Dodgers were extremely close to pulling off a trade that sent Braun to L.A. and Yasiel Puig to Milwaukee. Apparently time ran out and the trade deadline hit, so no agreement was ever reached. The popular thought is, though, that the two teams will engage in discussions again in the winter.

Braun’s contract is a problem for most teams, but for a club like the Dodgers, money is no issue. Braun is coming off a tremendous offensive season (133 wRC+) and proved he’s still one of the game’s top hitters. The Brewers may have no need for him anymore. They’re rebuilding and by the time they’re ready to compete, Braun will be way passed his prime.

Milwaukee absolutely needs to trade him, and they need to do it this winter. But will they?

Brewers trade talk: Who stays and who goes?

Being a fan of a miserable team isn’t all that much fun. Attending games is less entertaining and watching your team lose time and time again on television eventually becomes a waste of time, not to mention beyond frustrating.  And yet, being a fan of a miserable team can have its perks, especially during the weeks leading up to the trade deadline. The trade deadline is a time when rebuilding teams can do just that — rebuild. They go out and acquire young talent while issuing farewells to long-time players, and although it may be sad, it’s for the good of the team.

That’s how Brewers’ fans are currently feeling. Aside from constant trade rumors, it’s been a rather boring year for Milwaukee fans, and they’re excited for the rumors to finally come to fruition. I know I am.

It should be a busy week and a half for the Brewers’ front office, and I’m sure David Stearns is on the phone right now trying to work a deal.

Let’s get to some predictions.

Players who will be traded

Jonathan Lucroy – If Lucroy’s still a member of the Brewers on Aug. 2, I’ll be absolutely shocked. He’s arguably the best player on the trade market, and with his defensive value and 123 wRC+, there’s multiple teams vying for his services.

Prediction: The Texas Rangers seem like the current favorite to land him, and they make the most sense, so I’m going to go with them. However, I have a feeling Boston will come just in the nick of time with a better offer, especially if they don’t believe Sandy Leon‘s current pace is sustainable. Spoiler: It’s not.

Jeremy Jeffress – Almost every contending team is in need of bullpen help, and the Brewers have a few to spare, including their closer. Jeffress’ strikeouts are down a considerable amount in 2016, but that hasn’t stopped him from running a 2.29 ERA and a 3.40 FIP. Teams will be drawn to him because of his mid-90s fastball that creates a plethora of ground balls. Jeffress probably won’t close on whichever team he’s dealt to, but he’ll no doubt make it stronger.

Prediction: The San Francisco Giants have been rumored to have interest, and I think that’s where he’ll land, maybe as a setup man to Santiago Casilla. Those two would make a dangerous 1-2 punch.

Junior Guerra – I’m in the minority on this one, but I really think Guerra will be moved. A team looking for a controllable pitcher who won’t cost much will find no better option than the Brewers’ 31-year-old rookie. He has an ERA that’s flirting with going below 3 and can hit 96 mph on the gun. At least one team will be attracted to him,

Prediction: Guerra seems like a perfect fit for the Rangers, who, by the way, are currently employing Kyle Lohse as a starter in their rotation.

Players who won’t be traded

Ryan Braun – If you would have asked me a month ago if I thought Braun would be on the move, I would have definitively said yes. Now I’m not so sure. His contract is huge, and his injury history is obviously worrisome. I thought his performance this season would negate all that. Then July hit. So far this month Braun has a 45 wRC+ and has yet to hit a home run. Can a team really take a chance that he’ll get his swing back over the last two months AND absorb his enormous contract?

Will Smith – Will Smith is receiving a lot of interest, so I could see him being traded. Then again, I’m a believer in David Stearns, and I think Stearns will wait until next year to sell Smith off after he regains some value. Smith has lost a little value this year because he’s not striking out hitters like he once did. His strikeout rate has fallen from 34.5% in 2015 to 22.7% in 2016. That’s essentially a 12% loss of strikeouts. Stearns might want to hold on to him a little while longer.

