Milwaukee Brewers: Is the bullpen really improved?

MILWAUKEE, WI - SEPTEMBER 01: Corey Knebel /

The Milwaukee Brewers knew they had to upgrade the bullpen during the 2018 off season. They’ve made a few additions, but they also lost Anthony Swarzak and Jared Hughes. Is the bullpen better heading into 2018?

Boone Logan and Matt Albers are set to play key roles in the 2018 Milwaukee Brewers bullpen. They also added several low cost options to add depth to the relief corps. However, they still lost a few important contributors from the 2017 bullpen. Are the Brewers really in better shape now than last year?

The Key Additions

Logan is going to fill the LOOGY role that the Milwaukee Brewers lacked in 2017. The addition of Logan allows Josh Hader to work full innings and will ensure that Brent Suter will have to make the team as a starter. If Logan should throw fewer than 50 innings in 2018, but they’ll likely be important outs. Hader, Jacob Barnes, Corey Knebel, and Suter were the only Brewers relievers with an OPS against lefties under .700 last year. One of those guys is the top set-up guy, while another is the closer. One of those pitchers is better as a starter, and the other struggled down the stretch. Logan gives the Brewers an option they needed last year.

Albers had a career year in 2017. His 0.8 WAR was a massive turn around from the -0.9 he posted in 2016. Albers 3.41 xFIP indicates that his 1.62 actual ERA was a mirage, but he also posted a K/9 over 9.00. His 92.4% strand rate and his .203 BABIP against were both career lows. The boost in strikeouts needs to continue if Albers is going to succeed with the Milwaukee Brewers.

Albers is a regression candidate, but he’s still a solid option even if he pitches closer to his career averages.

The ‘Other Guys’

Ernesto Frieri and J.J. Hoover were added as non-roster invitees and should compete for roles in the Milwaukee Brewers bullpen. Frieri has a 37-save season under his belt. Hoover’s career got off to a great start with solid seasons in 2012 and 2013. However, he struggled any time he was offered ninth inning duties, and never fulfilled his potential as a ‘closer of the future’.

Frieri and Hoover are solid bets to earn a role in the Milwaukee Brewers 2018 bullpen. The final two slots in the Brewers relief corps appear to be up for grabs. Both Frieri and Hoover represent better options than the guys who shuttled between Colorado Springs and Milwaukee last year.

What about the Minor League guys?

Would it shock anyone to see Corbin Burnes make his Major League debut in the Milwaukee Brewers bullpen in 2018? He’s unlikely to break camp with the Major league team, but he’s likely to earn a mid-season call-up, and there’s a non-zero chance that he follows the ‘Josh Hader Plan’ of starting in Triple-A and relieving in Milwaukee.

Other options that could work their way into a job in the Milwaukee Brewers bullpen are Taylor Williams and Aaron Wilkerson.

Is the bullpen really better?

Anthony Swarzak was arguable the second- or third-best reliever on the Brewers last year. Losing him will have a larger impact than most would think. Albers and Logan add depth, but the Brewers still lack an elite set up guy. Hader could develop into that guy. However, if he’s fantastic in relief, won’t the Brewers at least consider moving him back to the rotation? If Hader develops his change up, he won’t be working the eighth inning for long.

Next: Who Is On The Roster Bubble?

The Milwaukee Brewers have options in their bullpen, but they’re not clearly better than the bullpen they had last year. Unless an ‘under the radar’ set up guy is acquired, the Brewers bullpen isn’t better on paper. The good news is that games aren’t played on paper. The new additions will need to step up and provide solid innings, especially if the Brewers are unable to add another reliever.