Key Additions: Pitchers: Brett Anderson, Eric Lauer, Josh Lindblom Position Players: Avisail Garcia, Jedd Gyorko, Brock Holt, Logan Morrison, Omar Narvaez, Justin Smoak, Eric Sogard
Key Subtractions: Pitchers: Chase Anderson, Zach Davies, Junior Guerra Position Players: Jesus Aguilar, Yasmani Grandal, Trent Grisham, Mike Moustakas, Travis Shaw, Eric Thames
Pitching coach Jim Hook has his hands full with a bunch of pitchers trying to realize their potential. One that has just skimmed the surface of his ace stuff is Brandon Woodruff. He made just 22 starts but had a 3.62 ERA and a 4.77 K/BB ratio in 2019. He is a top candidate for the National League Cy Young award this year. Slotting in behind Woodruff is Adrian Houser, who looked really good in the exhibition game vs. the White Sox on Wednesday. Hopefully he doesn’t let his nerves get to him in the big game as he has lost his lunch twice before pitching.
The most interesting signing on the team is Josh Lindblom, who has struggled in his brief big league career. After 2014, he went overseas to pitch in the KBO, where he found himself, and won the KBO MVP last year. It will be interesting to see if that performance can translate to big league success. At the back end of the rotation is Eric Lauer, who is starting the season on the Injured List. He was acquired from San Diego and provides a similar arsenal to Zach Davies but from the left side. It was a smart acquisition by David Stearnes as Lauer has more years of control than Davies. The two real interesting pieces are Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta. Burnes was an absolute disaster last year as he got hit extremely hard. However, Burnes, as we know from 2018, has nasty stuff and the metrics support that well. With top notch spin rate and above average velocity he is geared up to bounce back and show he is a legitimate starting pitcher behind Woody.
Freddy Peralta was similar to Burnes, as he had a good 2018, had a chance in the rotation in ’19, failed, and was then moved to the bullpen. In February, Milwaukee signed an extension with the young righty which should keep him with the Brewers until at least 2024 with club options for 2025 and 2026. Peralta got hit really hard last year despite his xERA being a full run lower than his 5.29 ERA. A change to expect from Peralta this year is a more diverse use of his pitches. He threw his fastball at 77.7% percent of the time (7th in MLB) which is well above average.
The bullpen is led by Josh Hader with his hair and body coming right at hitters. He used his fastball almost more than anybody, at 82.9% of the time last year. Haderade clearly doesn’t need to shy away from his electric fasball but he plans to use his changeup more this year.
Hader will be setup by Corey Knebel, who returns from Tommy John surgery that kept him out all of last season. Knebel has great stuff as he struck out 214 batters across 2017 and 2018. Alex Claudio gives manager Craig Counsell a unique look throwing side arm from the left side. Claudio threw his sinker at just 85.6 mph and his curveball in the upper 60s. Tough to face after a hitter has seen 95 up in the zone.
Fan favorite Brent Suter will work out of the bullpen again this year after an impressive stint late last season. David Phelps, Mike Morin and Justin Grimm provide depth out of the pen. J.P. Feyereisen, a Wisconsin native, cracked the team and should be a fun guy to root for. There will probably be more guys called up from the player pool to keep the arms fresh as the season goes along.
Starter: Omar Narvaez
Bench: Manny Pina
After letting Yasmani Grandal, one of baseball’s best catchers, walk in free agency, the Brewers made a trade with Seattle to acquire Narvaez to fill their starting catcher position. Narvaez is a serviceable starting catcher who will largely fill the offensive void that Grandal left, with each catcher posting wRC+ numbers in the neighborhood of 120 consistently over the past several seasons. The difference, though, is defensive, and it’s hard to overstate: the Brewers lost one of the best pitch framers in baseball and a solid defender in Grandal, and now in Narvaez have a well below average catcher both in framing and overall defense. Piña is a fine backup who will provide good defense, but will not hit for much.
1B: Justin Smoak
2B: Keston Hiura
3B: Eric Sogard
SS: Orlando Arcia
Bench: Logan Morrison
Bench: Jedd Gyorko
Bench: Brock Holt
IL: Luis Urias
LF: Christian Yelich
CF: Lorenzo Cain
RF: Avisail Garcia
DH: Ryan Braun
Bench: Ben Gamel
The infield has shifted around a little bit this year compared to years past. 2019 Opening Day members Travis Shaw and Mike Moustakas both find themselves playing for new teams to open 2020, going to the Blue Jays and Reds, respectively. Eric Thames has also taken his hard hitting ways to the nation’s capital, where he will be joining the reigning World Series champion Nationals. Filling in for that trio will be Eric Sogard, Keston Hiura, and Justin Smoak. Sogard was a member of the Brewers last year and has been a fan favorite everywhere he goes. He provides adequate defense and extreme versatility and figures to be an average bat in the lineup. Hiura was Milwaukee’s top prospect going into 2019, and had a very encouraging display at the plate. His defense leaves something to be desired, as his -4 DRS is typically not want you want to see, but his slashline of .303/.368/.570 was a phenomenal showing for a rookie, as well as his 19 homers and 9 steals in only 84 games. Hiura figures to be a mainstay in the middle of this lineup for years to come. Lastly, Justin Smoak will look to rebound off a dreadful 2019 in which he posted his lowest offensive totals in nearly every category since 2016. Smoak is known for getting on base and hitting homers, and should be given every opportunity to rediscover his power stroke this year.
The outfield is led by a top 3 player in baseball over the past 2 seasons, Christian Yelich. The 2018 NL MVP moves to LF this year as Avisail Garcia has a stronger arm and is a better option for RF. Obviously, there is no need to be worried about Yelich’s poor performance in intrasquad games as he has one of the best bat to ball skills in the game. If the Brewers want to win the division, they will have to get better offensive production from Lorenzo Cain in CF. Cain hit the ball hard last year (69 percentile hard hit rate) which led to an above average expected batting average of .288 even though he actually hit .260. With better luck, he should have a much better year for the Brew Crew. In right field, Milwaukee fans are going to love Avisail Garcia as he plays the game extremely hard. He hustles down the line which leads to him beating out a number of infield grounders on a yearly basis. Although not talked about with Betts or Trout (as he shouldn’t be), Garcia is a 5 tool player. He makes good contact and hits the ball extremely well (82 percentile barrel percentage, which measures how well the ball is struck based on launch angle and exit velocity). Don’t be fooled by his large size, as his sprint speed ranked in the top 10% last season. Avi was also a good defensive player last season for the Rays. Lastly is Ryan Braun who should see limited time in the field this season with the designated hitter in the National League. With Braun it’s hard to say how much longer he will be a productive big league player. He had a dismal performance against the White Sox on Wednesday as he struck out 3 times, but he was battling back from injury. Braun’s defensive skills are dwindling (-8 Outs Above Average). Although, he still hits the ball very hard ranking just outside the top 10% in Exit Velocity.
Playoff Percentage: 28.5%
Run Differential: +5; 307 Runs scored, 302 Runs allowed
If you have followed PECOTA projections over the years you know that they can be way off on win-loss totals. However, the projections are more about what should happen with no surprise regressions, breakouts, or key injuries.
The Brewers have a lot of pieces that have untapped potential but offer some risk. If pitchers Freddy Peralta and Corbin Burnes breakout, along with a Justin Smoak and Lorenzo Cain return to form, this team could see themselves atop the National League Central at the end of September. But, that’s quite a long shot in a tightly packed NL Central grouping. More likely, the Brewers will be around .500 this year. My prediction is they finish the season 32-28 which might get them a 7 or 8 seed in the new 16-team expanded playoffs.
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