220: The Rebuild is Over

The Brewers finished their first full rebuilding season, and in the most basic sense these Brewers feel like an improved club. The team improved upon the 68-94 record of the 2015 Milwaukee Nine, which was a relatively stable talent level for that club (they played at a 67-win pace after the trade deadline in 2015 (24-34), and a 69-win pace prior to the deadline). The underlying performances shifted, too, albeit in different directions for the pitching and bats. In 2015, the Brewers reached 68 wins thanks to a -11 RS offense / -49 RA pitching staff (in a 4.11 RS / G and 4.25 RA / G Miller Park / NL). The National League / Miller Park environment shifted significantly in 2016, presenting a 4.48 RS / G and 4.56 RA / G backdrop, probably due to a…err…new baseball. Playing in this new environment, the Brewers posted a -55 RS / 7 RA performance, which means that the offense and pitchers traded spots: the bats declined by approximately 44 runs, while the pitchers improved by approximately 42 runs.

NL & Miller Park Brewers NL/MP Runs Scored / G Brewers Bats NL/MP Runs Allowed / G Brewers Arms
2015 -60 total runs 4.11 -11 4.25 -49
2016 -48 total runs 4.48 -55 4.56 +7

Milwaukee has thus played 220 rebuilding games.


In his discussion of postseason fates, BaseballProspectus author Henry Druschel presented an intriguing statistic: “the standard deviation for wins in a season is a whopping six games.” This is an interesting statistic because it lends credence to the back-of-the-envelope teambuilding math where fans can squint at a .500 team and see a Wild Card contender if everything goes right, or where one can look at a roster and see a wide range of potential outcomes (depending on the blend between breakout seasons, bust seasons, bullpen, close game performance, and everything in-between). In this context, one could argue that the Brewers have hardly taken a step forward; indeed, not only is their 2016 win total easily within one standard deviation of the 2015 club, but the underlying expected winning percentage is similar, too. The 2015 Brewers underplayed a 72-90 run differential by four wins; the 2016 Brewers pushed their run differential to 74-88, which hardly constitutes an improvement.

2017 Roster Assets IP Runs Prevented DRA Runs Prevented PWARP
Jimmy Nelson 179.3 -17 -22 -0.7
Zach Davies 163.3 3 18 3.3
Chase Anderson 151.7 -6 -18 -0.5
Wily Peralta 127.7 -9 1 1.3
Junior Guerra 121.7 22 2 1.3
Matt Garza 101.7 -16 3 1.3
Carlos Torres 81.3 16 3 0.7
Tyler Thornburg 66.0 15 12 1.6
Blaine Boyer 65.0 3 -10 -0.7
Jhan Marinez 56.7 6 0.2
Michael Blazek 41.3 -10 -2 0.0
Corey Knebel 31.7 -3 2 0.4
Jacob Barnes 26.7 4 3 0.3
Tyler Cravy 26.3 5 -4 -0.2
Brent Suter 21.7 3 0.1
Rob Scahill 16.3 4 1 0.2
2017 Roster Assets 1278.3 20 -11 9.5

If the incremental view suggests a team that went nowhere in 2016, the big picture suggests the opposite. I gather that the extent to which Brewers fans see 2016 as a success or failure depends on the extent to which fans balance the incremental picture and the big picture. The big wins in 2016 belong to the pitching staff, which improved by more than 40 runs as a group, largely thanks to an excellent bullpen. This group of relievers was strong beyond the headlining names of Jeremy Jeffress, Will Smith, and Tyler Thornburg (23 runs prevented); waiver claims, depth signings, and organizational depth like Carlos Torres (16 runs prevented), Jhan Marinez (6), Jacob Barnes (4), and Rob Scahill (4) arguably locked down roles in what could be a quietly intriguing bullpen for 2017. Meanwhile, Junior Guerra and Zach Davies emerged as rotation leading starters, and Chase Anderson and Wily Peralta had intriguing “mid rotation depth” years (Guerra and Davies prevented 25 runs; Anderson and Peralta were 15 runs below average as a pair, which is downright passable for mid rotation performance).

Judging DRA against NL / Miller Park runs prevented, for 2017 one might expect Davies, Peralta, Matt Garza, and Michael Blazek to improve; one might similarly expect Anderson, Guerra, Torres, Blaine Boyer, and Tyler Cravy to decline in performance.

2017 Roster Assets PA TAv Positional TAv BWARP
Jonathan Villar 674 .290 .263 / .282 / .284 (SS 3B 2B) 4.7
Chris Carter 639 .289 .291 0.9
Ryan Braun 564 .316 .273 3.9
Scooter Gennett 538 .263 .284 2.1
Hernan Perez 425 .272 .272 / .282 (RF 3B) 2.3
Kirk Nieuwenhuis 391 .265 .276 / .272 (CF RF) 0.6
Domingo Santana 276 .287 .272 1.0
Martin Maldonado 253 .245 .263 1.1
Keon Broxton 244 .278 .276 1.5
Orlando Arcia 211 .208 .263 -0.1
Andrew Susac 14 .269 .263 0.0
2017 Roster Assets 18.0

If the team improved because of pitching, and indeed the group of roster reserve pitchers looks relatively complete for 2017, the bats were the biggest problem for the club. Playing time is the biggest question mark for this group, as Keon Broxton shuttled between Class-AAA and Miller Park prior to his breakout and injury, Domingo Santana suffered injuries throughout the year, Orlando Arcia and Andrew Susac were second half call-ups, and Hernan Perez, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, and Martin Maldonado were basically bench players afforded opportunities because of injuries and trades. One can read between the lines of the scouting reports these players provide, and see some strengths for 2017, but one can alternately see a group of placeholders for the next wave of positional prospects.


Thus, repeat the mantra: the rebuild is over. GM David Stearns, and President Doug Melvin before him, liquidated the big league club of nearly all expiring contracts for 2016 and 2017 (Matt Garza is the lone expiring contract next year). Now is David Stearns’s chance to cut his teeth and earn a reputation for teambuilding success: he does not need to trade anyone from the current roster, in the sense of maximizing value from an expiring contract (like Jonathan Lucroy, Carlos Gomez, Aaron Hill, Adam Lind, etc.). The Brewers have a successful pitching base to build from for 2017, where a few improvements via trade or free agency could go a long way to bolster a solid group of reserved arms and organizational depth. Yet, offensively the club remains wide open: Jonathan Villar, Chris Carter, and Ryan Braun are the roster’s clear assets, but Stearns will have plenty of room to improve the club while guys like Orlando Arcia, Keon Broxton, and Domingo Santana cut their teeth and fight to define MLB roles in 2017. In a strange sense, Stearns has his work cut out for himself, and that’s thanks to his absolutely austere rebuilding effort thus far; now it is time to improve the club.

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2 comments on “220: The Rebuild is Over”

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I hope Milwaukee takes advantage of their minuscule payroll and sign FA’s to tradeable 1-3 year deals. I’d like to see them pick up 3-5 players in FA. If they’re drafting at #9 with so many teams tanking at once, why not go after some MLB players and see if they make the playoffs on accident? Worst case scenario is moving down from 9 to 15 in the draft order.

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