MLB: Milwaukee Brewers-Workouts

The 2016 Milwaukee Brewers Fantasy Team Preview

Relatively speaking, the PECOTA forecasting system likes the 2016 Brewers. While they are still projected to finish well short of the playoffs, a 78-84 final record would represent a ten-win improvement on the tire fire that was 2015. A lot of people are sleeping on the Brewers, or so the projections seem to think. But a big part of that is a defense that is supposed to be better than average–which means, from a fantasy baseball perspective, the 2016 Brewers are a pretty shallow mine.

That’s not to say that it’s a completely stripped mine–in fact, if you’re in a deep league or a year-to-year dynasty league, knowing the Brewers might be the difference between building a competitive team and slapping together a bottom-feeder. I haven’t nicknamed David Stearns “The Thrift-Shop GM” on Twitter this off-season for no reason–a lot of the pieces he’s assembled for the 2016 club are basically worthless to shallow-league players, but potentially invaluable in more competitive formats.

Relevant in Daily, NL-Only, and/or 14+ Team Leagues

Josh Hader

Speculating on relief pitchers sucks, but in the deepest of leagues it’s an essential grind. And if you want to bet on a reasonable long shot for the Brewers’ closer job, Josh Hader is a damn good value bet. Will Smith and/or Jeremy Jeffress will likely get the first crack at the job–but it’s not like Craig Counsell rushed to endorse either one of them immediately, or even eventually, after the K-Rod trade. In fact, I’d be lying if I said that he didn’t seem reluctant to move either of them into the role. Questions about his eventual role have plagued Hader since he turned pro, and he certainly has done well enough as a starter up to this point, but both the Blue Jays and Cardinals have, in recent years, plugged a prospect with success as a starter into their closer role and seen him thrive–Roberto Osuna last year, and Trevor Rosenthal before that. Hader could fill those shoes this summer, if he gets the chance.

Zach Davies

“He’s likely to be worth a $2-3 investment in NL-only leagues in 2016 as he has a good shot at a rotation spot, but the upside isn’t much better year-to-year.”

That’s what Bret Sayre wrote about Davies in early December, for the Brewers’ Top Ten Prospects. Then, the team brought in Chase Anderson and reaffirmed their commitment to un-breaking Matt Garza, and that “good shot at a rotation spot” turned into “a ticket to Colorado Springs that’s been all but punched.” If the pitching staff is really bad, or really injured, Davies won’t kill you as short-term roster filler. But if you want to win at fantasy baseball, you should probably be doing better than this.

Orlando Arcia

Arcia is the team’s top prospect–when he gets his call, it will be one of the most exciting moments of 2016 for the Milwaukee faithful. Arcia’s a special talent, and he could hold down the middle of the infield for quite a while. Unfortunately, he’s not quite as exciting in fantasy circles. His primary contribution is in the field–and while he’s not likely to grow into a hitless wonder-type, his bat is too raw and unimposing to make him worth redraft consideration yet. Shortstop is a tough position to fill though, and he’s going to hit at the big-league level eventually, so in dynasty leagues Arcia is a great high-floor prospect with the potential to grow into more.

Jorge Lopez

Lopez’s walk-happy tendencies hold him back from the ranks of the elite pitching prospects, and his late-season audition with the big club was a bumpy ride, but Lopez is right on the cusp of the big leagues and he’s got the stuff to be a fantasy-relevant starting pitcher someday. His electric fastball is complimented by a much-improved curve and a good changeup and, unlike Davies, Lopez will miss plenty of bats at the big-league level. He’s a risky proposition this year, but in deep enough leagues his high payoff just might be worth taking the chance.

Wily Peralta

It’s put up or shut up time for Peralta, whose perplexing collapse was emblematic of the franchise’s 2015 season. Peralta saw his velocity leak across the board, and his concurrent results were absolutely disastrous. Nobody’s drafting Peralta in 2016, but before last year’s lost season he was a reliable one-win-above-replacement pitcher. NL-only owners will want to watch Peralta closely over his first couple of starts. If his velocity returns to pre-2015 levels, there’s profit to be made here. If he’s still struggling to generate power, though, walk away calmly but confidently.

Rymer Liriano

Liriano is off the radar of standard leagues at this point–he’s just not going to play enough to justify the investment. But that could change if the team miraculously finds a suitor for Ryan Braun–Liriano’s power and speed could make him invaluable. Of course, his AVG and/or OBP could make him the other kind of invaluable, too. But that’s sort of how it goes with post-hype prospects. In the meantime, he’s a name that every DFS addict should know–he won’t play enough to get expensive, but his power/speed skills make him a potentially huge value when he draws a spot start with a favorable matchup.

