Player Profiles 2020: Milwaukee Brewers Starting Pitchers

Michael Ajeto analyzes the Milwaukee Brewers rotation for 2020 with in-depth player profiles.

Throughout the winter months of the offseason, the Pitcher List staff will be creating profiles for every fantasy-relevant player for 2020. 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 2020 hub here.

These profiles will also be featured as an eBook exclusively for those signed up for PL+.

 

Brewers At A Glance

It’s a pretty rough field ahead. I’m excited to see what Brandon Woodruff brings to table, but how many innings can we expect given his sub 130 mark last season? And will they be of the same quality? And past Woodruff, there are plenty more questions. Will Adrian Houser maintain last year’s 25% strikeout rate? Is Josh Lindblom someone we should consider? And how will the back half of the rotation play out with the mediocre Eric Laueroften injured Brett Andersonand a wide cast of fringe arms to choose from?

The Brewers will have their work cut out for them to find the volume of innings they need for 2020. Hopefully it comes with a few pleasant surprises along the way.

 

Brandon WoodruffLocked Starter

Nickname: Sandpaper

 

2019 In Review

Woodruff saw a healthy jump in his K-BB%, from 18.7% to 22.9%, as well as improvements from an 80 FIP- and 83 xFIP- to a 67 FIP- and 76 xFIP-. It all mostly looks legitimate, although Alex Chamberlain’s beta Tableau has his xK% at 26.8%, relative to his actual 28.9%. Overall, it all seems pretty sustainable.

 

Fastball (64% usage)

Woodruff raised his swinging-strike percentage from 8.1% in 2018 to 11.9% in 2019. That’s due in part to him gaining a tick of velocity, but, as with other fastball swinging-strike percentage gainers, he also started elevating his fastball much more than in the past.

Given that the league average wOBAcon is .409 and Woodruff’s xwOBAcon is .410, it is reasonable to think that we will see his wOBAcon regress toward league average. Of course, there’s also a chance it does not, but that would mean that Woodruff is overperforming based on park or defense — not skill. For now, all we know is that Woodruff has a great fastball.

As for his sinker, I like how he uses it a lot — he uses it to pitch down and away from lefties, as well as to bust righties in on their hands. That could explain it’s low .266 xwOBAcon…but more than likely, it does not. His sinker accumulated a 10.1 pVAL and 2.2 pVAL/C on the year (and an 8.9% swinging-strike percentage!), but I expect that to fall, given that his wOBAcon is 83 points below league average. That doesn’t seem sustainable — but the whiffs are nice!

 

Slider (20% usage)

Woodruff’s slutter is more cutter than slider in terms of its plate discipline peripherals. With a 28.4% O-Swing rate, 45.2% zone rate, and 12.7% swinging-strike percentage, it’s not a huge swing and miss pitch, but it does create a lot of really manageable contact. Its .333 xwOBAcon is low, but unlike his sinker, it’s actually believable.

He throws his slutter to his glove-side, but most of his whiffs come glove-side at the bottom corner, off the plate. This pitch serves him really well when he keeps it away from the center of the zone.

 

Changeup (14% usage)

His changeup was a quasi-Money Pitch in 2019! With a 38.0% O-Swing rate, 42.0% zone rate, and 15.7% swinging-strike percentage, his changeup looks awesome. It ranks in the 74th percentile in changeup CSW for starters, too, which is great.

But it also had a -3.0 pVAL.

That can be explained by his .427 xwOBAcon — although that is substantially higher than the league average xwOBAcon, which is .336. Changeups are usually great at limiting hitter-friendly contact, and Woodruff’s simply has not been. Of all starting pitchers who threw 200 or more changeups last year, Woodruff’s changeup’s xwOBAcon is the fifth-worst in the league. Given that his changeup has decent separation from his fastball in terms of velocity, vertical movement, and horizontal movement, I’m inclined to think that it should be a good pitch. Perhaps having separation in all three categories isn’t a good thing in this case, or maybe his release point is too disparate between his fastball and changeup. Regardless, until I see a good reason to think otherwise, I think Woodruff’s changeup should be better moving forward.

 

2020 Outlook

Even if he deserved more of a 26.8 K% than the 28.9 K% he put up (according to Chamberlain’s Tableau), there’s a lot to like. I don’t think any of his secondaries are overpowering, but his fastball is good enough to pick up the slack. I’m buying into it — 3.70 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, and 28 K% sound good?

