There were some surprising baseball teams in 2018, and the Milwaukee Brewers were right up there at the top of the list.
Though they weren’t expected to be a losing team like the Athletics or Rays were, the Brewers certainly weren’t expected to win 96 games and the NL Central.
A big reason why the Brewers did that was because they got red hot down the stretch. The momentum was real. They went 20-7 in September and October, including eight straight wins to end the season.
Unfortunately for the Brewers, stuff like that generally doesn’t happen two years in a row.
- Record: 96-67 (+19.4 units, 3rd best), 87-76 ATS (+8.1 units)
- Over/Under Record: 78-81-4
- Preseason World Series Odds: +2750
- Win Total: 83.5
- Most Profitable Starter: Jhoulys Chacin (23-12, +9.2 units)
The Brewers had a surprising 2017 campaign, jumping from 73 wins to 86, then followed that up with an even more surprising season in 2018 with 96 wins and an NL Central title.
Milwaukee was one of the most profitable teams in the league last season, led by Christian Yelich and their dynamite bullpen. Jesus Aguilar also came out of nowhere to hit 35 home runs, while Lorenzo Cain proved to be one of the best offseason acquisitions in baseball by posting a 5.7 fWAR campaign.
Though they ultimately lost in the NL Championship Series, their season was a success any way you look at it.
- World Series Odds: +1600
- Division Odds: +250
- Win Total O/U: 86.5
- Playoff Odds: Make +150, Miss -180
Oddsmakers aren’t totally buying into the Brewers’ 2018 results, as their win total is nearly 10 games worse than their record last season. Then again, most of last year’s elite teams have lower expectations in 2019.
At +250, the Brewers have the third-best odds to win their division. The Cubs are still the Cubs, while the Cardinals had a big offseason by acquiring Paul Goldschmidt and Andrew Miller among others.
I personally like Milwaukee’s odds to miss the playoffs.
Either the Cubs or Cardinals will win the division, with the loser of the two taking on one of the NL East contenders in the wild card game. There could be a handful of teams in the NL pushing 90 wins, and I don’t believe the Brewers will get there.
- Key Additions: Yasmani Grandal, Alex Claudio, Ben Gamel, Cory Spangenberg, Bobby Wahl, Jake Petricka, Josh Tomlin (minors), Tuffy Gosewich (minors)
- Key Subtractions: Gio Gonzalez, Jonathan Schoop, Domingo Santana, Curtis Granderson, Wade Miley, Joakim Soria, Jordan Lyles, Stephen Vogt, Xavier Cedeno, Dan Jennings
- Potential Lineup
- Lorenzo Cain – CF
- Christian Yelich – RF
- Jesus Aguilar – 1B
- Travis Shaw – 3B
- Ryan Braun – LF
- Mike Moustakas – 2B
- Yasmani Grandal – C
- Orlando Arcia – SS
- Projected Rotation
- Jhoulys Chacin
- Chase Anderson
- Zach Davies
- Jimmy Nelson
- Brandon Woodruff/Corbin Burnes/Freddy Peralta
- Prospect Watch: Keston Hiura (No. 20, 2B), Corey Ray (Unranked, OF), Mauricio Dubon (Unranked, IF), Zack Brown (Unranked, RHP)
- Key Injuries: Brent Suter (Tommy John, possibly late 2019), Jimmy Nelson (Shoulder, early 2019)
- MVP Candidates: Coming soon!
- Cy Young Candidates: Coming soon!
Player to Watch: Christian Yelich
Christian Yelich is the reason the Brewers won the NL Central last season. He was an absolute monster down the stretch and the team rallied around him.
He hit .370 with an OPS of 1.313 and 10 jacks in September, which not only helped the team win the division, but helped him win the MVP.
Do NOT expect Yelich to repeat his 2018 campaign.
Yelich was one lucky son of a gun last year. And while he’s undoubtedly a great baseball player, but not that great.
His batting average on balls in play of .373 was the second-best in the majors, .002 behind J.D. Martinez, while his HR/FB rate of 35% was easily the best in the majors — way higher than the runner up, coincidentally also Martinez, at 29.5%.
That home run per fly ball percentage is the number I expect to drop. Since 2002 (when Fangraphs’ batted ball data goes back to), that 35% is the third-highest ever for a single season. Topping that mark are Ryan Howard in 2006 and Aaron Judge in 2017.
There are only 15 qualified seasons with a HR/FB rate over 30%, with the other players on the list being Jim Thome, Giancarlo Stanton, Sammy Sosa, Manny Ramirez, Joey Gallo, Jack Cust, Domingo Santana, Nelson Cruz and Travis Hafner. Howard (3x) and Thome (2x) are the only players to ever accomplish the feat twice and both tipped the scale at about 250.
Literally everyone on that list except Yelich is either a giant human being or a steroid user. Yeah, Yelich isn’t going to hit 36 home runs again this season.
He’s actually a ground ball hitter, and of 140 qualified hitters last season, he had the 133rd ranked fly ball rate. The fact that he hits ground balls and line drives explains why he’s historically had a high BABIP, but it also explains why he’s never been an elite hitter until the anomaly that was last year.
Yelich is an all-around solid player, but don’t bet on him to win the MVP again.
Pitcher to Watch: Jimmy Nelson
One aspect that made the Brewers’ great season even more surprising is the fact that they did it without Jimmy Nelson — perhaps their best pitcher in 2017.
Nelson had always been mediocre, but something happened in 2017…
His strikeout rate went through the roof, he cut cut way back on the walks and was rewarded with the best ERA of his career. In fact, FIP thought he was even better than his 3.49 ERA suggested.
However, in September of 2017, his shoulder went kaput. He missed all of last season, but has high hopes for 2019.
“I honestly believe I’m going to be better than I was in ’17. The goal was never to get back to ’17. It was always to be much better,” Nelson told reporters at spring training.
That’s wishful thinking, Jimmy. Maybe just try to get back to ’17 considering you were way better then than in any other season of your career.
Nelson is already dealing with a bit of a setback in spring training, which isn’t promising news. The Brewers do have starting pitching depth, so filling his spot in the rotation isn’t going to be an issue. However, I think Nelson has the highest ceiling of any of their starters if he can repeat that tremendous K/BB ratio he posted in 2017.
He could repeat that excellence. He could regress back to what he looked like from 2014 to 2016. He could have trouble staying healthy. There are a number of different potential outcomes for Nelson, but it’s very unlikely Milwaukee will be a World Series contender again if he’s not at his best.
I didn’t like the Brewers last year. I was wrong.
I don’t really like them this year, either. Hopefully I’m not wrong again.
One of the main reasons that projection systems and myself did not like the 2018 Brewers was their pitching staff. It was lucky in 2017 and it was lucky again last season, finishing with the third biggest differential between their ERA (3.73) and their FIP (4.01).
Am I really supposed to trust a team with Jhoulys Chacin as their ace?
Their bullpen is great, I’ll give them that. But their starters? I honestly don’t really like any of them all that much.
However, one guy who I think is an underrated signing and is making me think very hard before taking the under on their win total is Yasmani Grandal. I don’t like the rotation, but Grandal’s elite framing skills could make everyone on the staff a bit better. He also makes the lineup run seven deep, as he’s been a consistent above-average bat with power.
I expect regression to hurt the Brewers. You could certainly make an argument in their favor, and I’m not going to hate on you for betting on a 96-win team to win their division at +250. Are they a World Series contender, though?
Not with that rotation.
All odds via Westgate SuperBook as of Feb. 22
Transactions accurate as of Feb. 22. Free agents deemed subtractions until they re-sign