Milwaukee Brewers: Analytics Behind Yelich and Cain Acquisitions
By Bryan Peake
The Milwaukee Brewers front office is heavily focused on analytics. What convinced David Stearns and Co. make a splash for two outfielders?
January 25, 2018 will be one of the days many Milwaukee Brewers fans will look upon as an important inflection point. With two major acquisitions for Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich, Milwaukee is attempting to win now. Slingin’ David Stearns used smart analytics to give the Brewers a stacked outfield. Here are the analytics that make these deals good for the Brew Crew.
Cain is an analytically sound player despite his age. According to FanGraphs, Cain has produced more than 4.0 wins above replacement (WAR) in three of the past four seasons. In 2016, he produced 2.7 WAR in just 103 games played.
By comparison, Travis Shaw’s 3.4 WAR was the highest as a batter on the Brewers in 2017. Cain also had an encouraging bounce-back season in 2017 with an increased walk rate, decreased strikeout rate and increased isolated power.
His weighted runs created (wRC) of 115 ranked tied for 59th among qualified batters and tied for 23rd among outfielders. By comparison, Keon Broxton had wRC of 84 while Ryan Braun had a 110 wRC in 2017. A wRC of 100 is considered average. As a center fielder, Cain could also be seen as an upgrade from Broxton. Both committed seven errors in 2017, but Cain played 200-plus innings more than Broxton.
Yelich has produced 4.5 WAR in three of his first four full Major League seasons according to FanGraphs. His WAR isn’t the only thing that has been consistent in his career. His strikeout rate has hovered around 20 percent while his on base percentage has been above .360 each of the past four years.
An encouraging sign in the past two seasons is his increased isolated power. This likely relates to a 10 percent increase in fly ball rate from 2015 to 2017. In Miller Park, this could translate to 25-plus home runs with a 35 percent hard-hit rate. As an outfielder, Yelich committed only one error in nearly 1370 innings in 2017. He has committed only 11 errors in his four-plus years of service time.
Trading away four prospects can be risky, but there are reasons why each player was expendable. Lewis Brinson, the centerpiece of the trade, struggled in limited action in the Majors. His minor league numbers are gaudy, but durability has been an issue. Brinson hasn’t recorded 500 plate appearances since 2013 and he would have likely played in September had he not suffered an injury.
Monte Harrison has also struggled with injuries. High strikeout rates for both he and Isan Diaz are also a concern, and both are at least several seasons from the Majors. Jordan Yamamoto has also struggled with his walk rate and increased fly ball rate.
Were These Good Acquisitions?
On the surface, the Brewers added two offensive players who contributed more wins above replacement in 2017 than any player on the Brewers 2017 roster. Neither are true power hitters, but are good all-around players who are proven at the Major League level.
Considering the front office and ownership believe the team can compete in the NL Central in the next five years, these acquisitions locked in a talented core to build a winning ballclub around. Of the four prospects the Brewers sent to the Marlins for Yelich, only Brinson was Major League ready. For the Marlins to get fair value, at least one of the three other prospects will need to make a major impact in the Majors. With a good draft strategy, the Brewers will be able to restock the farm in a couple of seasons.
Next: Lorenzo Cain Signs with Milwaukee
Winning is the name of the game. These two acquisitions allow the Milwaukee Brewers to contend in 2018 with the Cubs and Cardinals, and set up 2019-2021. The analytics are in line that the Brewers outfield is in good shape for several pennant races.