Fantasy Breakdown: Milwaukee Brewers for 2021

A preview of the Brewers' lineup, rotation, and bullpen for 2021

Throughout the winter months of the offseason, the Pitcher List staff will be creating profiles for every fantasy-relevant player for 2021. Players will be broken up by team and role through starting pitchers, bullpen, lineup, and prospects. You can access every article as it comes out in our Player Profiles 2021 hub here.

 

At A Glance

 

Milwaukee is running it back in 2021 following a disappointing 2020 that never quite got off the ground, finishing 29-31 and never once having a winning record, going 0-9 in chances to break .500. With the encyclopedia’s worth of extenuating circumstances surrounding the 2020 season, Milwaukee hopes that the team-wide offensive slump that gripped them in August and September was simply an aberration that will correct itself this coming year.

Lorenzo Cain will be back after opting out last summer, and it’s fair to expect that Christian Yelich, Keston Hiura, Omar Narvaez, and Avisaíl García won’t all be replacement-level hitters again. On the pitching side, the talent at the top remains some of the best in the league, with questionable depth subsequently. Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes appear to be the real deal, but it’s unclear how they’ll hold up with a full season of top-of-the-rotation innings.

Behind them, the bullpen will once again play a key role. They’re likely to play a lot of close games, and in 2020 they leaned heavily on the foursome of Josh Hader, Devin Williams, Freddy Peralta, and Brent Suter to get them through high-leverage moments.

All of them project to play big roles again. All in all, the Brewers are banking on a lot to go right this season, but with the same disinclination to improve their roster as every other team in the NL Central, they might not have to, for better or worse.

 

Hitters

 

Projected Lineup

 

Infielders

 

Omar Narvaez (C)

2020: 8 R, 2 HR, 10 RBI, 0 SB, .176/.294/.269 | C #59

2021 ADP: 371 (C #29)

It’s hard to say what we should expect out of Narvaez in 2021. From 2018-19, the lefty swinger was the definition of a bat-first backstop, ranking third among catchers with a 120 wRC+ and second to last with -20 framing runs. Like everything else, 2020 flipped the script completely, with his 59 wRC+ ranking next to last alongside 3.9 framing runs added, suddenly good for third-best in MLB.

Amid all his offensive struggles, he maintained excellent plate discipline, running a walk rate above 12% for the fourth time in five years. At the same time, his already-low exit velocities reached a nadir with a feather-light 81.6 MPH average. It’s hard to be a major leaguer with numbers like that, but this is a year to be unusually forgiving when it comes to outlier seasons. If the framing improvements and plate discipline hold, he’ll be a solid starter if his bat returns to anything close to 2018-19 levels.

 

Keston Hiura (1B)

2020: 30 R, 13 HR, 32 RBI, 3 SB, .212/.297/.410 | 2B #9

2021 ADP: 66 (2B #5)

Hiura’s overall value was kept at replacement level by poor defense and an unacceptable 34.6% strikeout rate, but he was still a viable source of power at a premium position and has now accumulated 32 HR, 81 RBI, 27 2B, and 12 SB in 143 games at the big league level. He should maintain eligibility at second base for the 2020 season, but thanks to the recent addition of Kolten Wong, Hiura’s time at the keystone in real life appears to be over.

The power appears to be intact, but the increased whiffs are concerning—only Gregory Polanco whiffed on a greater proportion of their swings than Hiura’s 42.7% in 2020. Our own Steve Gesuele identified his problem as a sudden inability to hit fastballs up in the zone, but he also demonstrated that it ought to be a fixable problem. The bar is about a mile higher at first base than just a few feet away, but the package is there for an offensive powerhouse if he can adjust and make a bit more contact.

 

Kolten Wong (2B)

2020: 26 R, 1 HR, 16 RBI, 5 SB, .265/.350/.327 | 2B #31

2021 ADP: 392 (2B #37)

Signed to a two-year, $18 million deal just as the calendar flipped to February, Wong will find a snug place in the lineup on a team sorely lacking mid-level depth after their big boppers. Defense is Wong’s calling card, as the native Hawaiian has won two straight Gold Gloves and three straight Field Bible Awards at second base while providing a roughly league-average, walk-drive batting line.

