Recently, I broke down the Brewers’ 2014 schedule by looking at their monthly match-ups. Turns out, the first month of the season looks to be a doozy for the Crew. Meanwhile, June could be an optimal month to string wins together. So I was excited to see Fangraphs recently post an article on each team’s overall strength of schedule for the upcoming season.
In the piece, Jeff Sullivan used WAR as a measuring stick. Simply, Sullivan added the total estimated WAR of each team’s opponents then averaged them out. Gauged this way, the Baltimore Orioles have the toughest 2014 schedule with an average WAR of 35.6 per opponent. The easiest schedule, again by average opponent WAR, went to the Washington Nationals at 30.4.
When assessed this way, American League teams naturally have tougher schedules because of the DH. The increased offense WAR generated by a DH, instead of a pitcher, adds up over a season. I mention this because if you look at the chart in Sullivan’s piece, on first blush, it looks like the Brewers have one of the easiest schedules in baseball. It’s probably not the best way to read the data because of the DH factor. A more accurate gauge may be to compare the Brewers’ schedule only to the National League. When examined through that lens, the Brewers’ strength of schedule lands right in the middle.
The Brewers’ strength of schedule, based on average opponent WAR, is around 32.6. (Sullivan charted the results in his piece so the precise tenth of a percentage isn’t listed.) The Crew’s strength of schedule is tied with the Miami Marlins and Pittsburgh Pirates. It’s slightly easier than the Arizona Diamondbacks and Cincinnati Reds, and slightly tougher than the Los Angeles Dodgers. In fact, the competition within the National League is so close that Sullivan notes that the spread between the fourth through thirteenth ranked teams is a mere 1.1 WAR.
Some may look at Sullivan’s chart to see what teams have an inside edge for a wild card spot. Respectively, the Nationals and Braves have the easiest strength of schedule in the NL, which suggests that the team that doesn’t win the NL East still has a strong chance to make the playoffs. But what I found most interesting was the method to Sullivan’s madness — predicted WAR for each team. And for that, Sullivan used the Fangraphs Depth Charts as his baseline.
Fangraphs Depth Charts project that the Brewers will generate a total WAR of 30.1 this season. For reference, that’s 23rd in all of baseball. The Tigers lead the projections with a 46.0 WAR and the Astros bring up the rear with a 21.5 WAR. The Brewers’ 30.1 WAR is a projected improvement over the 24.6 WAR they generated last season, when position players produced 18.0 WAR and pitchers 6.6 WAR.
Yet, as I dug through Fangraphs WAR projections, my optimism for the season changed based on how I looked at data. The projections seemingly painted different pictures before my eyes. So I decided to share both views with you. Let’s look at things the first way — how do the Brewers WAR projections compare to the rest of the league?
(I’ve included the DH spot since, in essence, it is a measure of the Brewers’ bench.)
|Position||Projected 2014 WAR||MLB Rank||NL Central Rank|
* Tied with Yankees
** Dodgers, Blue Jays, and Marlins all tied for 1st with 4.5 WAR
These projections assess the Brewers’ talent as either scrapping the ceiling or scratching the floor of the league. Through this lens, the 2014 Brewers appear to be a boom or bust team. Even after the additions of Matt Garza and Francisco Rodriquez, Fangraphs projections don’t like the Brewers’ pitching. Both the SP and RP are assessed as being at the bottom of the division and near the bottom of the entire league.
The Brewers’ position players are expected to be better but still not a collective top tier team. According to Fangraphs projections, half of their positions (C, SS, CF, RF) will account for about 72% of their total WAR. The Brewers are still expected to struggle at 1B, deal with health and depth issues at 3B, and wade through uncertainty at 2B and LF.
Yet, while those projections may be depressing, let’s change context. How do the projections compare to the Crew’s actual WAR totals from last season?
|Position||Projected 2014 WAR||Actual 2013 WAR||Difference|
Through this lens, these projections don’t look nearly as bad. Being mediocre at 1B and healthy at 3B will be hugely beneficial for the club. The impact of the Garza signing is felt, and the return of Ryan Braun good for the outfield — no matter where he plays. Finally, the numbers expect significant regression from Carlos Gomez, which I’ve already argued will not be as steep as the projection systems expect.
They say that everyone is an optimist during spring training. Looked at this way, the Fangraphs’ WAR projections could be included in that camp. When compared to last year’s team, the 2014 Brewers are taking a step in the right direction. Yet, when compared to the rest of the league, expectations place the Crew in the league’s bottom third. It’s a strange, but accurate, dichotomy. Suggesting that Brewers fans should be, at best, cautiously optimistic about this season.
It’s fun to sink my teeth into all the projections. But, the more I dig into them, the more I can’t wait for opening day. Because that’s when the first pitch pushes them all aside. It’s the day that projections end and results, finally, take center stage.