The Brewers have been full of good news this season. Currently, they feature the second-best record in the National League, and have so far have been holding off a Cardinals outfit that is finally having some luck fall their way.
What’s been particularly satisfying about this season so far has been the widespread assumption (including by me) that 2014 was truly the Brewers’ last chance to compete for a while. To summarize the general sentiment, it’s awfully nice of the Brewers to give us one last run before we spend the next few years enduring 70-odd wins and overreacting to AA box scores.
And yet, I think that assumption was probably wrong. It’s quite possible the Brewers will not be terrible next year. In fact, they might be quite decent. Moreover, it was clear that they might be decent going forward even before 2014 began.
As many of you know, I occasionally publish my ratings of roster cores at Baseball Prospectus. Briefly, my view is that current statistical measures do a poor job of summarizing the staying power of current rosters. We are good at measuring current production, and we do our best to analyze farm systems, but we don’t have an overall way to profile the best indicator of near-term success: whether a club’s best current contributors are under long-term control or on their way out the door. My core wins metric, although fairly basic, takes projected contributions, and then weights them for the remaining years of team control and player age, to measure the projected staying power of each team’s current roster.
At the end of 2013, I summarized the strength of each team’s roster core based on performances that season, and I did it again before the 2014 season began, using projections from BP’s PECOTA projection system. In this latest round of roster quality, the Brewers probably did poorly, right?
Nope. Going into 2014, the Brewers’ current core projected to rank in the top 10 of all clubs for this season. They scored well in overall depth, a bit weak in the rotation, and reasonably well in their overall core of players. In fact, the Brewers ranked eighth overall, with only five National League teams ahead of them. For the smallest market in baseball with a lowly farm system, that’s not bad. At all.
I suspect that ranking is on pace to do even better next year, as the projection systems account for (and assign significant weight to) this year’s contributions from what appears to be a new and emerging Brewers roster core. On top of Ryan Braun, who at one time seemed like the last player standing, the Brewers now feature Jonathan Lucroy, Carlos Gomez, Scooter Gennett, and Khris Davis, all of whom are under control for multiple years at bargain prices. Jean Segura’s bat is becoming a concern, but at least he is fast, brings good defense, and is also under long-term control. In the rotation, the Brewers will likely have core-level performances expected from Wily Peralta, Jimmy Nelson, and perhaps even Matt Garza. Will Smith will probably transition to the closer role, broadening the core even further. And the Brewers likely will have the funds in the offseason to bestow a long-term contract upon another multi-year contributor, probably at a corner-infield position.
Projections matter more than current performance. But, it’s fair to note that the four best position players for the Brewers so far in 2014 have, according to Baseball Reference WAR, been Lucroy, Gomez, Davis, and Braun. Both Peralta and Will Smith have been worth more than a win from the pitching staff. If that is indeed the near future, it is performing well so far.
None of this is to say that good performance is guaranteed or should be taken for granted. But, the longstanding assumption that this year was the Brewers’ last hurrah seems likely to be wrong. Rather than focusing on the disintegration of the Brewers previous core, perhaps we should have been paying more attention to the new one they have been putting together. When your current players have the stuff to succeed, you can be a bit more patient with your farm system. So enjoy this season as much as you can, but take heart in the fact that the next few years may be pretty decent too.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter @bachlaw.