Image: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
2021 Record: 95-67 (0.586 win%, 1st in Division)
2021 Payroll: $99.38 million (19th)
Projected 2022 Lineup:
1. 2B Kolten Wong (L), .265 AVG/.335 OBP/.419 SLG, 2.6 fWAR
2. SS Willy Adames (R), .252 AVG/.331 OBP/.441 SLG, 3.2 fWAR
3. LF Christian Yelich (L), .258 AVG/.369 OBP/.459 SLG, 2.9 fWAR
4. DH Andrew McCutchen (R), .234 AVG/.338 OBP/.422 SLG, 0.6 fWAR
5. 1B Rowdy Tellez (L), .256 AVG/.328 OBP/.486 SLG, 1.2 fWAR
6. RF Hunter Renfroe (R), .239 AVG/.306 OBP/.482 SLG, 1.2 fWAR
7. 3B Luis Urías (R), .253 AVG/.345 OBP/.431 SLG, 3.0 fWAR
8. C Omar Narváez (L), .250 AVG/.334 OBP/.390 SLG, 1.9 fWAR
9. CF Lorenzo Cain (R), .265 AVG/.336 OBP/.396 SLG, 1.7 fWAR
Projected 2022 Rotation:
1. Corbin Burnes, 174.0 IP/3.26 ERA/1.11 WHIP, 4.5 fWAR
2. Brandon Woodruff, 187.0 IP/3.72 ERA/1.18 WHIP, 3.6 fWAR
3. Freddy Peralta, 163.0 IP/4.12 ERA/1.26 WHIP, 2.6 fWAR
4. Adrian Houser, 149.0 IP/4.76 ERA/1.49 WHIP, 1.1 fWAR
5. Eric Lauer, 138.0 IP/4.63 ERA/1.37 WHIP, 1.0 fWAR
Projected 2022 Top 3 Relievers:
1. Josh Hader, 67.0 IP/2.95 ERA/1.06 WHIP, 1.2 fWAR
2. Devin Williams, 65.0 IP/3.42 ERA/1.25 WHIP, 0.8 fWAR
3. Brad Boxberger, 65.0 IP/4.41 ERA/1.37 WHIP, 0.1 fWAR
While other teams were signing Freddie Freeman and Max Scherzer to lucrative contracts, the Brewers stayed relatively quiet. As a small market team, Milwaukee cannot keep up with some of their NL counterparts, such as the Dodgers and Mets, in salary, even though regular season success has been similar. The 2022 offseason was business as usual for the Brewers. They lost a few players, and they did their best to replace them with affordable, and near equivalent, replacements.
Milwaukee lost third baseman Eduardo Escobar, outfielder Avisail Garcia, catcher Manny Piña, slugger Daniel Vogelbach, and reliever Hunter Strickland to free agency, and gave Jackie Bradley Jr. away in a trade. In response, they brought in Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Severino in free agency, and added Mike Brosseau and Hunter Renfroe in their two trades. While this outgoing list contains more talent than the incoming list, none of the losses are devastating or insurmountable.
The person who they will miss the most is Eduardo Escobar who provided utility on both sides of the ball with switch-hitting ability and defensive versatility. After joining the Brewers in late July, Escobar had a respectable 0.800 OPS while playing 34 of his 56 games at third base, which projects to be a hole in the 2022 lineup. While it was probably unrealistic to match the Mets the two-year $20 million deal for the 32-year old infielder, the Brewers have decided, at least momentarily, to use their internal pieces for third base.
The Brewers also did not sign a reliever in response to Hunter Strickland leaving. After the Angels designated him for assignment in June, the Brewers picked up Strickland for cash. In his 35 games for Milkawuee, Strickland was nothing but phenomenal. Despite struggling over the past three yearsHe pitched to a WHIP below 1.00 and ERA below 2.00 as well as striking out more batters than he had innings pitched. Strickland was great last year, but the Brewers are confident they can lean on their young, less proven pitchers more without him.
In the outfield, Milwaukee let Avisail Garcia sign with the Marlins for four years and $53 million, and they swapped Jackie Bradley Jr. and his sizable contract for Hunter Renfroe. Over the last two seasons with the Brewers, Garcia compiled 3.6 WAR, hitting and maning right field at an above average level. Unfortunately, giving Garcia $13.25 million AAV (average annual value) would make him the third highest paid player behind Yelich and Cain. For the Brewers to continue their success with a payroll under $100 million, they could match the offer for Garcia.
