Pressing Fantasy Baseball Questions: The 2018 Milwaukee Brewers

The Milwaukee Brewers were unexpected contenders last season, winning 86 games and narrowly missing a Wild Card spot. This team actually led the N.L. Central at the all-star break before the Chicago Cubs surged ahead in the second half. It’s tempting to dismiss last year’s Brewers as a group of overachievers, but then you remember that several things did not go according to plan for this squad:

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Neftali Feliz lost his closing duties in May and was DFA’d in June;
Opening day starter Junior Guerra was injured in April and demoted in July;
Jonathan Villar bombed, posting an OBP of .293 and an OPS of just .665;
Ryan Braun was limited to 104 games and he delivered the second-lowest OPS of his career (.823);

Multiple players delivered breakout seasons for Milwaukee, of course, but it’s not as if the Brewers didn’t hit a few speed bumps along the way. This team’s batting order has clearly improved in 2018, in part because they took advantage of Miami’s talent purge…

How early are we drafting Christian Yelich?

Few players received an offseason park upgrade as significant as Yelich’s. He’s leaving an exceedingly pitcher-friendly environment in Miami for one of MLB’s most hitter-friendly parks — and it should be noted that Miller Park is particularly kind to left-handed power. When you factor in the upgraded lineup surrounding Yelich in Milwaukee, it’s easy to get excited.

Christian Yelich should benefit in a big way from the move to Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Christian Yelich should benefit in a big way from the move to Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Let’s be careful not to get too carried away with Yelich’s power upside, however. He’s posted one of the highest ground-ball rates in baseball over the past three seasons (57.9 percent); he doesn’t have the batted ball profile of a player who might reasonably approach 30 bombs. Still, he’s a guy with excellent on-base skills (.369 career OBP), he’ll hit at or near the top of a quality lineup and he’s playing for a manager who’s willing to run. Craig Counsell’s team ranked second in MLB in stolen bases last season (128). Yelich is a good bet to go 20/20, assuming good health.

If you need a more specific forecast, put me down for something like 104-22-77-26-.295. That’s an upper-tier fantasy asset right there. He’s a reasonable late-second/early-third pick in mixed drafts, yet his current Yahoo ADP is only 52.7.

Where and how will Milwaukee find at-bats for its collection of outfielders?

After the trade for Yelich and the free agent signing of Lorenzo Cain, we’ve been waiting for the Brewers to deal away one of their young outfielders. Yelich and Cain are almost never going to sit when healthy, which leaves Ryan Braun, Keon Broxton, Domingo Santana and Eric Thames competing to fill two everyday spots (left field and first base). Braun is a former MVP who’s still owed $57 million, Broxton is coming off a 20/21 season, Santana just went 30/15 with an OBP of .371, and Thames tied for the team lead in home runs last year (31). It’s almost as if Milwaukee didn’t totally need to throw money at its outfield in the offseason.

Braun is entering his age-34 season and, at this stage, he can use plenty of off-days. He’s been working defensively at first base, where he’s “not remotely comfortable.” Thames couldn’t touch left-handed pitching last season (.182/.270/.394), so he’s an obvious platoon player. Santana is just 25 years old and he was terrific last season; it’s tough to believe the Brewers would want to deal him away or limit his plate appearances. He’s younger and better than Broxton, but potential trade partners are reportedly showing more interest in Keon.

For fantasy purposes, it would be great if this team would hurry up and deal someone, because the playing time picture is murky. It isn’t difficult to identify an area of need for Milwaukee…

Are the Brewers seriously not gonna sign another starting pitcher?

Jake Arrieta sure seemed like a natural fit for this team, because Milwaukee doesn’t have anyone who resembles an ace. But Arrieta landed in Philly, Lance Lynn went to Minneapolis, and, for whatever reason, the Brewers don’t seem terribly interested in Alex Cobb just yet — at least not at his current price, whatever it is.

This feels like an unfinished team, which of course is fine. It’s only March 13. Milwaukee has a surplus of outfielders from which to deal. The projected lineup is excellent, as is the bullpen. But this is not necessarily an October-ready starting rotation. Jimmy Nelson (shoulder) isn’t expected to be available until June at the earliest and Josh Hader will open the season as a reliever.

Chase Anderson, opening day starter. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Chase Anderson, opening day starter. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Chase Anderson, this year’s opening day starter, was mostly lights-out from late-May through September in 2017. But he’s also an obvious regression candidate (4.33 xFIP, .265 BABIP), not a no-doubt upper-tier starter. Zach Davies won 17 games last season, but his K-rate and swinging-strike rate both dipped and his WHIP was just 1.35. Neither pitcher is a player to target in a standard Yahoo mixed league.

But, again, this team probably isn’t yet fully assembled. The Brewers made plenty of noise in the offseason, and they’re only a move or two away from serious contention.

Brewers Projected Lineup

OF Christian Yelich
OF Lorenzo Cain
OF/1B Ryan Braun
3B Travis Shaw
OF Domingo Santana or 1B Eric Thames
C Stephen Vogt
SS Orlando Arcia
2B Jonathan Villar

Brewers Projected Staff

Chase Anderson
Zach Davies
Jhoulys Chacin
Wade Miley
Brent Suter
DL Jimmy Nelson

CL Corey Knebel
Jacob Barnes
Josh Hader
Matt Albers
Jeremy Jeffress
Boone Logan
Yovani Gallardo
Junior Guerra