He won’t give you much in the way of power, but Wong rarely strikes out, walks roughly 10% of the time, and stole a career-high 24 bases in 2019, making for a solid top or bottom-of-the-order presence to be driven in by Yelich, Hiura, and company. Most projection systems have him somewhere just below-average with the bat, but the offensive bar at second base is low, and Wong’s baserunning and on-base ability—ZiPS projects a .345 OBP, 14 SB, and 60 R—give him a relatively high, if unexciting, floor.

 

Orlando Arcia (SS)

2020: 22 R, 5 HR, 20 RBI, 2 SB, .260/.317/.416 | SS #36

2021 ADP: Undrafted

The former top prospect finally started carrying his weight with the bat in 2020, with overall offensive production (95 wRC+, .325 xwOBA) in the vicinity of league-average for the first time in his career. His fielding has gotten mixed reviews in recent years but was universally subpar in 2020, and he’s on the slower end of the spectrum at shortstop.

That being said, his offensive step forward was at least partly fueled by better selectivity and plate discipline—typically retainable skills—and if he can maintain something like the 9.5% K-BB rate he ran last year, it’s reasonable to think he’ll be average-ish or slightly below in 2021 in both counting and rate stats, and at age 26, a little more room for improvement isn’t totally out of the question either.

 

Luis Urías (3B)

2020: 11 R, 1 HR, 10 RBI, 2 SB, .239/.308/.294 | 3B #52

2021 ADP: Undrafted

2020 was a big disappointment for the 24-year old, who was acquired in November 2019 alongside Eric Lauer in a lopsided deal that saw Zach Davis and Trent Grisham go to San Diego. Urías graded out as an above-average defender at second third base by virtually all metrics, but his bat left much to be desired, with a 66 wRC+ and .055 ISO backed up by a light .312 expected wOBA on contact.

Still, he has little competition for innings in the infield and was dominant in an admittedly run-crazed Pacific Coast League as recently as 2019. Projections still see him as a playable but below-average bat who won’t be relevant for fantasy purposes, but given the circumstances of the 2020 season, it’s more than reasonable to keep an eye on him as he gets another opportunity to make good on the promise he showed in the minor leagues.

 

Outfielders

 

Christian Yelich (OF)

2020: 39 R, 12 HR, 22 RBI, 4 SB, .205/.356/.430 | OF #42

2021 ADP: 12 (OF #5)

Much has been said and written about Yelich’s struggles in 2020, but most seem inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt heading into 2021. His batted ball and on-base numbers remained cream of the crop, ranking in the 99th percentile for average exit velocity, 88th for expected wOBA, and 98th for walk rate.

But a huge spike in whiffs, fueled by an inability to, like Hiura, lay off high fastballs, ballooned his strikeout rate to 30.8%, nearly 10% higher than any season since his rookie campaign in 2014. Relatedly, Yelich was the headline subject of a recent article from Eno Sarris of The Athletics exploring the difficulties caused by lack of in-game access to video. All that being the case, the 2018 NL MVP remains a low-first round pick and a reasonable bet to bounce back into All-Star form.

 

Lorenzo Cain (OF)

2020*: 4 R, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 0 SB, .333/.429/.389 | OF #186

2021 ADP: 241 (OF # 65)

*Opted out of the remainder of the season on 8/1/2020

LoCain had a promising start to the 2020 season, reaching base nine times in five games before opting out for the remainder of the year. In 2019, he had far and away his worst season as a full-time starter, posting a .260/.325/.372 line good for just an 83 wRC+ and 1.5 fWAR, all easily his lowest since 2013. Despite all that, he still rated as one of the best defensive outfielders in MLB by all metrics, and expected stats and other peripherals indicate there was a lot of bad luck involved in his down year.

Still, Cain relies quite a bit on making his own batted ball luck, and at age 35, father time can creep up pretty fast. Projections aren’t optimistic about a bounce-back, but he’s a smart player, and it’s not hard to believe he can keep himself fresh enough to remain a solid starter for another few years.

 

Avisaíl García (OF)

2020: 20 R, 2 HR, 15 RBI, 1 SB, .238/.333/.326 | OF #111

2021 ADP: 346 (OF #86)

García flopped in the first half of the two-year, $18MM deal signed prior to the 2020 season, putting up a career-worst 81 wRC+ thanks to contact metrics that fell off a cliff, including a .349 expected wOBA on contact that fell nearly 100 points from his 2019 mark of .437, and .424 career mark. Given his groundball-tilted ways (48.5% GB% in 2020, 50.5% career), the disappearance of good contact took just about all of García’s power with it, resulting in an unplayable .088 ISO.