Ryan Braun has improved his plate discipline

Go back to 2014, a year after Ryan Braun was suspended by Major League Baseball. Are you there yet? OK great.

Just three years removed from winning the NL MVP award, Braun’s (as of then) Hall of Fame career seemed to be fizzling out, like Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. He had already shown a loss of power in 2013 with just nine home runs in 253 plate appearances, and he showed no signs of a comeback in 2014. In fact, Braun was considerably worse in all facets of his game. His ability to get on base vanished, he stopped pulling the ball and ended up posting his lowest contact percentage since his rookie campaign. A thumb problem could easily explain all of his troubles, but nonetheless, Braun, once of the most feared hitters in baseball, became anything but a threat at the plate.

Jump ahead a year to 2015. After undergoing a thumb procedure called cryotherapy, Braun began to look  a little like his former MVP-self. He bashed 25 home runs and accumulated his highest WAR since 2012. Though he was nowhere near the player he was just a handful of years ago, Braun was once again a feared hitter.

And now we get to the present day, where Braun has been the subject of many, many trade rumors. MLB Trade Rumors listed him as one of the top 10 trade candidates this summer, even taking into account that he might be hard to move given the money he’s owed and his injury/PED history. Why is his name such a hot topic? It’s simple, really. Braun, by far, is having his best offensive season since 2012 when he hit 41 home runs and outperformed his MVP year. According to FanGraphs’ wRC+ leaderboard, Braun is MLB’s 19th-best hitter with a 145 wRC+.

braun

The above chart shows why teams are interested in him, despite the heavy baggage he carries. One of the main reasons Braun has returned to prominence is his eye at the plate. Before the last three seasons or so, no one ever really questioned his plate discipline. Posting high walk rates and respectable strikeout rates was always the kind of player Braun was, but he’s on an entirely different level now in 2016.

Braun’s walk rate (10.0%) is almost a career high, and his 14% strikeout rate is down from 20.2% a season ago. At age 32, that’s damn impressive. He’s done this by swinging at more pitches inside the zone and swinging at fewer pitches outside of the zone (see chart below).

swing

Because he’s stopped swinging at bad pitches (i.e. balls), Braun has significantly cut down on his whiffs and his zone contact percentage (89.6%) is its highest since 2010. I don’t know if he’s more confident now that his thumb is seemingly healed, but the player he was from 2013-15, at least in terms of plate discipline, is no longer.

We all know that when Braun makes contact, good things usually happen. We don’t need to look at his .336 career BABIP to understand that,. When Braun puts the ball in play, he’s of great value, and because he’s doing it with such consistency and force, his name will keep popping up in trade talks until he’s inevitably dealt.

Offseason goals for the Milwaukee Brewers

I recently turned 24, and in those 8760 days, the Milwaukee Brewers have made the playoffs just twice. They were the National League Wild Card in 2008 (I spent my high school homecoming watching them play the Phillies instead of dancing with my girlfriend) and they were crowned NL Central champs in 2011. Other than that, my life as a Milwaukee Brewers fan has been without reward.

However, they’ve never really “rebuilt” during my lifetime. Despite having only two winning seasons in the 90s, the Brewers failed to get younger through trades and, for the most part, were miserable when it came to drafting players. The early 2000s were spent replacing terrible players with other terrible players amidst 90+ loss seasons, although they did find some gold pieces in the draft. Without drafting the likes of Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, J.J. Hardy and Rickie Weeks, there would be no 2008 playoff appearance. Yet that was the last draft success story for the Brewers front office. Since then, it’s been a mess.

For the first time in decades, the Brewers are undergoing a massive rebuild, and for the first time in decades, they are acknowledging the team won’t be competitive for at least a few years. And I just have one thing to say about it: FINALLY.