On the trade side, JBJ was a deadweight the Brewers needed to get rid of. Although he is still a talented center fielder, he was absolutely lost at the plate, represented by his 35 wRC+ and -0.8 WAR, which were the worst among major league hitters with 400+ plate appearances. Paying the worst hitter in baseball $12 million is impracticable. In conjunction with the Brewers 16th and 17th ranked prospects, JBJ was flipped for Red Sox outfielder Hunter Renfroe who is under team control for the next two seasons.
Ignoring a shortened 2020 season, Renfroe has been an above average power hitter who has consistently hit 25 to 30 home runs to go along with an 0.800 OPS. Addressing the elephant in the room, Renfroe’s 2020 struggles were likely due a small sample size and an insane amount of bad luck as his BABIP was 0.141, almost half his career average. While his defense in right field is not as good as Garcia, Renfroe should be a serviceable replacement for Garcia in the lineup while making almost $6 million fewer than Garcia.
Losing Manny Piña to the Braves and electing to sign Pedro Severino instead probably means more to the fans than it does the on field product. Piña has been a fan favorite since joining the Brewers in 2016. He has served as the backup catcher for the past 3 years behind Yasmani Grandal and Omar Narváez. Piña has been a slightly below average hitter, which is viable for the position, but his main strength was defense, especially pitch calling.
To replace Piña, the Brewers signed Pedro Severino for $2 million in comparison to Piña’s $4 million. Offensively, their numbers are very similar, but Severino’s average defensive metrics cannot replace Piña’s top glove. While Severino is a strict downgrade, the Brewers are not losing much by not investing in a top tier backup catcher.
With the addition of the designated hitter to the National League in 2022, the Brewers preferred bringing in the veteran presence of Andrew McCutchen instead of re-signing Daniel Vogelbach. Vogelbach mashes righties but is abysmal against lefties despite having a superb 17% walk rate overall. Vogelbach signed for $1 million with the Pirates where he will likely DH against right handed pitchers. The Brewers preferred to bring in Andrew McCutchen who can play outfield in addition to his likely DH spot.
The former MVP is a shell of his former self. McCutchen can no longer play excellent center field defense, and he is no longer the revered hitter he once was. Regardless, in the last two years in Philadelphia, he had a 106 wRC+ that jumped to 164 when he was facing left handed pitchers. Unfortunately, there is not a good platoon opportunity as he will be sharing time with Cain and Renfroe, who are also righties. Although McCutchen is past his prime, he will add veteran leadership and experience to a clubhouse who has struggled to hit in recent seasons.
Lastly, the Brewers add former Ray Mike Brosseau in exchange for minor league pitcher Evan Reifert as a super utility player to add infield depth. Brosseau’s value stems from his ability to play every infield position in addition to corner outfield. In his three years on the Rays, his OPS went from 0.781 to 0.936 to 0.613, but he never played more than 60 games. Although there is extreme uncertainty on the offensive side, Brosseau will be able to get lefties, such as Kolten Wong and Rowdy Tellez, some off days when necessary.
2022 Season Preview:
The Brewers team returns many of the same players from previous seasons, but the biggest question yet again is whether their hitting will perform. In 2021, Milwaukee ranked 20th in OPS and 12th in runs scored. While these metrics are not terrible and the rotation and bullpen are elite, they will need to break into the top ten in offensive categories to be true World Series contenders. This section will go through the roster to highlight a little bit about what to expect from each player.
At first base, Rowdy Tellez needs to have a good season to retain the starting job. As a sup-par defender, Tellez’s upside is on offense. In the two seasons Tellez played significant time, his wRC+ finished the season around 90. There have been flashes of potential in short stincts when he hits the ball hard, but the Brewers desperately need more value from him or his replacement for a full season at first base.
At second base, Kolten Wong is fairly consistent as a 1.5 to 2.5 fWAR player. Although the speed dropped off in 2019, he is still a plus defender. On the offensive side, he is a league average lefty bat who does not strike out or whiff a lot. Wong can hopefully provide some security up the middle defensively while not being a liability in the lineup.
At shortstop, Willy Adames has had his ups and downs, but he was unbelievable after joining the Brewers in May of 2021. His OPS jumped nearly 100 points above his typical career mark of 0.776. Although he is not a great defensive shortstop, he brings speed to the lineup. If Adames’ 2021 season was due to the change of scenery from Tampa to Milwaukee rather than random variation, he could be the best hitter on this team in 2022.
At third base, Luis Urías should assume the starting role once back from his quad injury. The utility man finally saw production with his bat while finally receiving playing time in 2021. Although he is naturally a second baseman, the Brewers will stick him at third because they need offensive production. His 2021 breakout can be attributed to his increased hard hit and fly ball rates. As he looked to put the ball into the air, Urias did significant more damage than previous years. Assuming he returns near 100 percent from his quad injury, he should continue his offensive development.