He was also unexpectedly pressed into center field duty for the first time in his career following Cain’s opt-out, which easily could have affected his offense. His walk rate did also reach a career-high 9.7% while keeping his strikeouts stable at 23%, so if that hard contact comes back, García could be a viably above-average corner outfield bat. With few other power options, the Brewers are counting on it.

 

Watch List Considerations

Milwaukee’s roster is scattered with backup catchers and serviceable but not fantasy-relevant bench pieces; hitters like Manny PiñaMark Mathias, and Billy McKinney are likely to receive handfuls of at-bats at some time or other.

Their farm system is shallow at the top levels, and all of their top handful of hitting prospects have yet to get more than a cup of coffee above High-A. It’s feasible, but doubtful, that one of Brice TurangMario Feliciano, or Tristen Lutz made enough of a developmental leap this past year put themselves on the big-league radar for 2021.

We still don’t have much feedback on how quickly 2020 first rounder Garrett Mitchell will move through the system after slashing .327/.393/.478 in two-plus years at UCLA. 2016 fifth overall pick Corey Ray is on the 40-man and likely would’ve received an MLB opportunity in a normal 2020 season. Though he’s no longer seen as a starter thanks to whiff problems, his combination of power and speed will make him someone to keep an eye on if he ends up being called upon.

 

Starting Pitchers

 

Brandon Woodruff (Locked In)

2020: 3-5, 73.2 IP, 91 K, 3.05 ERA, 0.99 WHIP | SP #13

2021 ADP: 38 (P #19)

Repertoire: 34% Four-Seam, 30% Sinker, 17% Changeup, 11% Slider, 6% Curveball

Woodruff showed that his 2019 breakout was no fluke, riding a five-pitch mix led by a scorching upper-nineties heater to a 3.05 ERA that FIP, xFIP, and SIERA all agreed was legit. Among starters, only Jacob deGrom had a better swinging strike rate on a four-seamer than Woodruff’s 17.7%, aided by an eyebrow-raising increase in spin from 2139 RPM in 2018 (22.5 RPM/MPH) to 2457 RPM in 2020 (25.4 RPM/MPH).

All that aside, Woodruff’s arsenal is the real deal. His sinker doesn’t move much but separates just enough from his four-seamer at a high enough velocity to make them both better when used in tandem. He also has multiple out-pitches that play at plus in games, utilizing a good slider against righties and a nasty fading changeup against lefties.

Though he’s only broken 120 innings once since 2016, Woodruff is the closest thing Milwaukee has to a workhorse, averaging 5.7 innings per start in 2020. The Brewers have usually done well without traditional innings-eaters on their staff—their last 200-inning pitcher was Yovani Gallardo in 2012—but their rotation depth is as thin as ever this year, and they’ll look to Woodruff to be a stopper and take some of the load off of Josh Hader, Devin Williams, and a bullpen that will be otherwise leaned on heavily.

 

Corbin Burnes (Locked In)

2020: 4-1, 59.2 IP, 88 K, 2.11 ERA, 1.02 WHIP | SP #10

2021 ADP: 58 (P #18)

Repertoire: 33% Sinker, 31% Cutter, 13% Slider, 11% Changeup, 9% Curveball, 2% Four-Seam

Everybody’s favorite breakout candidate rewarded his believers in 2020, allowing one or zero runs in seven of nine starts and finishing sixth in Cy Young voting, concluding the season with an electric five-start stretch in which he allowed a single earned run in 29.2 innings pitched, with 47 punchouts and just six walks along the way.

Blessed with some of the highest spin in MLB, almost all of Burnes’s stuff has a hellacious bite to it, and only Shane Bieber, Jacob deGrom, and Tyler Glasnow were able to top his 36.7% strikeout rate in 2020. At an even 10%, walks are still a concern, but his breaking balls (.118 xwOBA) and offspeed pitches (.178 xwOBA) were so dominant that it’s not worth sweating over too much.

Most indicators suggest his 2.11 ERA was well-earned, so, despite lukewarm projection, he seems like a good bet to maintain a low ERA with oodles of strikeouts in 2021, though innings and durability are still open questions. If there are improvements to be made, they’ll likely come by way of a more balanced sinker/four-seam mix, as the former’s .405 xwOBA and good-but-not-great 8.1% SwStr suggest he probably shouldn’t expect quite such fortunate results if he continues to lean on it excessively.

