Every year before the season starts, Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projections come out. Then, a slew of articles and discussions are written about the projections, and only a person with too much time on their hands can keep up with those. In short, everybody wants to see where their team ranks within the projections, and everyone wants to bookmark the articles to see whether or not PECOTA is wrong, misguided, or just plain stupid.
At the end of the day, people typically want to see what they want to see out of the projections. This doesn’t only apply to the PECOTA projections but to most projections in sports. It’s typically an exercise in confirmation bias. If PECOTA says your team is going to do well, then you agree with it. If PECOTA says your team is going to be bad then you’re probably going to feel like PECOTA is wrong or flawed and will simply dismiss the results you see. This is generally speaking, of course.
PECOTA, though, is a fun tool. It usually comes out right before the season starts. It often times signals that after a long winter baseball is coming, and it’s a way to get the conversation started — the conversation of how your team is going to fair and how your favorite player is going to do. It’s a way to get baseball fans thinking and pumped up for the upcoming season.
But, the season now has come and gone. The temperature is dropping, the leaves are changing, and you can already feel the cold winds of winter coming.
The Brewers have had an unsuccessful season. If you’re reading this you probably already know this. You probably know this better than me; hell you probably know this so well your sick of knowing it. So, let’s look at how PECOTA did when projecting the Brewers this past year.
Before we dive into the players, let’s acknowledge that PECOTA thought the Brewers were going to be an average team. They had them projected for an 81-81, season, which would have had them finish third in their division and miss the playoffs.
The Brewers instead finished with a 68-94 record and, needless to say, missed the playoffs. Mainly, PECOTA thought the Brewers were going to be a decent offensive team with decent fielding. In both cases, PECOTA was wrong, especially in the hitting department, as the Brewers finished with the third worst True Average (TAv) in all of baseball.
A few notes before beginning. The player’s stats for those who played for multiple teams this season only includes what they performed while they were with the Brewers. Also, I only looked at players who PECOTA had projected to be with the Brewers this year. Meaning that a player had to start the season with the Brewers.
Let’s now look at how PECOTA did with the position players.
PECOTA was especially wrong with Jean Segura. It thought Segura would produce plus defense, which according to FRAA he did, with an average bat. Segura did not have an average bat this year, unfortunately for the Brewers. His .218 was the worst of his career and ranked 41st out of 55 shortstops.
PECOTA, though, didn’t just have optimistic projections for Segura, but for most of the Brewers core players. It was actually too high on Braun, Gomez, Gennett, and Davis. For most of the group, PECOTA overestimated how well they would hit. For Gomez, however, the projection system overestimated his base running and defensive performance. It thought Gomez would finish with a BRR of 1.8; instead he finished with a BRR of zero. Gomez, though, as was the case for most of the Brewers core, dealt with many injuries throughout the year, which is probably a major factor in them underperforming their projections.
Adam Lind, on the other hand, considerably outperformed his projections. It has been well noted on this site and on others how Lind has had a quality season. He’s been able to stay relatively healthy all year and has provided good production on defense. A task that few knew he could accomplish. But, what has made Lind so successful this year is his continued excellence against right-handed pitching, which has allowed him to well over perform his PECOTA projections and make himself a desirable trade chip this winter.
Let’s now look at the pitching side.
The big two that PECOTA really overestimated was, to no one’s surprise, Kyle Lohse and Matt Garza. Both pitchers posted some of the worst numbers of their career’s including ERA’s well over five. And considering the current pitching environment, the Brewers simply can’t have that type of production from one, let alone two of their main starters. Lohse, near the end of the season, actually found himself in the bullpen. Garza, on the other hand, was allowed to finish the season away from the team — although the Brewers might look to move him and his contract next year.
The other starter that really hurt the Brewers was Willy Peralta. PECOTA wasn’t exactly high on Peralta to begin, but it didn’t envision him posting a negative WARP. His season was mostly hampered due to a strained left oblique, which caused him to miss almost nine weeks of the season. But Peralta’s biggest and continued problem has been his inability to strikeout hitters, this year averaging 4.97 SO/9. Usually, while pitchers who throw with higher velocities tend to strikeout more hitters, this isn’t the case for Peralta and needs to become the case if he wants to have continued success in the big leagues.
The Brewers’ pitching staff was truly awful at the beginning of the year, but key young pitchers started making considerable strides as the season progressed. Mainly, Jimmy Nelson and Taylor Jungmann who both outperformed their PECOTA projections.
Nelson was called up last year, and in his 69.3 innings pitched, he struggled to find his footing as a big league starter. This year, he’s made significant improvements, adding a curveball, but more importantly increasing the movement on his slider. These types of adjustments have allowed Nelson to significantly outperform his PECOTA projections, more than any other pitcher on the Brewers.
As for Taylor Jungmann, the main problem with his projections was that he didn’t pitch in the big leagues in 2014. This allowed him to sneak under PECOTA’s, and most Brewers fans, radar. It also allowed him to become one of the best stories in 2015. A top draft pick that was often seen as an afterthought in the Brewers farm system rose up and had one of the best pitching rookie seasons in 2015.
As for the bullpen, the one that clearly stands out is Michael Blazek. The Brewers, in years past, have had bad bullpens. It was often seen as a wrench in the team’s success. This year, however, it became the Brewers’ biggest asset and Blazek’s emergence was one of the main reasons why.
In reality, the problem for the Brewers wasn’t simply that three of their main starters underperformed their projections, although it certainly didn’t help. The core of their offense underperforming their projections was actually the biggest culprit in the Brewers poor season. Most of those players got injured or got off to bad starts and then were never able to recover in time for the Brewers to turn thing’s around.
That being said, this might all be for the best. Another mediocre season could have prompted the Brewers to stand pat and do nothing. Now, the Brewers appear to have a clear and coherent plan to rebuild, and the organization can finally move forward with a new chapter.