The biggest challenge for the Brewers in the NL Central seems to be themselves. Milwaukee is heavily favored to win the division and will have to take care of business and not get too complacent heading into the playoffs. We’ve seen big division favorites come up short before, though it really doesn’t happen often in baseball. The sample size of 162 games helps to separate what is real from what is not.
The sportsbooks’ position on Milwaukee makes sense. Not only are three teams in the division in various states of a rebuild, but the Brewers have reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Corbin Burnes, another top arm in Brandon Woodruff and former NL MVP Christian Yelich. This is also a bullpen that features Josh Hader and Devin Williams, so there really aren’t any areas of weakness for the Brew Crew.
That’s how you end up with a win total in the upper 80s and a lot of expectations coming into a season.
American Family Field (it’s still Miller Park to me) is a tough hitter’s park, but that’s why park-adjusted stats like wRC + are so important. The formula for that stat recognizes that there are harder hitting environments than others and factors a park adjustment in. Even with that handicap accounted for, the Brewers posted a 91 wRC + , which means they were collectively 9% below league average. They finished 19th in wOBA at .310 and carried a low batting average with a low power output.
As great as this team was last season, it was carried by the pitching staff. Yelich was limited to 117 games and posted the worst offensive season of his career with a .325 wOBA and a 101 wRC + . Yelich only hit nine home runs in 475 plate appearances. It’s crazy to think he’s only a few years removed from hitting 80 over two seasons in 2018 and 2019. His .373 SLG really hurt as a key cog in this lineup and his .248 batting average wasn’t much better. Going into his age-30 season, projection systems are bullish on a bounce back – and so am I. Yelich had a Hard Hit% of 48.4%, which put him in the top 13% of hitters. He didn’t pull the ball enough last season and it zapped his power.
Fortunately, others picked up the slack. Willy Adames wound up being a really nice pickup from the Rays, who had a logjam at shortstop with their prospects needing a place to play. Adames played 99 games for the Brewers and posted a career-best 3.9 fWAR with a terrific slash line of .285/.366/.521 and a 135 wRC + . He was the most valuable hitter for the Brewers and paired that with solid defense.
His double-play partner Kolten Wong was second on the team in fWAR and paired an above-average offensive season with a strong defensive profile. Luis Urias came out of nowhere to post a 111 wRC + with 23 home runs. He had hit six in his first 422 MLB plate appearances, but made huge strides in contact quality with an above-average Barrel% and Hard Hit% – another developmental win for a really smart organization.