Posted by Steve
I’m a little later getting around to this post this year, but here it is anyway. Time to look and see what PECOTA thinks of the Brewers this season. Before we get to projections, I want to highlight something BP is concerned with: most of the Brewers’ young hitters regressed from 2007 to 2008, and some did quite a bit. I definitely mentioned last year that the only Brewer hitter to improve was J.J. Hardy. Here’s a look at their equivalent averages (an offensive stat) and wins above replacement player (a stat which encompasses offense and defense)
Ryan Braun: 1.8 WARP, .327 EqA
Prince Fielder: 5.6 WARP, .329 EqA
J.J. Hardy: 2.9 WARP, .269 EqA
Corey Hart: 4.4 WARP, .301 EqA
Rickie Weeks: 2.1 WARP, .293 EqA
Ryan Braun: 4.1 WARP, .299 EqA
Prince Fielder: 3.1 WARP, .301 EqA
J.J. Hardy: 6.8 WARP, .284 EqA
Corey Hart: 2.0 WARP, .266 EqA
Rickie Weeks: 2.8 WARP, .270 EqA
This tells us two things about this core group collectively. They got worse offensively but got better defensively.
The most comical one is Ryan Braun. His offense took a significant dip in 2008, but his WARP rose from a lowly 1.8 to 4.1. This is a result of removing him from third base, where his defense actually took away almost all of his offensive value (and if you remember his 2007 season, that was a ton of offensive value).
Rickie Weeks is a similar case. His offense also took a dip in ’08, but his WARP improved overall thanks to his improved defense. BP had him as a very bad defensive player in 2007, yet had him as a little above average last year. That’s a huge improvement over the course of one season. Now if he can only put together 2007′s offense with 2008′s defense, he’ll start to be the player I’ve been saying for years he would be.
Hart and Fielder’s defense stayed them same from 2007 to 2008. Hart stayed right about average for right field, while Fielder was quite bad both seasons. Of course, each player’s offense dipped in ’08, which is why their WARP did as well. Hart’s 2.0 WARP is actually not even good enough to be a starting player. With his ever-raising price tag, this is a make or break year for him if he wants to stay a Brewer.
That leaves us with Hardy, who had a very good season. BP had him as a gold glove caliber shortstop in ’08 (compared to a bit below average in 2007), and he also improved his offense quite a bit. He was the Brewers most valuable position player last season, and the only one who came relatively close to him was Mike Cameron.
BP seems more troubled by the offensive downturn in 2008 than I was. They actually raise the question of whether the Brewers’ window of opportunity is closing. It’s not because they don’t think those players can improve, but it’s mainly because their salaries will be increasing sharply. I am of the opinion that there are good odds of Braun, Hart, Weeks and Fielder all having better offensive numbers than they did last season. As you’ll see, PECOTA seems to agree with that opinion.
2009 Projections, Batting Average/On-Base Percentage/Slugging Percentage
Ryan Braun: .298/.360/.576
Last year: .285/.335/.553
I was very excited to see this projection. I knew Braun showed much more patience at the plate in the second half, and they seem to think that will carry over. Another nice thing pointed out by BP: “Braun could easily be worth triple his total contract over the life of his deal.”
Mike Cameron: .254/.345/.472
Last year: .243/.331/.477
For all those Brewer fans who complain about Cameron striking out so much, BP makes a good point: “He more than compensates for his strikeout rates by rarely grounding into double plays (just four times last year).”
Alcides Escobar: .264/.302/.351
I included Escobar because it’s important for people to realize that he’s just not ready for the majors yet. Plenty of people were ready to make space for him in Milwaukee this year, which just doesn’t make sense. The Brewers have a top five shortstop already, so there’s no reason to rush him. I’d give him at least the full season in AAA, and possibly some or even all of 2010 as well. Like most Brewer hitters, Escobar needs to work on improving his plate discipline.
Prince Fielder: .286/.380/.527
Last year: .276/.372/.507
While it isn’t close to approaching his monster 2007 season, this would still be a decent improvement for Fielder. Personally, I am holding out hope that he does even better than this projection.
Bill Hall: .253/.332/.459
Last year: .225/.293/.396
The only reason Hall didn’t have negative value last year was his defense–various metrics had him above average defensively at third base. If Hall can meet this projection, which would basically make him an average hitter, he’d likely be worth his elevated salary in 2009.
J.J. Hardy: .284/.344/.459
Last year: .283/.343/.478
All you need to know: “Trading Hardy simply to accommodate Alcides Escobar won’t constitute a step in the right direction.”
Corey Hart: .289/.343/.494
Last year: .268/.300/.459
This is an interesting projection, as it seems to give Hart a free pass for his terrible second half of 2008. This would constitute a pretty nice rebound.
Jason Kendall: .251/.320/.323
Last year: .246/.327/.324
Pretty much the same year is expected for Kendall. The good news is Macha has already said that he will give Kendall many more days off than Yost gave him.
Rickie Weeks: .269/.373/.442
Last year: .234/.342/.398
Look, someone else who likes Rickie Weeks! If he can keep his defense at or above last year’s level and finally put up a full season like this, he’ll be a valuable assett over the course of a season for the first time. Of course I’d like the slugging to be even higher, but ya gotsta walk before ya run.
Maybe now you can see why I’m still quite hopeful for this year’s team. Losing Sabathia and Sheets is killer, and the Brewers can’t replace their entire impact with other pitchers. Fortunately, they don’t have too–they can close that gap quite a bit by just scoring more runs. PECOTA has six starters improving from last year, one staying the same (Kendall), and one declining slightly (Hardy). I expect the team on-base percentage to improve substantially from last season without sacrificing the power of last year’s team.
Fun with Comparables
Ryan Braun compares to Dusty Baker. I admittedly knew nothing about Baker’s playing career, but he had three or four pretty nice seasons. Braun also compares to Vernon Wells and Andre Dawson. Tangent: I always hear whining that Dawson isn’t in the Hall of Fame. Why is that, exactly? His career line is .279 .323 .482. For a guy who spent most of his career as a corner outfielder, that isn’t that impressive.
Joe Dillon, though not with the Brewers any longer, probably has the coolest-named comparables. Two of them are Jim Dyck and Razor Shines.
One of Prince Fielder’s comes close though: Boog Powell.
Tony Gwyn compares to Jason Tyner. That’s the dude who went over 1,000 major league at-bats before hitting his first home run.
Each of the Brewers top two catching prospects, Angel Salome and Jonathan Lucroy, compare to Brook Fordyce. Salome also compares to Pudge Rodriguez. Too bad this is only based on offense (at least I’m pretty sure that’s the case).
Rickie Weeks is compared to Bobby Crosby. How great is that? Crosby is another guy who fell far short of lofty expectations. I specifically remember Peter Gammons predicting he’d win the MVP like five years ago. Weeks’ career numbers are actually much better than Crosby’s already, though.
To quote Bubb Rubb, that’s it and that’s all. Stay tuned for PECOTA’s projections on Brewer pitchers. I should have that up within a few days.