In an off season with plenty of roster turnover, the Brewers bullpen is one area that hasn’t seen many additions. If that trend continues, will the relievers be able to be a team strength in 2020?
Much has been made by now of the many changes, whether some see them as right or wrong, that GM David Stearns and the Brewers have made to the roster for the 2020 season. And those changes have taken place all over the diamond.
On offense, the Brewers will have different starters to begin this season at first base, third base, and catcher at minimum from how they ended last season. The bench has undergone almost a complete overhaul. And it is likely that four of the five rotation arms will be completely different than what the team began the season with in 2019.
But one area of the team that has remained largely untouched is the bullpen. While the Brewers have seen plenty of contributors from last year’s bullpen move on during the off season, very few relievers have been added to replace them.
So, if the Brewers were to be done making any more major, or even minor, moves this off season, would the bullpen as currently constructed be good enough to get the job done this upcoming season? Or would Stearns be sorry for ignoring a portion of the team that always plays such an important role for Milwaukee?
Which relievers are gone?
Before taking a look at who is left, let’s take a look at who has departed. Doing so paints quite the picture of just how much production the Brewers will be looking to replace.
There were 26 pitchers who recorded outs in relief for the Brewers in 2019, but 10 of them who pitched over 20 innings for the Crew. Of those 10 players, half of them are no longer with the team.
Junior Guerra, the 2019 leader of all Brewers relievers in innings pitched with 83 2/3, was non-tendered ahead of arbitration. Three others – Matt Albers, Jay Jackson, and Drew Pomeranz – all elected free agency and none of them were subsequently signed by the Brewers as free agents. Jeremy Jeffress was actually designated for assignment last September before the season ended.
Those five pitchers accounted for 37.1% of all Brewer relief innings in 2019, a lot of production to replace. And there are other pitchers who logged much fewer innings for Milwaukee last year who are also no longer with the team. Do the Brewers have the firepower to replace all that’s been lost?
Who’s slotted for the bullpen in 2020?
The good news is that despite all the losses that the bullpen incurred over the offseason, projections have the remaining pieces doing well for the Brewers this upcoming season. Take a look at the ZiPS projections from FanGraphs:
That 6.3 projected fWAR is the second-highest of the 16 team ZiPS projections that have been released so far, behind only the 6.8 projected fWAR of the New York Yankees. It’s also 0.5 fWAR higher than Milwaukee’s ZiPS projection last year.
Naturally, the bullpen is led by two-time NL Reliever of the Year Josh Hader with a projected 2.2 fWAR. Though he was the subject of brief trade rumors at one point, it seems as though the Brewers will be moving forward with him on the roster, at least for now. Brent Suter, Corbin Burnes, and Freddy Peralta are projected for fWARs in the 1.0 to 2.0 range, while the others on the list are projected between 0.0 and 1.0.
Of course, these are just projections. They count on big leaps in fWAR from 2019 to 2020 for pitchers like Suter, Burnes, and Alex Claudio. They also don’t count much on contributions from Bobby Wahl, who missed all of 2019 due to injury, or new acquisition Eric Yardley. They are projected for just a 0.3 fWAR and 30 games combined.
Still, it’s good to see that the Brewers bullpen is projected to do so well this coming season. What’s concerning, though, is the potential lack of depth after the frontline relievers. Injuries happen, as was clearly evident last year when set backs to Wahl, Jeffress, and Corey Knebel occurred before the season even started. Only Jeffress pitched at all in 2019.
But on top of that, like usual, the rotation will feature starters who likely won’t pitch very deep into games. As a result, Milwaukee’s bullpen will probably need to be deeper than your average MLB bullpen. Without much backup to rely on in the minors, a couple mid-level free agent acquisitions could help in that sense. The recent signing of Mike Morin was a start and relievers like Brandon Kintzler and Sam Dyson also remain on the market.
Either way, even with a lack of moves made, the bullpen appears as though it should be a strength for the Brewers going forward, at least to start the season. With a couple extra moves or some unexpected contributors, it should be solid all year long.