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Optimal PECOTA Roster

Given the chance, it’s safe to say that everyone would go back if they could and do something a little differently. Maybe you’d not spend your high school years with a chili bowl haircut, or last week you’d politely decline a second piece of key lime pie because your server has “never seen anyone eat one that fast.”

The Brewers would certainly not be an exception. Projecting baseball players for a season is really hard, much less for a career. But with the benefit of hindsight, if the Brewers were all in for winning in 2017, what would their optimal roster look like?

To be clear, this isn’t a criticism of any moves the Brewers have or have not made. Some things are just impossible to know ahead of time, and even if you could perfectly project a player’s performance over his controllable years, you’d still have to weigh that against the opportunity cost of acquiring other players, or their playing time.

To start, let’s set some ground rules. First, the players selected for our optimal 25-man roster in 2017 must have the ability to theoretically be under team control this year. In other words, they have less than six years of service time and would fall under their original Brewers contract, or are currently under contract with the team. So Ryan Braun is eligible, even though he has 9 years of service time.

Second, players who were traded for each other can’t both appear on the list, but either one can. For example, we can imagine a scenario where the Brewers did not trade Lucroy, so he makes the cut, but Lewis Brinson wouldn’t since the Brewers wouldn’t have acquired him without trading Lucroy.

This gets really tricky in multi-player deals, such as the Houston trade that brought Domingo Santana and Brett Phillips to the Brewers in exchange for Fiers and Gomez. Ultimately, our goal here is to maximize PECOTA’s projected 2017 WARP. After weighing position scarcity to fill out the 25-man in a reasonable way and considering that Gomez would have hit free agency by now and therefore isn’t eligible for the list, Fiers is on the roster but Domingo, sadly, is not.

Taking all this into account, here is a list of players that could fill out a 25-man roster that have been on the Brewers’ 40 man sorted by PECOTA’s 2017 projected WARP:

Name 2017 Projected WARP Pos
Jonathan Lucroy 4.1 C
Jean Segura 3.9 2B
Lorenzo Cain 3.3 CF
Ryan Braun 3.1 RF
Khris Davis 2.8 LF
Orlando Arcia 2.4 SS
Travis Shaw 2 3B
Jonathan Villar 1.8 Bench
Keon Broxton 1.7 Bench
Zach Davies 1.6 SP
Andrew Susac 1.4 C
Chris Carter 1 1B
Junior Guerra 0.9 SP
Hernan Perez 0.9 Bench
Jimmy Nelson 0.8 SP
Wily Peralta 0.7 SP
Mike Fiers 0.7 SP
Tommy Milone 0.5 RP
Neftali Feliz 0.4 RP
Jorge Lopez 0.3 RP
Corey Knebel 0.3 RP
Jacob Barnes 0.3 RP
Carlos Torres 0.3 RP
Kirk Neuwehnuis 0.3 Bench
Michael Blazek 0.1 RP
Total 35.6

I cheated a little bit by including Jorge Lopez as a reliever here, but let’s just call it the “Adam Wainwright plan” for right now, because relievers under team control with projected WARP are scarce. You could quibble with that roster decision, and actually wouldn’t lose too much in terms of total WARP as there are a few other relievers with 0.1 projected WARP for 2017.

All things considered, this is a pretty fun roster! An outfield with Braun, Khris Davis, and Lorenzo Cain is intriguing. The infield rests pretty heavily on Jean Segura’s projection, but even if you want to lean on the conservative side for him this year, that bench might be the best in baseball. There’s room for upside, too, if you think more highly of Keon Broxton or want to add Eric Thames, who maybe has more potential than PECOTA currently projects him for.

Of course adding up the projected WARP isn’t an exact science, as PECOTA is projecting a full season of plate appearances out of Villar, who has a utility/bench role on our roster. Keon Broxton, also on our bench, is projected for 352 plate appearances. We may want to downgrade our projected total WARP by a win or two to account for those differences.

Even with those adjustments, this projects as an above-average team. You might consider this roster a fringe wild-card team, similar to the Pirates (80 projected wins by PECOTA) or the Yankees (82 projected wins). That’s something, but not a whole lot more optimistic than PECOTA’s projected 76 wins for the Crew this season.

It’s also impossible to account for variables in performance or along organizational decision-making. You can’t say that each player would have performed the exact same in Milwaukee as they have after moving on to other parks, or that the Brewers wouldn’t have used some of that bench depth to trade for an elite reliever or two. Or that Broxton and Villar would even have that much value, given we’re projecting them as bench and utility guys in this scenario. The possibilities are endless.

But it’d be a fun team for sure, and you could see it being competitive. However, the costs would be great, too.

It probably would mean no division title and playoff run in 2011, as Zack Greinke wouldn’t have been in the picture. Even if your preference is for a steadier and consistent 75-85 win projection every year rather than swings between 96 and 68 wins over the past few years, I’m still not sure the “optimal” 25 man is actually that from the fan’s perspective—especially given the NL Central division over the next several years.

Realistically it seems like the Cubs aren’t going anywhere atop the division, and the Pirates have had a measure of success largely by acquiring young, controllable talent and not overspending on free agency. The PECOTA projection is down on the Cardinals this year, but they seem to have a way of just making life difficult for the Brewers.

Even with the benefit of hindsight, give me the current roster with its upside to dream on and wide error margins. It’ll be that kind of gamble that the Brewers will have to take to be competitive in the division, and comes without having to forfeit the success of the 2011 team.

The Brewers front office knows what it’s doing, and has earned itself another piece of key lime pie at dessert.

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