Behind the plate, Omar Narváez had a solid 2021 offensively for the first five months before he fell off in September. Before the final month of the season, he consistently supported a wRC+ above 120, but it plummeted to 99 after a horrendous month where his hard hit rate was cut in half. If the Brewers manage his workload to diminish the effect of a final month collapse, Narváez should produce well above other catchers in the league. Defensively, he ranked in the 74th percentile for framing in 2021. In 2022, on both sides of the ball, Narváez should be an asset to this Milwaukee team.
Analysis about right fielder Hunter Renfroe and designated hitter Andrew McCutchen were provided above in the offseason recap, and starting left fielder Christian Yelich will be highlighted in the Players to Watch section.
Lorenzo Cain is yet another aging veteran the Brewers will trot out in the outfield. Cain is still very fast and a solid defender, ranking around the 90th percentile in both Outs Above Average (OAA) and Sprint Speed in 2021. His bat on the other hand has declined since first joining the Brewers. After five straight seasons of above 100 OPS+ from 2014 to 2018, he dipped below that mark in 2019. In 2020 and 2021, he lost the majority of both seasons to injuries. Similar to Yelich, the most important factor for Cain is health.
The bench will likely consist of Jace Peterson, Keston Hiura, Pedro Severino, Tyrone Taylor, and Mike Brosseau to start the season. For the first month of the season there will be 28 person rosters, so this bench will be larger than the typical four person bench. Hiura will be the backup for both Wong and Tellez. Jace Peterson and Mike Brosseau will serve as utility players who can slot into most positions. Pedro Severino, as previously mentioned, will be the backup catcher. Lastly, Tyrone Taylor will be the fifth outfielder behind Yelich, Cain, McCutchen, and Renfroe.
The ace of the staff Corbin Burnes has cemented himself as a top tier pitcher after his Cy Young performance last year. Since becoming a starter in 2020, Burnes has been lights out, pitching to an ERA below 2.50 and a FIP near 2.00 both years. Burnes’ combination of command and ability to generate whiffs are unmatched.
While the results on the field are remarkable, the underlying metrics are even better as he ranks in the top five percentile for almost every category MLB Savant shows. Even though Burnes’ breakout came fairly late as a 26 year old, he will still be a must watch dominant ace for the foreseeable future.
Whether Brandon Woodruff is considered the second or third best pitcher on this team, he is only getting better. In 2021, he pitched 179.1 innings, the most of his career by far. Despite the increased workload, he had his best years in terms of ERA and FIP, dipping below 3.00 for the first time in both metrics.
In 2020 and 2021, Woodruff saw a jump in his strikeout percentages, likely due the increased spin on his fastball and curveball, making both pitches deceptive. Like Burnes, Woodruff also continues to get better year after year.
Freddy Peralta is yet another young starter who came onto the scene in 2021 for the Brewers. Similar to Woodruff, Peralta pitched 144.1 innings, almost double any previous year’s totals. In 2020, Peralta had much better underlying metrics, such as xERA and FIP, than tangible results. In 2021, his ERA dropped over one point from 3.99 to 2.81, closely matching his xERA and FIP from both 2020 and 2021. This success stems from throwing his fastball less often.
The run value of Peralta’s fastball has skyrocketed as his pitch mix has become less predictable. Perlata also creates a lot of whiffs and resulting strikeouts. Unlike Burnes and Woodruff, Peralta does not have as much command, walking around 3.5 batters per nine innings. With Peralta, Woodruff, and Burnes as the top end of this rotation, it is a top three rotation in baseball, if not the best one.
Adrian Houser does not match the same mold as the top of the rotation. He throws his sinker 54% of the time, garnering weak contact rather than strikeouts and whiffs. Over the past three seasons, Houser has thrown more and more sinkers rather than fastballs, leading to almost 60 percent ground ball rate in 2021. After a rough 2020, he returned to form in 2021 with his career best 3.22 ERA. Housers’ FIP has consistently been higher than his ERA, which is expected for a low strikeout high contact pitcher, so it is not a place for concern. While Houser is not as dominant as the top of the rotation pitchers, he will provide quality innings as the fourth starter.
Sounding like a broken record, Eric Lauer also had his best ERA of his career of 3.19 in 2021. Unlike the rest of the rotation, Lauer saw a similar workload of 118.2 innings to his first two years in the league in San Diego in 2018 and 2019. Lauer does nothing special, but all aspects of his pitching are adequate. He was near 50th percentile for hard hit rate, strikeout percentage, walk percentage, spin rate, and many of the expected hitting statistics in 2021. While he is likely to regress back to league average based on these underlying metrics, the Brewers should still be content with Lauer as a fifth starter.
