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That’s been the big question ever since CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets bolted for the greener pastures of free agency this winter, and according to most analysts, they will have a lot of trouble replacing the production from CC and Ben.
Of course, they’re right. It’s very hard to replace the combined 9.3 WAR provided by the prodigious pair, but I think the Brewers will be able to do it. Let me go through where these wins will come from.
First, the bullpen. The Milwaukee Brewers bullpen was incredibly bad last year, to put it simply. Derrick Turnbow managed to accrue a whole -.4 wins in less than 10 innings, Eric Gagne, despite his okay finish, was worth -1.0 wins, and David Riske was also worth -.5 wins. There’s a whole -2 wins from 3 players in the bullpen.
Salomon Torres did not do a whole lot to make up for it, as he was only worth .4 wins last year. All told, the volatile Brewers bullpen was worth a paltry 1.6 RUNS above replacement last year, for a total of .16 WINS above replacement.
This was the 6th worst in the league (Pirates, Cardinals, Giants, Padres, Mets) and by FAR the worst among playoff teams (the next worst bullpen was the Rays at 3.32 WAR).
Basically, it’ll be hard for the Brewers to be that bad this year, especially considering the retooled bullpen. Let’s take a look at one possible outlook for the bullpen this year:
CL Hoffman, 60 IP 3.90 FIP, 1.8 LI | 0.80 WAR
RP Villanueva, 80 IP 3.40 FIP, 1.3 LI | 1.45 WAR
RP McClung, 80 IP, 3.60 FIP, 1.1 LI | 1.00 WAR
RP Stetter, 50 IP, 3.50* FIP, 1.0 LI | 0.70 WAR
RP Swindle, 40 IP, 3.90* FIP 0.9 LI | 0.30 WAR
RP Julio, 50 IP, 4.30 FIP 0.7 LI | 0.10 WAR
RP Riske, 50 IP, 4.30 FIP 0.7 LI | 0.10 WAR
RP Others, ~40 IP, 4.45 FIP 0.6 LI | 0.00 WAR
TOTAL | 4.45 WAR
(Rough projections from CHONE, Marcel, and BrewCrewBall community projections)
There are many variations on this theme, and they’ll all have similar results. This bullpen projects as 4.45 wins above replacement. That’s a 4.29 win gain over last year’s bullpen, so even if the bullpen is only half as good as these projections say, we’re still looking at a massive improvement.
So there’s 4.3 wins back of the 9.3 lost from Sheets/Sabathia. That still leaves us with 5 wins to make up. The next places to look are the starters. Essentially, replacing CC and Ben are Yovani Gallardo and Braden Looper. Now, that duo certainly does not strike fear into the hearts of opponents like the old guard, but they are certainly capable. More projections:
SP Gallardo, 180 IP, 3.60 FIP | 3.80 WAR
SP Looper, 190 IP, 4.60 FIP | 1.65 WAR
TOTAL | 5.45 WAR
So between the two additions to the rotation this year, we can see an increase of 5.45 wins above replacement. This is even before we add in possible late season contributions from Chris Capuano.
With these 5.45 WAR, combined with the added 4.29 WAR from the bullpen, we have more than replaced the 9.3 wins lost from the departures of Sheets and Sabathia. This is before we consider that many of the Brewers hitters suffered down years and are likely due for regression this year.
This team may not be as flashy or as star-powered as last year’s team, but it certainly has the ability to compete and there is no reason to think otherwise.