Potential Busts and Players to Avoid

Aaron Hill

PECOTA Projection: .254/.309/.395, 13HR, 7SB, .3WARP

Outlook: It has officially been four years since Hill was a 6.8-win player. He missed 63 games in 2013 with a fractured hand, but Hill has been healthy for two seasons now, and during those two seasons he has been worth less than a single win. Could it be that the Diamondbacks were stubbornly overlooking him in a sad display of ageism? I mean, yeah, maybe. But it’s far more likely that the 34-year-old Hill has simply lost the magic. To that point: he stole 14 bases in 2012, and has stolen 12 since. Also to that point: Hill’s BABIP and ISO are trending downward at alarming annual rates, and his batted ball profile indicates a deteriorating ability to recognize off-speed and breaking pitches. I’m not saying a bounce-back is impossible, but look at it this way: the Brewers bet on him because they didn’t have to give up a single asset to do so, and he was the only option that Arizona would so willingly part with in that deal. Unless you’re in a 32-team league, there’s really no good reason for you to follow suit.

Matt Garza

PECOTA Projection: 4.41 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 3.03 BB/9, 6.79 K/9, 1.19 HR/9, .7 WARP

Outlook: Ryan Romano speculated that Garza is going to be the pitching staff’s weak link this season, and I have to agree with him. His 2015 collapse seemingly came out of nowhere, but the warning signs were all there in retrospect. From 2012 to 2014, Garza steadily lost velocity off of his hard pitches, and his breaking pitches have been losing their effectiveness since two years before that. (Don’t be fooled by that uptick on his slider in 2015--he threw the pitch far less often than ever before.) In fact, Garza’s demise was foretold in the 2015 BP Annual:

“When Garza’s home run rate dips below 1.0 HR/9, he posts an ERA under 3.80. When it’s above 1.0 HR/9, he posts an ERA above 3.80. That has held true for every season since he started 30 games for the first time in 2008 with the Rays. This year, his home run rate was only 0.7 HR/9 and his ERA was subsequently 3.64. Easy enough, right? More happened beneath the surface, though, which indicates some decline in effectiveness. His fastball velocity has dropped a mile per hour over the past two years. His swinging-strike rate fell to 8.9 percent, which is below the league average for starting pitchers. Similarly, his strikeout rate plummeted to a mere 19 percent, also worse than league average. It appears his success is beginning to be tied more intimately to his overall BABIP and home run rates, which can fluctuate significantly from year to year. He found success when both were below his career average. If either ticks up, this could get ugly now that he lacks strong peripherals for ballast.”

This is a legitimate decline, not an off year, and thirtysomething pitchers on a steep downhill skid rarely manage to recover. You should look for rebound value elsewhere. And if Garza spins off a couple of nice starts in April? Don’t be fooled–this is likely just what economists refer to as the dead cat bounce.

Taylor Jungmann

PECOTA Projection: 4.26 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 3.61 BB/9, 7.55 K/J9, 1.05 HR/9, .9 WARP

Outlook: Jungmann is an enigma at this point in his career–will we see the precociously gifted pitcher of his debut, or the train wreck that was September?  While Jungmann is only being taken in 5% of Yahoo drafts so far this year, it’s clear that people are reaching for him in deep leagues. On average, he’s getting taken early in the 23rd round–ahead of Daniel Norris, Matt Moore, and Kris Medlen, all of whom have better stuff than Jungmann.

This is an especially painful section for me to write, because I like Taylor Jungmann as a player. His early stumbles as a prospect make him a fun underdog to root for, and since then he’s shown an ability to outfox hitters into higher strikeout totals than he deserves. But fantasy baseball is about value, not playing your favorites, and Jungmann is sitting atop an inflationary bubble right now because of his age and his last season. Don’t be the guy who overpays for him.

Potential Sleepers

Jonathan Villar

PECOTA Projection: .240/.300/.370, 9HR, 33SB, 1.3WARP

Outlook: “Cheap speed guys” are a classic fantasy baseball trope. They don’t hit much, or for much power, they tend to stick to the bottom of the order, their counting stats are nothing to get excited about–overall, the picture is a pretty bleak one. But stolen bases are ten percent of a 5×5 league. If you’re not punting saves, maybe you can recover–but if you’re losing that category week in and week out, then your closers crap the bed, too? You’ll be amazed just how hard you have to struggle just to remain in sixth place. Villar is available in your league for nothing, or next to it, and he should be good for more than a stolen base per week. Plus, he’s got three built-in advantages over the traditional Cheap Speed Guy archetype. First, his career ISO mark of .117 suggests that he can slug double-digit home runs if given regular playing time–he’s still cheap, and a speed guy, but he’s got more punch than you’d expect. Second, the Brewers not only intend to give him regular playing time–they have no urgent need to compete, and if he struggles they have every reason to see him through those struggles instead of just writing him off. And perhaps most importantly, I’d bet on David Stearns re-trading Aaron Hill this summer, promoting Arcia, and playing Villar at third base. That dual eligibility would make him even more sneaky-valuable down the stretch.

