Reliving the 2017 Season: Milwaukee Brewers Edition | The Process Report

Reliving the 2017 Season: Milwaukee Brewers Edition

With the end of the regular season comes a time for reflection for the majority of baseball fans. What went right? What went wrong? You probably have a few ideas where your teams fell short or exceeded expectations, but what about a completely emotionless point of view? Throughout this season I have shown what batter and pitcher production looks like when we regress balls in play to look more like what the players should have seen using exit velocity and launch angle. The offseason will be no different as I take a team by team look at how the season fared for the team, while going a little deeper on a handful of players from each team. The order will mirror next June’s draft slotting so you can expect to find some depression leading to elation here. It’s going to take some time, but I would like to get two to three of these out each week which should allow for every team being covered before our glorious game returns to continue threshing our hearts.

Past:

30 – 21: DET SFG PHI CWS CIN NYM SDP ATL OAK PIT

20 – 11:  BAL TOR MIA SEA TEX TBR LAA KCR STL MIN

This past year for the Milwaukee Brewers show exactly why you need to play for this year even if you think brighter lights await in the future. A savvy offseason that featured smart buys and sell highs helped a young roster coalesce into a team that battled for playoff contention until the final days of the season. You can see above that very little of that credit should go to the bats who seemed to range from average, at their very best, to well below at their nadir. However, the pitching was very strong as a homegrown nucleus finally started to take steps forward to actualize all that promise.

The bats vastly outperformed expectations over the first half before everything fell in line over the rest of the season. Similar to the massive gap seen with the Tampa Bay Rays, the Brewers were no strangers to the strikeout knowing that they could generate enough power to offset the ugly weakness. Things looked less pretty once the bats regressed to expectations, however. This looks like the biggest weakness on the team going forward and one that may not have many internal fixes ready to make the leap. The arms, also, must take a step back after the shoulder injury to their nominal ace Jimmy Nelson towards the end of the season. You’ll see below just how hard it will be to replace his impact.

Boasting one of the better pitching lines thus reviewed, the Brewers were able to ride quality contact suppression paired with league average strikeout rates. The walks are a little higher than average, but their ability to draw weak contact helped offset the occasional extra base runner. Moving down a row to the batters you can plainly see that the strikeout was a major issue for the team. Walking at an above average rate helps, and the actual production on balls in play shows a team willing to trade whiff for power. The thing is, these metrics feel that the team vastly outperformed reasonable expectations on those balls in play. Below average expected production on contact means that the team was not sustainably trading strikeouts for extra base hits. Something that should not be doubled down upon in the upcoming season, perhaps.

Jimmy Nelson and Chase Anderson formed one of the very best 1-2 punches atop a rotation in the game. They ran similar walk rates with Nelson striking out more and Anderson allowing a pitiful rate of ball in play production to opponents. A stout pen led by the trident of Corey Knebel, Josh Hader and Jacob Barnes destroyed batters’ will to come back late in games. With all the fuss over super bullpens it is nice to see a team develop their very best relief aces internally. The team also went out and acquired Anthony Swarzak mid-season, who showed equal brilliance whether he was a White Sox reliever or one with the Brewers. Jeremy Jeffress was a similar addition that showed enviable production that dwarfed what he did with the Rangers previously.

After the top-two starters things get a little dicey, but the team was well-stocked to take advantage of the other pitching revolution currently taking place. Guys like Brandon Woodruff and Brent Suter might not be top of the rotation guys, but they are quite effective when their workloads are carefully managed. Cobbling together another rotation spot out of these two should be likely going forward. Additionally, command and control darling Zach Davies might show up on the lower end here, but that’s only due to how strong the Brewers were last year. He was close enough to a league average starter while amassing the most batters faced on the team. Something that is fairly important when trying to piggyback a rotation spot with or without a dominant pen. Lastly, Junior Guerra was unable to build upon his surprisingly successful 2016 amidst arm issues. The walks are ugly, but he could be another strong option if the team wants to use him in more of a multi-inning relief role than as a starter.

It was a crushing blow to the team and it’s fans when Jimmy Nelson required shoulder surgery that would force him to miss the end of 2017, but also a fairly large chunk of 2018. As you can see above, the former solid prospect was finally making good with enviable production throughout the middle of the season. His worst stretches saw him as something like an average pitcher, and it looks like he was a little bit unfortunate on those balls in play. Having not only one, but perhaps three, starter(s) that can provide both volume, but also value, is what allows teams to be able to get creative in the backend of their rotations. Losing Nelson will make it much more difficult for the team to overlap pitchers to their heart’s content. While the strong performance looks justified, the history of pitchers coming back from shoulder injuries is murky, at best, thus making it difficult to see him as anything other than a high risk wild card for this upcoming season.

The second head of the snake was another guy that had taken a little bit of time to figure it out in the most difficult league on the planet. You can see his start showed a lot of the same. An average or worse pitcher who saw worse actual results than should have been expected, but then the switch got flicked. Whether it was an adjustment to his pitch mix or mechanics or simply abnormally solid health, Chase Anderson was thoroughly dominant throughout the rest of the season. He progressively got worse, but even by the end of the season he was merely a very good starting pitcher rather than a guy that should have been in Cy Young contention. As far as projecting forward I’d lean more towards who he was towards the end of the season than either the poor performance at the beginning or the legendary output in the middle. That’s a good pitcher who is worth your money at auction.