 

Josh Lindblom (Locked In)

2020: 2-4, 45.1 IP, 52 K, 5.16 ERA, 1.28 WHIP | SP #125

2021 ADP: 357 (P #141)

Repertoire: 35% Four-Seam, 19% Cutter, 17% Slider, 10% Splitter, 10% Curve, 9% Changeup

It was a frustrating first year back in the States for the soft-tossing right-hander, who appeared with Nick on a Talking Pitching podcast this past summer. Difficulty throwing strikes and getting deep into games led to a brief demotion to the bullpen, though he bounced back with a pair of solid starts to close the season.

Everything from ERA estimators to Statcast data thinks he deserved better than his 5.16 ERA, and looking at his stuff, it’s hard not to see at least a decent pitcher. He’s got six viable pitches, all with a ton of movement. Only five starters had a higher average spin rate on their four-seamer, and when it’s located at the top of the zone, it draws a lot of swings and misses.

He may be susceptible to ugly starts now and then, but with a “normal” offseason and year’s worth of reacquaintance with the NL Central, Lindblom projects as a fine source of back-of-the-rotation innings with mid-rotation upside, though the Brewers appear to be banking on him reaching that upside.

 

Adrian Houser (Locked In)

2020: 1-6, IP, 44 K, 5.31 ERA, 1.50 WHIP | SP # 253

2021 ADP: Undrafted

Repertoire: 44% Sinker, 20% Four-Seam, 12% Slider. 12% Curve, 12% Changeup

Another breakout candidate entering the 2020 season, Houser instead took a big step backward, seeing his K-BB fall from 17.3% to 9.3% to go with a 5.30 ERA that FIP and SIERA think was mostly deserved. A 4.10 xFIP suggests his 8 HR in 56 IP may have been a touch of bad luck, a conclusion agreed with by Statacst (7.1 xHR).

Despite a gaudy 32% whiff rate, his four-seamer got lit up for a .402 wOBA, eating into the success enjoyed by his high-quality sinker, and though his breaking balls and offspeed pitches had big-time movement and promising 2019 results, they got torched in 2020. The stuff is still there for another breakout—especially if he can get his fastball back in the 94.5 MPH range it had in 2019—but he’ll have trouble getting to it if he can’t develop better control.

 

Eric Lauer (Likely)

2020: 0-2, 11 IP, 12 K, 13.09 ERA, 2.36 WHIP | SP #290

2021 ADP: Undrafted

Repertoire: 53% Four-Seam, 22% Cutter, 12% Slider, 8% Curveball, 5% Changeup

2020 was a lost season for Lauer, who was acquired alongside Luis Urías in the aforementioned unfortunate deal with the Padres. The pitchability lefty opened the season on the COVID-related injured list and never got on track, moving back and forth from the alternate site and appearing in four games (two starts) by the end of the summer. If he returns to his 2019 form, when he posted a respectable 4.45 ERA in 149.2 innings for San Diego, he’ll be an acceptable source of back-end innings, with the ability to strike out just enough hitters to reel off multiple high-quality starts in a row now and then.

 

Watch List Considerations

Milwaukee’s recent history makes it difficult to believe they won’t bring in veteran reinforcements to patch this rotation (though ideally not while we’re editing). The Brewers waited until February 2018 to bring Wade Miley into the fold, and in April 2019 they pounced on Gio González when he came onto the open market. Several mid-rotation arms would make sense to shore up this group—Jake Odorizzi or Cole Hamels seem like their type, just to name a couple—but ownership groups everywhere have welded shut their wallets, and Milwaukee is no exception. A deal similar to the 1-year, $5MM pact given to Brett Anderson last winter still feels likely for someone, perhaps a veteran like Rich Hill or Aníbal Sánchez.

Within the organization, top prospect Ethan Small has struck out just about everyone he’s faced dating back to Mississippi State, and a strong start to 2021 in the minors could push him to the majors sooner rather than later. The same goes for fellow southpaw prospect Aaron Ashby, while finesse right-hander Dylan File is another internal candidate to work himself into some big league starts.

 

Relief Pitchers

 

Bullpen Roles

 

Josh Hader (Closer)

2020: 13 SV, 0 HLD, 19 IP, 31 K, 3.79 ERA, 0.95 WHIP | RP #11

2021 ADP: 60 (P #22)

Hader’s 3.79 ERA/4.03 FIP is as deceptive as any set of numbers from this abbreviated campaign, as his stat line was spoiled by a single four-run outing despite staying scoreless for 17 of his 20 other appearances, although his walk rate also reached a career-high 12.8%.

