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Milwaukee Brewers: Is this a Brandon Woodruff breakout?

Matthew Dewoskin
PHILADELPHIA, PA - MAY 14: Starting pitcher Brandon Woodruff #53 of the Milwaukee Brewers delivers a pitch in the first inning during a game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on May 14, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - MAY 14: Starting pitcher Brandon Woodruff #53 of the Milwaukee Brewers delivers a pitch in the first inning during a game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on May 14, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images) /
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Milwaukee Brewers starter Brandon Woodruff struggled through March and April, but his May has been fantastic. Is Woodruff breaking out before our very eyes?

Zach Davies has been solid. Jhoulys Chacin has eaten up innings, but Brandon Woodruff is the Milwaukee Brewers starter that’s breaking out as top of the rotation option. Woodruff owns a 3.22 ERA with 75 strikeouts and only 17 walks in 64 1/3 innings of work. His record is 7-1 in 11 starts. That looks like a breakout from a pitcher who only tossed 42 1/3 innings with the Milwaukee Brewers last year with most of them coming in relief, but how did he get to these numbers?

How did Woodruff start the 2019 season?

March and April were rough for Woodruff. In 31 1/3 innings, Woodruff posted a 5.17 ERA. He struck out 38, but walked 10, and was tagged for four homers.

How good is Woodruff’s May?

He’s worked 33 innings, and logged a 1.36 ERA so far in May. He’s struck out 37 batters, walked only seven, and only allowed three homers.

He’s also improved his balls in play numbers. In March and April, Woodruff allowed line drives on 29.1% of balls hit in play. He slashed that to only 16.2% in May. His soft contact rate has gone from 18.2% in the first month of the year to 24.0% in May.

He’s striking out more batters, walking fewer, and giving up a lot less hard contact. That’s how a pitcher like Woodruff can get to a sub-2.00 ERA after posting an ERA over 5.00 in the previous month.

Is this production sustainable?

A sub-2.00 ERA? Probably not. But consistent, effective innings? Absolutely. The inflated line drive rate killed Woodruff in March and April, but he made adjustments and reduced it dramatically in May. He’s also capable of racking up strikeouts in bunches to limit the damage that occurs if he allows a few sharp liners.

What’s even more encouraging is that Woodruff has found extra velocity in May. It’s hard to tell if he built up his arm strength or made an adjustment, but he’s throwing noticeably harder in the second month of the year than the first. He’s found an extra two MPH on his sinker velocity. He averaged around 94.6 MPH on his sinker in the first month, but he bumped that up to 96.4 MPH in May. He’s also throwing his four-seamer a bit harder in May with a similar bump in velocity.

Next. What do our experts say about the pitching?. dark

The bump in velocity has also shown up in how hitters are reacting to Woodruff. His swinging strike rate is over 11.0% for the first time in his career. Woodruff has clearly figured out how to translate his stuff to the Major League level, and it’s paying dividends. The only concern is the amount of innings Woodruff racks up. He threw just over 110 innings last year, and probably won’t go above 150 or 160 this year. He has innings to work with, but he may end up working in relief in September and October to keep his workload down. Woodruff is enjoying the success that was predicted, but how long it lasts depends on how much the Milwaukee Brewers want to push his innings.

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