Since joining the league in 2017, Josh Hader has been nothing short of incredible. His ERA has been below 3.00 every season, except the shortened 2020 season. While he can walk some batters, Haders’ electric fastball in conjunction with a nasty slide leads to an insane 15.36 K/9 over his career. Josh Hader is undeniably the best closer in baseball as he has won three of the last four NL Reliever of the Year Awards, only losing to his teammate Devin Williams in 2020.
It’s rare to say that a reliever with 2.50 ERA in a full season was disappointing, but the bar for Devin Williams was set at the max after his astonishing 2020. In his rookie year, Williams made top tier hitting look silly with his unique changeup which he dubbed the airbender. If for some reason you have not watched Devin Williams 2020 highlights, stop reading and come back when you watch that four minute video.
Enough about 2020, Williams came back to Earth in 2021 as he lost some control, walking 4.67 BB/9. Regardless, he still makes batters whiff or hit weak contact just as well as before. If Williams can avoid punching another wall before the playoffs, he yet again will be a valuable weapon coming out of the bullpen.
Behind Hader and Williams, Brad Boxberger, Brent Suter, Jake Cousins, Trevor Gott, Aaron Ashby, Jandel Gustave, José Ureña, and Luis Perdomo are expected to round out their bullpen. This is a particularly strong backend of the bullpen relative to the rest of the league. While Hader and Williams are the flashy names, this crew will quietly eat up quality innings when the rotation does not go as deep into games as expected
Record Prediction: 96-66
The 2021 Brewers won 95 games, and the 2022 Brewers should be just as good, if not better. Although they lost more than they added in the offseason, a healthy Christian Yelich is the most vital piece of the Brewers’ 2022 campaign. Around him there are a lot of league average or slightly above league average hitters.
If all of the hitters perform to their maximum projections, Milwaukee could rival the Dodgers for the best team in the National League, but it is more likely some players will perform well, while others will not. Yet again, though, this team will be carried by their elite rotation and bullpen.
With the Cubs and Reds tearing down this season, in addition to the Pirates who will not be competitive, the Brewers should rack up wins inside the division, and run away with the NL Central. While the Cardinals are talented on offense, they do not have the pitching staff to compete with the Brew Crew.
The real question is: How will the Brewers fare in the postseason? In 2022, Milwaukee scored six runs in four games against the Braves in the NLDS, including not scoring in either game two or three. Even if the hitter is not there in the regular season, the 2022 Brewers need to get hot offensively at the right time if they have any World Series aspirations.
Player to Watch #1: LF Christian Yelich
After leaving Miami in 2017, Christian Yelich made a dramatic entrance in Milwaukee by winning MVP in his first season and then placed second in 2019. After performing as a top five player in baseball providing over 14 fWAR in two seasons, injuries got the best of Yelich in the two most recent seasons. In 2020, he played in 58 of 60 games, but his knee injury limited his production.
In 2021, Yelich only played 117 games dealing with a nagging back injury. There are two encouraging signs for the Brewers star though. First, Yelich’s BABIP started to rise up to career average in 2021 after a massive dip in 2020. This suggests that Yelich will continue to do damage when he puts the ball in play when healthy. Second, the National League will now have a designated hitter.
The new rule change will allow Counsell to give Yelich a day off from the field without removing his bat, hopefully resulting in a more healthy Yelich. The 2022 Brewers need an all star Christian Yelich to revitalize their offense, or they are bound to have another mediocre offensive year.
Player to Watch #2: RP/SP Aaron Ashby
Young talented pitcher Aaron Ashby might get an opportunity to start if the Brewers continue their six-man rotation. In his rookie season of 2021, he pitched to a ground ball rate of 61.3% and whiff rate of 29.6%.
It is a rare combo for any pitcher to be top tier in both GB% and Whiff%, let alone a rookie. Although he had a 4.55 ERA, his xERA and xFIP in the low threes are more indicative of his true talent level. Considering how well the Brewers developed Burnes, Woodruff, and Peralta, Ashby might be the next in line for a major breakout.
Player to Watch #3: OF Tyrone Taylor
Although 28 year old Tyrone Taylor has only accumulated 324 plate appearances in 130 games, he has a career 109 wRC+. Despite being an above average hitter throughout his time in the minors and in limited playing time in the majors, he is stuck as the fifth outfielder behind veterans Yelich, Cain, Renfroe, and McCutchen.
As well as having a reliable bat, Taylor has a near elite Sprint Speed of 28.6 ft/s and had a +3 OAA in 2021. Solid on both sides of the ball, Taylor ought to receive playing time if a veteran is struggling or hurt. If that does not happen, Milwaukee should trade him for value while they still can.
Categories: 2022 Season Preview