Coming into the season the fine folks over at Baseball Prospectus were churning out some previously unseen figures useful for diagnosing who the best (and worst) tunnelers were in the game. These are guys who can make their pitch pairs look indistinguishable out of the chute with break coming late enough that batters have nearly no chance of knowing how the ball will move. Davies proved to be, perhaps, the most adept wizard in the game at hiding these different pitches within each other. Folks probably scoffed at the notion that this is important, yet Zach Davies, a guy that can’t break 90 MPH showed up as essentially a league average pitcher last year. There were ups and downs early on, but he seemed to get everything working right by mid-season. From there he rolled hard crushing batters over the rest of the season. His actual results were even a bit better at times, though rarely worse. Most teams do a lot worse when it comes to their third starter, though he will be counted upon to provide even more next year in covering for Nelson.

Playing in a notorious hitter’s park can be a lot like putting makeup on a pimple. Things might look fine on the surface, but pulsating underneath, ready to burst at any moment, lies that zit even if you’re the only one that knows it. We saw the massive over-performance from the club over the first half that helped feed the notion that this was a strong offensive club, but when you’re crying in the tub as the makeup runs down, that thing is still there and not getting any better.

Domingo Santana proved to be the best performer on the club obliterating baseballs even if it came with an ugly strikeout rate. Ryan Braun was a little more middle of the road. He didn’t walk or strikeout as much as Santana, but he also didn’t hit with anywhere near the authority. Still, for a guy that any team could have right now for virtually nothing Braun still should be enticing as an above average player with some health concerns. International acquisition Eric Thames proved to be a savvy addition, though he was much more of the Santana mold with a few more walks and a little less power. Part-timer Eric Sogard proved he’s more than a set of glasses as he acquitted himself well in the small role, while import Travis Shaw, maybe not even the best part of the Tyler Thornburg return, gave the team a reliable bat on the infield corners. Another platoon player, Jesus Aguilar, was an above average stick, as well, though he is strictly relegated to 1B.

The team saw very little in the middle to follow up that raft of fine players. The bottom shows nearly as many, however. Manny Pina and Jett Bandy are probably fine enough hitters for a catcher, but the team gave ample run to a smattering of others that was hardly worth it. Keon Broxton failed to follow up his surprisingly effective 2016 mostly due to the walk rate collapsing. Similar thoughts can be bestowed upon the positionally flexible Hernan Perez. Orlando Arcia’s rookie campaign probably showed the team about what they expected. His glove will carry him, but the non-ball in play stuff is more like league average while the expected production when he does put it in play should be well below even with the vast overperformance this past season. Lastly, and perhaps the biggest reason the team couldn’t bust into the playoff party was the dramatic fall off experienced by Jonathan Villar who looks like a better fantasy player than in reality. He still struck out a ton and walked well enough, but the power completely disappeared mostly due to a very low launch angle. He was yet another guy that saw better results than he should have, but that only serves to mask how very bad he was.

Santana proved to be their best hitter mostly by doing well to avoid a major slump. He was an average or better hitter for much of the season before going on a tear to close it all out. There was some overperformance early on that was countered somewhat by a spell where he saw the reverse take place. The extremely strong finish looks fully justified by the data. He’ll probably continue to strike out quite often and has little room for growth in the walk rate. I would expect his power output to fall a couple dozen points back down to what the system thinks making him more of a fine complement on a good team rather than the guy that is clearly the best hitter, as the numbers show he was last season. The team seems to have interest in moving him, but that could have been merely chumming the waters to see if there was a massive sell high awaiting the club. That doesn’t appear to be the case. Despite the team being well-stocked with outfield candidates I wouldn’t expect Santana to cede any time to his peers this year.

In his second go-round in the Show Eric Thames showed the old dog can learn some new tricks, but when you’re rocking a leash you can still get pulled back from time to time. His very strong start was somewhat justified, but it didn’t last long in either event. From then on he was mostly an average or worse hitter who enjoyed some overperformance that made him look a little better. It does not look like he was able to adjust back to the league for any sustained stretch so I would expect more of the same next year, but probably without that initial scorch stretch. He might have some value in leagues where he qualifies as an outfielder, but I wouldn’t spend real money on him.

Many laughs were had at the hand of Dave Dombrowski’s eternal lust for proven relievers despite them having just as much chance to fall apart as anyone else. Shaw was the present piece, a guy his former team no longer had any use for after he gutted out some injury issues that affected his defensive play in the year prior. Add in that this analyst saw him as strictly a platoon player on a good club and you can see why expectations were fairly low. Then he just kept hitting for the Brewers. There was quite a bit of inflation throughout his very strong first half of the season, but expectations still had him as a well above average hitter. Again, he closed poorly, which may speak to a recurrence of previous maladies, something that would make me a little wary of chasing him too hard. He would probably be fine in your corner infield spot or as a platoon play, and there doesn’t seem to be enough upside remaining to really want to pencil him in and hope for more. For the Brewers, he’s mostly fine, but in both cases I think he can be improved upon.

Leaderboards

We’re getting close to the end. As such, we have covered many players that profile as the best and the worst in their leagues. Below, you will find the top and bottom-20 pitchers and hitters so far reviewed. Further down you will find the team aggregate lines, and then lastly you will see how these teams rank upon combining their xwRAA.



Leave a Reply

#layout { padding-left:20px; }