It’s about time the Brewers start over. Too long have they been a bad-to-average team. Too long has their fan base been disappointed. A clean, fresh start is a necessity, a conclusion owner Mark Attanasio has ultimately come to. In early October, Attanasio told Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “In my thirst to compete, maybe we ended up in the middle a little too often.” I smiled when I read that quote.

New general manager David Stearns has the franchise reins now, and from everything he’s said and everything I’ve read about the man, he seems like the right guy for the job. His focus is centered on giving the organization young prospects whom can be molded into big-league talent. That’s the definition of rebuilding.

That mission begins this offseason, and I have a few ideas on how to start the long-awaited process.

Trade Lucroy, Braun and Rodriguez

Trading the team’s best three players will be no small task, and the average fan will likely throw a tantrum, but this is a move that’s in the best interest of not only the Brewers, but the players themselves.

Jonathan Lucroy and Ryan Braun are in their primes, but by the time Milwaukee’s rebuild is complete, they won’t be anymore. Let them play out their good years on a competitive team instead of wasting away in a Brewers uniform. Plus, the prospects the Brewers would get back for them would be top-rated ones, just like the ones they received in the Carlos Gomez/Mike Fiers trade. Lucroy’s contract is dirt cheap and he’s one of the best backstops in the game, so trading him shouldn’t be difficult. Braun. on the other hand, is just beginning a five-year, $100 million contract extension. Finding a team to take on that contract won’t be easy, but at least Braun’s 2015 season (129 wRC+)  boosted his value again.

Now, while Francisco Rodriguez‘s days of throwing in the high-90s are long gone, he proved in 2015 he can still be a dominant arm out of the bullpen. The Brewers no longer have a need for a veteran closer who costs $7.5 million, so trading him for a can of pickles would be worth it. Freeing up that money is the most important thing. Plus, I can just bet Scooter Gennett loves pickles.

Acquire a 3B prospect

Aramis Ramirez did a fine job holding down the third base fort for the past two and a half seasons, but during that time, the Brewers failed to prepare for his departure. Right now, they have Hernan Perez* (-0.8 career WAR) and Elian Herrera (0.5 career WAR) as possible third-base options. However, neither of those players are long-term solutions, and there’s no one in the minors who is remotely ready for a promotion to the bigs. The Brewers, without a doubt, need to solidify the hot corner.

When/if the Brewers trade any of the players I mentioned above in my first point, a third base prospect will surely be a point of prominence in any trade discussion.

*Has since been made a minor league free agent.

Add as much young pitching as possible

Teams with depth, particularly pitching depth, are usually the ones who have the most success. Just look at two World Series teams this year in New York and Kansas City. Stearns has already spoke about the importance of pitching depth, meaning going out and grabbing as many young pitching prospects as he can is already on his mind.

The Brewers like the young pitching they have (Jimmy Nelson, Taylor Jungmann), but the depth isn’t there, and to be honest, neither is the talent. Their history of draft picks spent on pitchers reads like a bad novel, but hopefully the new front office regime will have a little more luck.

Find a cheap centerfielder

The outfield as it currently lines up is Khris Davis in left field, Domingo Santana in center field and Ryan Braun in right. There’s only one problem; Santana has no business being in center as he belongs in a corner spot. Unfortunately, the Brewers have no true center fielders on the roster, which makes acquiring one a must.

That, however, will cause a traffic jam in the outfield, a problem that can easily be solved by trading Braun. Davis will most likely stay put because he’s cheap and under team control, and I don’t see Stearns giving away someone like that.

Santana will need to be in the lineup everyday in order to get as many plate appearances as possible, but that may mean he’ll need to tough it out in center until a reliable replacement comes along.

The projections: What I got right

As you know, baseball projections, or any projections for that matter, are never a sure thing, especially when they consist of nothing but educated guesses, as mine do. Projection systems like Steamer and ZiPS, which you can find on FanGraphs lovely site, are much more accurate, because they use complicated and in-depth formulas and models to make their decisions on players. As for me, I simply did some research and predicted the results on my own.