Hader has been the subject of increased trade whispers over the past year, but he appears poised to begin his fourth full season as the Brewers closer come April. Control downtick aside, Hader’s fastball/slider combo was as effective as ever last year, and while his strikeouts returned to his rookie levels, his rookie levels are still elite.

With Milwaukee somewhere in the middle of the competitive blob that is the NL Central, he’ll probably have a fair number of save opportunities coming his way, and he’ll probably make good on most of them. Should Milwaukee fall out of contention early, he could also find himself closing or taking over setup duty somewhere else come the end of the summer. Regardless, Hader is one of the better high-leverage bets to be found in the game.

 

Devin Williams (Setup)

2020: 0 SV, 9 HLD, 27 IP, 53 K, 0.33 ERA, 0.63 WHIP | RP #3

2021 ADP: 156 (P #58)

What is there to say about Williams that hasn’t been already? The 2020 NL Rookie of the Year was so utterly dominant in his 27 innings of work that nobody cares in the slightest about the tiny sample size. I mean, have you seen that changeup?

Williams’ 53% strikeout rate was the highest ever for anyone with at least 20 IP in a season, and oodles of ink has been spent writing about the “Airbender,” the changeup with more than a foot and a half of total movement and more spin than all but the best curveballs. Whatever you want to call it, hitters had absolutely no clue what to do with it or the high-nineties four-seamer backing it up, and they whiffed on a full 51% of the swings they took against him.

Williams forms the front end of perhaps the most dominant one-two bullpen punches on the planet, and given that Craig Counsell has never shied away from making changes at the back end of the bullpen, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him work his way into a few save opportunities—or more—over the course of the season.

 

Freddy Peralta (LR)

2020: 0 SV, 3 HLD, 29.2 IP, 47 K, 3.99 ERA, 1.16 WHIP | NR

2021 ADP: Undrafted

 

Peralta continued trending in the right direction as a long man out of the Milwaukee bullpen in 2020, utilizing good spin and a funky arm slot to ring up nearly 38% of the batters he faced, almost entirely with heaters at the top of the zone and sweeping curveballs at the bottom. Peralta has started nine of 54 appearances since the beginning of last season, and with the Brewers’ lack of rotation depth, he may yet get another chance to start. But given that he’s a pure two-pitch pitcher, the bullpen still seems like the most appropriate fit.

With his strikeout totals and ability to throw multiple innings, Peralta is in a position to pick up plenty of holds, and even potentially vulture a few wins as a high-volume long-man helping to compensate for a shallow rotation.

 

Brent Suter (LR)

2020: 0 SV, 2 HLD, 31.2 IP, 38 K, 3.13 ERA, 1.11 WHIP | NR

2021 ADP: Undrafted

Peralta’s lefty counterpart as far as specialized-former-starter-eating-innings-in-relief status goes, Suter has one of the highest, most unconventional release points in MLB, which combined with his Moyer-esque velocity to flummox hitters, outperforming his stuff with an impeccable 38-to-5 K/BB ratio in 2020. Suter will continue to pick up the slack from the back end of the rotation with change-of-pace innings in volume and like Peralta could vulture wins and holds, though finesse lefties are always walking a thin line when it comes to high-leverage roles.

 

Photo by Larry Radloff/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Ethan Kaplan (@DJFreddie10 on Twitter)

Special thanks to Jordan White for consultation on this preview.

ADP data taken from FantasyPros composite ADPs [hyperlink to be added once 2021 data is available].

2019 Positional Rankings from Razzball’s 12-team Player Rater (ESPN).

Zach Hayes

Based on the South Side of Chicago, Zach is a graduate student focusing on sports, politics, and culture, while contributing baseball analysis at Pitcher List. Follow Zach on Twitter (@pinetarkeyboard) for periodic rants about local sports and politics.

  • Avatar Dave says:

    Zach,

    Narvaez is a left-handed batter, not a switch hitter. Also, Urias is 23 years old, not 24 years old.

  • Avatar Ben says:

    I really doubt Wong hits 6th. He’s was typically a leadoff hitter for the Cards and gets on base at a better clip than Cain with comparable speed.

  • Account / Login
    >