Brandon Woodruff entered 2020 as the ace of the Brewers’ pitching staff. After two games, he looks like he could lead almost any other team’s staff as well.
It’s been a while since the Brewers have had a true “ace” of the pitching staff. Sure, they’ve had a player get the Opening Day start each year, but when is the last time they had “that guy” leading the rotation? Yovani Gallardo, who last opened the season for the Brewers in 2014? Ben Sheets even earlier than that?
Last year’s Opening Day starter, Jhoulys Chacin, didn’t even end up finishing the 2019 season with Milwaukee. But after half a decade of different pitchers taking the mound for the Brewers on the first game of the season, someone finally looks capable of anchoring the pitching staff for years to come.
Right-hander Brandon Woodruff emerged in 2019 as the top option in the Brewers rotation and parlayed that into an Opening Day start in 2020. Now two starts into the season, Woodruff has looked every bit the part of a staff ace.
Woodruff turns his 2019 season around for Brewers
The way things started last season, you probably would not have expected Woodruff to be in the position that he is now. He was converted to a full-time starter for the first time to start 2019 and the early results were rocky.
Woodruff gave up four or more earned runs in three of his first five starts, compiling a 5.81 ERA over that period. Unfortunately, fellow full-time starters for the first time Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta were struggling even worse, so the Brewers had no choice but to continue to ride it out with Woodruff.
That proved to be an excellent decision by the ballclub, as Woodruff turned things around immensely, giving up just six earned runs over his next six outings combined. Despite how his season began, the performance was enough to garner him his first career All-Star nod.
The rest of his year went well enough and though he suffered an oblique injury that knocked him out for August and most of September, he returned in time to get a couple appearances at the end of September before starting the team’s Wild Card game against the Nationals. That brings us to 2020.
Woodruff proving he belongs as an ace
Woodruff’s Opening Day start in 2020 wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t bad at all considering the unconventional leadup to the delayed season for starters. He gave up four hits, two earned runs, and a walk over five innings with five strikeouts against a potent Cubs lineup.
His most recent start against the Pirates on Wednesday, though, was outstanding even by ace standards. Woodruff stifled Pittsburgh hitters to the tune of a mere hit and a walk over 6 1/3 scoreless innings, striking out 10 of the 21 batters he faced. Those two games combined give him a 1.59 ERA, 0.62 WHIP, and 15 strikeouts over 11 1/3 innings, solid numbers for your No. 1 starter.
And when you compare him to other aces across the league, he stacks up quite nicely. Of the 25 Opening Day starters who have pitched in two games so far this year, Woodruff’s ERA is the fifth lowest and his WHIP ranks fourth. His .135 opponents’ batting average is fifth best as well.
There is one area where Woodruff is at the head of the class, though, and that’s keeping batters from making solid contact. Per FanGraphs, Woodruff leads all of the aforementioned starters by inducing 36.4% soft contact (8.4% more than the next closest pitcher) and has a whopping 72.7% ground ball rate (10.2% better than second place).
Obviously these are small sample sizes and there’s a lot that could still happen, even in a shortened season. But it is still encouraging to see Woodruff charging right out of the gate, proving that he belongs at the top of the Brewers rotation.
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Brewers fans hope that this is just the impressive beginning to a career for a pitcher who will lead the rotation for years. If Woodruff stays on his current path, they just might be right.