 

Realistic worst-case projection: 4.10 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 23% K rate in 160 IP

Realistic best-case projection: 3.30 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 28% K rate in 190 IP

 

Nick’s reluctant Brandon Woodruff 2020 projection:

3.80 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 25% K rate in 170 IP

 

 

Adrian HouserLocked Starter

Nickname: Cory

 

2019 In Review

As a starter in 2019, Houser posted a 4.57 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, and 24.2 K% (albeit a 4.22 FIP and 3.71 xFIP!).

 

Fastball (67% usage)

As a starter, here are Houser’s numbers for his four-seamer and sinker:

Four-seam: 10.8% swinging-strike percentage, .316 xwOBAcon

Sinker: 6.3% swinging-strike percentage, .285 xwOBAcon

Both are low — too low. But, for right now, it appears that both are pitches that aren’t going to get smashed. If that’s the case, I would argue that he should do a role reversal and lean more heavily on his four-seam fastball, and use his sinker more when he’s behind in the count for cheap outs. His fastball may not have a good spin rate or active spin rate, but he throws hard, and it gets hitters to chase quite a bit at the top of the zone. I would be much more interested in Houser if he led with his four-seamer.

 

Curveball (14% usage)

So, his curveball isn’t very good. Its swinging-strike percentage is nearly half that of his four-seam fastball, and it doesn’t get hitters to chase at all, with a 22.2% O-Swing rate. That’s likely because he uses it so often in the middle of the zone and in first pitch counts. His curveball’s spin rate is really low, too, and its 23.0% CSW ranks in the 25th percentile for curveballs thrown by starters. His curveball got touched up, with an 11.5% barrel rate, .435 BABIP, and .514 xwOBAcon. Perhaps a new grip is in order — but our sample is about 200 pitches, and only 26 batted balls events.

 

Slider (12% usage)

It’s sort of the same story with his slider. Very few chases (23.1% O-Swing rate), but a better swinging-strike percentage (12.3%). By xwOBAcon, it’s not the worse thing ever (.428), but its 17.6% barrel rate is awful. Again, only 17 batted ball events, so it’s hard to know what the true batted ball profile is like for it, but we know it’s not a great swing and miss pitch, as with his curveball.

 

Changeup (7% usage)

Houser’s changeup gets the most chases of any of his pitches (35.7% O-Swing rate), and so he doesn’t throw it in the zone as much. Its 14.2% swinging-strike percentage is good, but, again, we only have 95 pitches to dissect here.

 

2020 Outlook

As a pitcher, it is (in my opinion) a lot easier to find a secondary pitch than it is to improve one’s fastball. That’s why I’ll always be fond of pitchers like Houser, because their road to improvement is easier, albeit not easy. I’d love to see him swap his four-seamer/sinker usages and try to find a better secondary pitch. (Much easier said than done!) A 4.00 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, and 21 K% seem realistic to me.

 

Realistic worst case projection: 4.60 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 19% K rate in 110 IP

Realistic best-case projection: 3.80 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 25% K rate in 180 IP

 

Nick’s reluctant Adrian Houser 2020 projection:

4.10 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 22% K rate in 160 IP

 

 

Brett AndersonLocked Starter

Nickname: Mr. Glass

 

2019 In Review

I don’t know how he does it, but every year, Brett Anderson has a pitiful strikeout rate, a manageable-to-good walk rate, and a solid ERA. When he actually pitches a full season, that is. He did this in 2019, with a 3.89 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, and a shockingly low 12.1 K%.

 

Fastball (62% usage)

Anderson throws a sinker 44% of the time, and his four-seamer 19% of the time. These pitches are certainly not what makes him decent-enough, but they were certainly benign in 2019. (That feels like the most respectful way to say that they’re bad and didn’t suck. In a roundabout way, this is almost more disrespectful?) Anderson’s sinker had a -2.6 pVAL, while his four-seamer actually had a 4.5 pVAL.

For whatever reason, hitters don’t destroy them, despite the fact that they both sit at 90 mph. Since 2015 (as a starter), both of them have xwOBAcons in the .350s. That’s quite solid.