Jeremy Jeffress

PECOTA Projection: 3.94 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 3.38 BB/9, 8.50 K/9, 1.125 HR/9, 10SV, .4 WAR

Outlook: First, take note of this:


Now, take a look at the Yahoo draft stats for Will Smith and Jeremy Jeffress. Smith is going in 79% of drafts, in the 24th round on average. Jeffress is only getting taken in 7% of drafts, by contrast, and he’s going a full two rounds later. Even in auction drafts, Smith is getting taken 86 % of the time to Jeffress’ 9%. If you’re looking for the better pitcher, Smith is probably your man. But we don’t care about the better pitcher, we care about saves. And from the looks of it, they’ve got roughly equal shots at them. If you’re going to draft Smith, it makes sense to pick up Jeffress as soon as you possibly can. Otherwise, if Smith goes and you don’t have your relief corps fully drafted, lock onto Jeffress!

Keon Broxton

PECOTA Projection: .228/.300/.389, 4HR, 6SB, .1 WAR

Outlook: Broxton didn’t hold the inside lane for a starting job coming into Spring ball–but a strong performance in Arizona has caused him to jet ahead of Kirk Nieuwenhuis in the race for Opening Day. Broxton’s slash line is unorthodox–.348/.531/.391–but that’s what you get with the sample size of Spring ball. He’s not hitting for power, but he’s hitting and he’s taking an awful lot of walks, too. On top of that, Broxton has stolen six bases in fourteen games. The gaudy batting average is unlikely to stick, but the ability to steal bases–even first base, through working a difficult walk–is real, and should be respected. Broxton should get a chance to take up residence at the top of Milwaukee’s lineup, and he should be on your radar–he’s got the talent to do lots of good things in that role. Don’t let PECOTA’s mild outlook fool you–that’s still operating under the assumption that Nieuwenhuis is the primary starter. Broxton has got higher upside than Villar, but he plays a less valuable position.

Chris Carter

PECOTA Projection: .226/.317/.457, 27HR, 3SB, .8 WAR

Outlook: After four years in the big leagues, Chris Carter is what he is. He hits the ball hard (.235 career ISO), he whiffs like a windmill (33.4% career K-rate), he walks a respectable amount (.313 career OBP vs. .217 career AVG), and he’s not too good at first base but he won’t kill you in the field. So what makes this retread of a Houston non-tender so special? Simple. Milwaukee’s home ballpark is the third-friendliest to right handed power hitters in all the league, and Carter’s one elite skill is hitting for power. Two years ago, he slugged 37 home runs despite an average of just .227–and that was in Minute Maid Park, a pitcher-friendly ecosystem. This combination of skill and home environment make Carter arguably the biggest boom-or-bust play of your draft day. The downside: further BA erosion to below the Mendoza line and a loss of significant playing time. The upside: forty home runs.

Names You Need to Know (drafted in >50% of leagues)

Domingo Santana

2015 Stats: .231/.345/.421, 6HR, 2SB, .5 WAR

PECOTA Projection: .246/.329/.439, 19HR, 4SB, 1.3 WAR

Draft Rundown: 60% drafted on Yahoo, 256.3 ADP. 72% bought in auctions on Yahoo, average price $1. 28% owned on ESPN, 227.2 ADP and $1.30 average auction value.

Outlook: The outlook on Santana is perfectly summed up by his performance in Yahoo auction-style drafts–he’s getting taken in 71% of leagues, but his bidding price is going over $1 so infrequently as to be statistically insignificant. In non-dynasty formats, he’s a lottery ticket–but with a hell of a potential payoff. Houston’s George Springer, a player I have frequently compared Santana to, is a Top 50 pick coming into this season–while Santana’s speed is a touch less impressive than Springer’s, he should provide similar value once established. Still, you can’t discount the fact that the young and whiff-prone are dangerous fantasy investments. This baked-in risk limits him to the ranks of “endgame flier” for now, but he’s the type of endgame flier who might just end up covering your ass for a bad pick you made earlier. Taking risks on guys such as Santana are fine, so long as you don’t depend on them paying off.

