Milwaukee Brewers: 3 Observations on the 2022 ZiPS Projections

Because of the current MLB lockout, no one knows when the Milwaukee Brewers will officially begin their 2022 season. But that hasn’t stopped websites from beginning to project how they, and other teams, will fare in the upcoming campaign.

Dan Szymborski has his own projection model, known as ZiPS, which he has been publishing at Fangraphs. On Friday, he released his projections for the Brewers, the final in his set of team projections that he has been putting out this winter.

Overall, the projections generally treat the Crew pretty well, having them competing with the Cardinals once again for an NL Central title. Still, there are some interesting takeaways from these predictions once you start to dig in.

Here are three observations from the 2022 ZiPS projections for the Milwaukee Brewers.

Observation #1: Luis Urias is the highest projected batter. Is that a good thing?

In 2021, infielder Luis Urias finally had the breakout season fans were hoping to see. It took a little bit to fully materialize, as he first would see himself lose his starting job at shortstop before settling in at third base, but the end result was satisfying, nonetheless.

Urias finished last season with a .249 batting average, a .789 OPS, 23 home runs, 75 RBIs, and 77 runs scored. He was one of the most consistent offensive players for the Brewers and erased, for some, the thought that the trade that brought him in for outfielder Trent Grisham after the 2019 season was officially a bust.

Urias is projected for similar stats in 2022 (.252/.346/.431, 20 HR, 75 RBI) and that places him at the top of the team for WAR among batters. But that might not necessarily be a good thing considering the Brewers offense last year was among one of the worse ones in team history in several categories.

Christian Yelich and Willy Adames find themselves right behind Urias in projected WAR in this exercise. For Milwaukee to find more offensive success, it would be nice for Urias to land close to his projections while Yelich and Adames take more of the lead roles in helping the offense hum.

Observation #2: The bullpen should still be good despite some missing pieces.

After the Brewers went out and made a last-minute trade for Boston’s Hunter Renfroe right before the MLB lockout began, it didn’t leave many obvious holes left for president of baseball operations David Stearns to fix. First base could possibly be one, while the bullpen would probably be the other.

Milwaukee lost two big contributors from the 2021 pen when Brad Boxberger and Hunter Strickland hit free agency. And though the back end of the pen remains strong with a Big 4 of reigning NL Reliever of the Year Josh Hader, Devin Williams, Jake Cousins, and Aaron Ashby, plus it will again include a solid Brent Suter, things drop off after that.

The final four names listed on the bullpen depth chart are Jandel Gustave, Miguel Sanchez, Trevor Gott, and J.C. Mejia. That is a quartet of names that either haven’t gotten much of a chance yet at the major league level, haven’t impressed much in the majors, or both.

And yet, ZiPS still has the Brewers bullpen projected to be one of the best units in baseball. Perhaps that is mostly due to the strength of those first 4-5 names, but it will be formidable either way. And you know Stearns will still add to the unit, as he always done, so by the time the season begins, it could become even scarier.

Observation #3: Omar Narvaez’s offensive projections feel too conservative.

The Brewers traded for catcher Omar Narvaez ahead of the 2020 season after two under-the-radar years in which he was one of the better offensive backstops in baseball. That first year in Milwaukee (.176/.294/.269, 31% strikeout rate) went dreadfully.

2021 was much more what Brewers fans were hoping for when Narvaez was acquired. His slash line (.266/.342/.402) jumped back up around his career averages, his defense continued to greatly improve, and it all resulted in him setting a career high in fWAR at 2.8.

Despite that, Narvaez is projected to see drops in numbers all across the slash line, projecting at .253/.331/.395. Though it’s not uncommon to see regression in season projections when a player had a career year, that average and OBP would mark a career low for Narvaez in a non-2020 season, while the slugging number would be worse than three of his five non-2020 seasons.

Assuming his strong numbers in three of his past four seasons resemble the true Narvaez, I would expect the slash line to look better than those projections, which shouldn’t be an unreasonable expectation.

It’s fun to see some projections for the upcoming season, now if MLB could go ahead and make sure a 2022 season actually happens, fans would be eternally grateful.