 

Slider (19% usage)

This is the pitch that has kept Anderson from being a disaster for so long. He’s accumulated 43.7 pVAL on the pitch over his career, but it was more neutral in 2019, with a -0.1 pVAL. His O-Swing rate was down 5.1% from his career average, and his swinging-strike percentage was down a touch too, but it still didn’t get hit especially hard. There’s not much else to say, given that it’s his best pitch. Uh, thanks for your service?

 

Changeup (13% usage)

Over his career, Anderson hasn’t really gotten whiffs with his changeup, but he did in 2019 — it led all of his pitches with a 12.8% swinging-strike percentage, and also trailed only his four-seam fastball (what the heck) with a 4.2 pVAL. Along with his swinging-strike percentage, its 38.7% O-Swing rate and 41.0% zone rate almost got him into Money Pitch territory.

Batted ball luck explains a lot of its 2019 success, as his .273 wOBAcon is significantly lower than his .366 xwOBAcon (and much lower than his .346 wOBAcon since 2015). Still, it’s intriguing to see the whiffs go way up. The change in velocity (less speed) and vertical movement (more drop) likely helped.

 

Curveball (6% usage)

Since 2015, Anderson’s curveball has netted a .412 xwOBAcon, and 5.8% swinging-strike percentage as a starter. It is not good.

 

 

2020 Outlook

Anderson just put up a 3.89 ERA, but he did it with a .278 BABIP that will have to give way. I don’t he can replicate his 2019, and I just have a hard time believing he can do any better than a 4.40 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, and 12 K%.

 

Realistic worst-case projection: 5.00+ ERA, 1.50+ WHIP, 11% K rate in 80 IP

Realistic best-case projection: 4.00 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 14% K rate in 170 IP

 

Nick’s reluctant Brett Anderson 2020 projection:

4.50 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 13% K rate in 140 IP

 

 

Josh LindblomLocked Starter

Nickname: The Enigma

 

2019 In Review

Lindblom started just six of his 114 games while he was in the major leagues from 2011 to 2017. He posted a 2.68 ERA in 56 starts in two seasons in Korea, and the Brewers must have some confidence in him, considering they gave him a three-year deal.

 

Fastball (60% usage)

The last time we saw Lindblom, his fastball was quite solid, with a 9.7% swinging-strike rate and 5.0 pVAL over 938 pitches. However, that was in the bullpen, and so he’ll likely lose some whiffs with lessened velocity. According to FanGraphs, his fastball is below-average. He’s said to have a high spin rate, although it’s unclear if that is on his fastball, secondaries, or all of his pitches. It’s noteworthy that the balls and seams are different in Korea, though.

 

Splitter (23% usage)

Lindblom makes up for not having a good fastball with an above-average splitter. You can watch it here, but hitters haven’t been able to do anything with it — opponents have mustered just a .405 OPS on it. He developed it over in Korea, and it pairs really well with his fastball.

 

Cutter (15% usage)

It sounds like his cutter is just serviceable, but he commands it well. If it’s like the slider he threw while he was in the United States, then it’s a solid pitch and a quasi-Money Pitch.

 

Curveball (9% usage)

His curveball — if unchanged from his time in the U.S. — isn’t good. It’s a get-me-over type curveball that is in the low-70s and loopy.

 

Changeup (9% usage)

It sounds as if the changeup has been replaced by the splitter.

 

Slider (8% usage)

See: cutter, above.

 

 

2020 Outlook

You can find better projections than the one I will give you for Lindblom here. While the projections on Lindblom from Steamer were initially very bad, they’ve gotten a lot better. He’s kind of interesting, but I just don’t see him have a ton of success as a starter. He seems like a solid multi-inning bullpen guy, but we’ll wait and see. I’m seeing something like a 4.50 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and 23 K% (which is relying pretty heavily on his projections).

 

Realistic worst-case projection: 4.75 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 20% K rate in 100 IP

Realistic best-case projection: 3.80 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 25% K rate in 180 IP

 

Nick’s reluctant Josh Lindblom 2020 projection:

4.40 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 22% K rate in 170 IP

 

 

Eric LauerLocked Starter

Nickname: EL. O. L.

 

2019 In Review

The Brewers essentially pulled off an Eric Lauer for Zach Davies challenge trade, so that is, perhaps, how highly you should think of Lauer. He just posted a 4.45 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, and 21.2 K%. He basically limited batted ball damage but didn’t get many swinging strikes on any of his pitches. It was good enough for a 104 ERA-.