Will Smith

2015 Stats: 2.70 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 3.4 BB/9, 12.9 K/9, .7 HR/9, 1.1 WAR

PECOTA Projection: 2.83 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 3.2 BB/9, 10.9 K/9, .9 HR/9, 20 SV, 1.1 WAR

Draft Rundown: 79% drafted on Yahoo, 236.6 ADP, 87% bought in auctions on Yahoo, average price $1.30. 52.8% owned on ESPN, 223.0 ADP and $1.20 average auction value.

Outlook: In some leagues, you speculate on potential saves. In others, you grab the saves that are out there. In the former, Smith is long gone. In the latter, he’s a sneaky endgame pick. Those 20 saves are assuming a partial timeshare with Jeffress (they’re projecting 10 saves for him, remember) and if he claims control of the closer role early on, that number could look conservative. Many will overlook Smith and the Brewers’ bullpen situation because the team was so terrible last year–this year, PECOTA expects them to be much more competitive. When you’re betting on closers I believe in the approach of betting on talent–and Smith’s gaudy strikeout numbers hint at a potential power reliever on par with what Aroldis Chapman and Greg Holland have done the past few years. Of course, if you’re going to draft him, I have to stress again–pick up Jeffress, too.

Jimmy Nelson

2015 Stats: 4.11 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 3.3 BB/9, 7.5 K/9, 0.9 HR/9, 2.4 WAR

PECOTA Projection: 4.12 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 3.2 BB/9, 7.7 K/9, 1.0 HR/9, 1.6 WAR

Draft Rundown: 99% drafted on Yahoo, 210.5 ADP, 99% bought in auctions on Yahoo, average price $1.10. Owned in 7.6% of leagues on ESPN, draft/auction value below threshold.

Outlook: Over on ESPN, Nelson isn’t even getting taken in the top 260. Even on Yahoo, where he’s ranked far more favorably, he’s still going for just a buck ten in auction formats. Such is life when you’re coming off of a season as Milwaukee’s only above-replacement-level starter. Nelson’s established presence on a weak Milwaukee rotation, combined with the complete lack of hype surrouding him, make him an ideal target for auction-drafters employing the LIMA Plan. Also, take note of Nelson’s steadily increasing velocity over last season. He won’t win twenty games, but he also won’t kill you in ERA or WHIP, and he’ll be surprisingly valuable in strikeouts. Just be wary of Nelson’s extreme platoon splits, and don’t be afraid to fade him if the opposing manager stacks lefties on him. Who says you can’t buy anything of value for a dollar these days?

Jonathan Lucroy

2015 Stats: .264/326/.391, 7HR, 1SB, 1.4 WAR

PECOTA Projection: .276/.336/.429, 15HR, 4SB, 3.7 WAR

Draft Rundown: 100% drafted on Yahoo, 104.2 ADP, 100% bought in auctions on Yahoo, average price $6.50. 98.4% owned on ESPN, ADP of 97.8 and average auction value of $10.10.

Outlook: At most positions, a year like Lucroy’s 2015 would be enough to crater a player’s draft stock. But thanks to an extended run of competence from 2010-2014 Lucroy is still the third catcher off the average draft board on Yahoo, and the second on ESPN. At arguably the most shallow position in the game, Lucroy adds a plus bat, plus power, and everyday playing time–the Brewers are going to still use him at first base on his days off. This is something fantasy owners should especially take note of–catchers are notorious for taking frequent off days, leaving a gaping hole in your lineup if you only have one on the roster. Plus, give it a few weeks and Lucroy will have 1B eligibility, too. That sort of thing is always nice to have when you’re trying to fit every active player into a lineup!

Ryan Braun

2015 Stats: .285/.356/.498, 25HR, 24SB, 2.4 WAR

PECOTA Projection: .286/.352/.502, 27HR, 19SB, 4.9 WAR

Draft Rundown: 100% drafted on Yahoo, 44.1 ADP, 100% bought in auctions on Yahoo, average price $25.20. 97.7% owned on ESPN, ADP of 75.5 and average auction value of $13.20.

Outlook: Braun is now two full years beyond his Lost Season–and while his MVP days are clearly behind him, he still looks like a dangerously consistent player. He’s racking up 2-3 wins per year instead of 6-7, and he’s no longer a 40-home-run threat, but Braun is a solid fantasy investment nonetheless. His draft stock has changed to reflect this too, though–especially on ESPN, where he can be had absurdly cheap. Another 20/20 season would not be a stretch at all for Braun, and for a late fourth-round pick that’s some pretty good value. Let the puritans cast their judgement on him–we play to win.

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