On Tuesday, the PECOTA projections dropped to much fanfare. The hardcore traditionalists hailed it as a failure and stat nerds defended themselves even in the face of questionable projections. There aren’t too many surprises when it comes to the Milwaukee Brewers. PECOTA projects the Brew Crew for a 77-85 record. A three-game improvement on the 2016 season. A minor improvement is somewhat expected for the Brewers in 2017 with full seasons from Orlando Arcia, Domingo Santana, and the addition of Eric Thames, among other moves, but it is refreshing to see just how close the team is to completing the rebuild. Upon closer inspection of PECOTA, there is a plenty to get excited about, question, and wonder about in 2017 for the Milwaukee Brewers.
The St. Louis Cardinals are projected for the exact same win total as the Brewers, which immediately jumps off the screen. Without too much digging into the reasoning, it seems PECOTA is extremely down on the Cardinals’ pitching staff. Not a single pitcher is projected for over 2 WARP. Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez are projected for particularly pessimistic outputs. Martinez has posted 6.7 WARP over the last two seasons and yet is projected for just 1.7 in 2017. Wacha is projected for just 0.3 WARP, although only in 132 innings. Even his most favorable, 90th percentile projection only suggests about 2 WARP, a dark outlook on Wacha’s future even while keeping in mind his disappointing 2016 season, in my eyes. There are, of course, other factors going into this seemingly negative projection for the Cardinals. When stepping back and looking at the Red Birds roster and looking at the history of the Cardinals as an organization, it probably wouldn’t be wise to project the Brewers to break into the top three of the National League Central ahead of St. Louis, despite what PECOTA says.
The PECOTA projections are nowhere near as generous to Eric Thames as Fangraphs’ various projection systems are. PECOTA sees him more like the player he was in his first stint in the major-leagues. He is projected for a .694 OPS and -0.2 WARP. A grim outlook for sure. Steamer projects Thames for an .865 OPS and 2.3 WAR. The answer to questions like these always lies somewhere in the middle. In all likelihood Thames ends up in the 1.5-2 WARP range, which would be more than a bargain when considering his 3-year $16-million dollar contract.
The PECOTA projection very much believes in Orlando Arcia, as if Brewers fans weren’t already excited enough about their former top prospect. He is projected for 2.4 WARP in just his age-23 season, one of the top projections for position players 23 or younger. Most of his value is tied into his outstanding defense, so any improvement on the offensive side will deem him a superstar. He is projected for just a .241 TAv in 2017. Arcia’s long-term forecast is even more encouraging. He is projected for over 3 WARP all the way through the 2026 season, again tied mostly to his defense. Orlando Arcia is likely going to be a rock solid shortstop for years to come even if his bat doesn’t exactly light the earth on fire.
PECOTA sees the Tyler Thornburg as highway robbery when looking at just Travis Shaw alone, even before taking into account Mauricio Dubon and Josh Pennington. Shaw is projected for 2 WARP in 2017 and over 2 WARP every year until 2024. Shaw is going to get a shot to show off the skillset he flashed in the first half of 2016 and in parts of 2015. He is an above-average third basemen in time where teams are realizing more and more exactly how important defense on the left side of the infield is. PECOTA expects him to hit over 20 home runs and hold his own on the base paths. It seems as though the spotlight in Boston overshadowed how solid Shaw is as a player. He lit the American League up the first few months of 2016 and everyone thought he was going to be a star. When he fell off that unsustainable cliff, he was written off. When you take a step back and look at the last couple years of Shaw’s, you can see the makings of an incredibly useful player.
PECOTA is down on the Brewers 2017 pitching staff. It doesn’t buy Zach Davies’s breakout 2016 season. They see his 90th percentile output for the 2017 season as worse off than how his 2016 season played out. He is the only starting pitcher projected for over 1 WARP. Matt Garza is projected for 0.1 WARP. Junior Guerra is projected for just 0.9 WARP, although over only 109 innings. The bullpen would be atrocious if it followed the projections. It’s projected for just 2.5 WARP as a whole and that’s with a generous innings count.
Overall, there weren’t too many surprises when it came to the Brewers. Certainly not on the level of surprise Cardinals fans saw. On the position player side, I think the Brewers would be ecstatic if 2017 played out like PECOTA says it will. On the pitching side, not so much. The Brewers are hoping to build some sort of foundation out of pieces on the current major-league roster as far as pitching goes and PECOTA is betting against that. Let’s hope otherwise.