But even though my projections were purely guesses, I still had my share of correct calls. Here’s where I went right:

Adam Lind

AVG HR wOBA wRC+ OBP ISO K% BB% WAR
Projection .279 18 .353 122 .340 0.181 18.7% 7.8% 1.5
Season Stats .277 20 .351 119 .360 0.183 17.5% 11.5% 2.2

Not to pat myself on the back or anything, but I was dead on when it came to projecting LInd. Aside from his on-base percentage and walk rate, I was just one or two points off on every offensive statistic. His WAR was higher than I thought it’d be; credit that to his glove. His 5 Defensive Runs Saved at first base was far and away a career high.

Though it’s not saying much, Lind had one of the best offensive seasons on the Brewers in 2015. He got on base more than any Brewer not named Gerardo Parra, and he rediscovered his power swing after hitting just six home runs a year ago.

2016 outlook: Don’t be surprised if Lind is traded this winter. New general manager David Stearns already cleaned house with the coaching staff and has reorganized the front office. It’s only a matter of time before he starts moving player personnel.

Ryan Braun

AVG HR wOBA wRC+ OBP ISO K% BB% WAR
Projection .308 26 .368 140 .378 .220 18.2% 8.9% 4.5
Season Stats .285 25 .366 129 .356 .213 20.2% 9.5% 2.8

Okay, okay, I know there’s a huge discrepancy in Braun’s projected Wins Above Replacement and his actual WAR. I thought he was going to improve at least a little in right field since he had a whole year there under his belt. but he was just as pitiful as he was in 2014.

However, my prediction that he would transform back into one of baseball’s best hitters came true. Braun put up his highest ISO since 2012 and finished 29th in all of baseball in weighted runs created plus.

2016 outlook: With his extension just about to kick in, it’ll be tough to trade Braun, no matter how badly Stearns wants to. Nonetheless, Braun proved he can still hit with the elite, and he should continue that next season.

Scooter Gennett

AVG HR wOBA wRC+ OBP ISO K% BB% WAR
Projection .268 6 .310 95 .314 .125 17.0% 4.1% 1.4
Season Stats .264 6 .289 77 .294 .117 17.4% 3.1% 0.2

As regular readers know, I’ve never been a fan of Scooter Gennett. Every time I see him at the plate, I shed a tear for the departed Rickie Weeks. Sigh.

I knew Gennett was going to have a below-average season, which is why I’m counting this as a win for my projections. Yet, I didn’t expect him to be so abysmal that I was rooting for Hector Gomez to take over his second-base job. He played no better than a replacement player. Offensively, he was useless, and his defense took a big slide as well.

2016 outlook: Honestly, I can’t imagine Gennett having a major-league job next year. Oh wait. The Brewers are rebuilding, which means Gennett will absolutely be on the team’s roster, unfortunately. Unless Milwaukee is ready to give one of their younger prospects a try. I mean, why not?

Jeremy Jeffress

ERA FIP xFIP SIERA HR K% BB% GB% WAR
Projection 2.62 3.11 3.00 2.59 4 21.9% 9.6% 57.4% 1.0
Season Stats 2.65 3.22 3.00 2.85 5 23.5% 7.7% 58.2% 0.8

Before the season started, I wrote that Jeremy Jeffress would be MLB’s next top closer sometime in the near future, and after the stand-out numbers he racked together as the setup man in 2015, I’m even more confident in saying that. I called this one almost perfectly.

Jeffress is a strikeout and ground-ball pitcher, and he proved that over a full season for the first time in his career. He struck out almost nine batters per game and his GB% was the 17th-best among qualified relievers, mostly due to his power sinker.

2016: Jeffress will again be Craig Counsell‘s go-to-guy in high leverage situations next season, and he even could slide into the closer’s role if the Brewers choose to shed money and a veteran by trading Francisco Rodriguez.

 

You can check out my full list of projections here:

Hitters

Pitchers