 

Fastball (53% usage)

As weird as it may sound, Lauer’s fastball might actually be well suited to be elevated, due to his 88.2% active spin rate. As is, it gets a fair amount of whiffs, but I’m curious as to what would happen if he elevated more often. His average fastball vertical location isn’t bad, but his most common location is a touch above the center of the plate.

In the past two years, he has shown the ability to induce contact that is more friendly than unfriendly, relative to league average. He throws it for strikes too — his 29.1% CSW ranks in the 67th percentile for starting pitchers.

With a 9.7 pVAL in 2019, Lauer’s fastball does the bulk of the legwork for him. He just needs another pitch to lighten that load.

 

Cutter (21% usage)

Lauer’s cutter isn’t great at converting strikes, with a 22.5% CSW that ranks in the 26th percentile for starters. But that’s not really its purpose — at least, from what I can tell. It seems that Lauer uses this pitch more to get batted ball outs. That’s not the worst idea, as its .330 BABIP and .344 xwOBAcon were perfectly reasonable.

 

Curveball (14% usage)

What was said above about Lauer’s cutter also applies to his curveball. It has a better CSW at 31.3%, but by O-Swing rate, zone rate, swinging-strike percentage, and xwOBAcon, they’re strikingly similar. The whiffs that he does get on it are below the zone, and he should throw it there more.

 

Slider (8% usage)

By plate discipline metrics, Lauer’s slider looks great. In the past two years, it has a 41.2% O-Swing rate, 46.4% zone rate, and 11.7% swinging-strike percentage. It also has a 17.9% CSW, which is one of the worst slider CSWs in the league. I will say that his .337 xwOBAcon is significantly better than his .427 wOBAcon. So that’s a thing.

 

2020 Outlook

It’s hard to love a pitcher who doesn’t have a good secondary pitch or good command. Lauer has a pretty good fastball, but he’s been putting up Zach Davies-esque numbers, just with a much worse ERA and WHIP. Maybe the Brewers think they can unlock Lauer in some way, but for now, I’m only expecting a 4.40 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, and 20 K%.

 

Realistic worst-case projection: 5.00+ ERA, 1.50+ WHIP, 18% K rate in 100 IP

Realistic best-case projection: 4.20 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 22% K rate in 170 IP

 

Nick’s reluctant Eric Lauer 2020 projection:

4.70 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 20% K rate in 150 IP

 

 

Freddy PeraltaFringe Starter

Nickname: Professor Chaos

2020 Outlook

As a starter, Freddy Peralta has struggled with walks and home runs, despite racking up strikeouts. He’s in the bullpen where he belongs, but he’ll probably get some spot starts.

 

 

Corbin BurnesFringe Starter

Nickname: Fire

2020 Outlook

I had previously had Burnes over Woodruff before 2019, and boy was I wrong. His slider is sick, it’s all about figuring out that fastball. I’m not sure if he’s tipping his pitches, or if he’s telegraphing his pitches with his release points, but given the quality of his pitches, he shouldn’t be getting hit this hard. His fastball’s active spin is one of the worst in the league (and thus super straight), and so he should probably just lean into it and throw a sinker.

 

Shelby MillerFringe Starter

Nickname: Broken Clock

2020 Outlook

Miller is sort of like the super-discount version of Lauer, just with fewer strikeouts, more walks, and more home runs. So, uh, not good!

 

 

Nickname explanations:

Brandon WoodruffSandpaper. It’s rough…wood. I’m so sorry.

Adrian HouserCory. Because Cory is in the Houser.

Brett AndersonMr. Glass. He’s always injured, saved for last year’s 170 frames…which he won’t likely hit ever again.

Josh LindblomThe Enigma. We know very little about what to expect in 2020.

Eric Luaer: EL. O. L. Stands for Eric Lauer Only Losses.

Freddy PeraltaProfessor Chaos. He has no idea where the ball is going each pitch and it returns the extremes of starts. Named after Butter’s villain alter-ego from South Park.

Corbin BurnesFire. You play with Fire, you’re gonna get Burnes.

Shelby MillerBroken Clock. There’s Miller Time, of course, but more so that it’s never quite the right time for him to settle in. He’s been right about twice in his career.

Featured image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)

Michael Ajeto

Michael writes about the Mariners at Lookout Landing, while doing other analysis here at Pitcher List. You can follow Michael on Twitter @dysthymikey, or you can not.

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