With the Milwaukee Brewers 2020 season having now concluded, here at Reviewing the Brew we will be again going through our player report cards. Today we will be looking at Brandon Woodruff.
Finally the Milwaukee Brewers have gone through a season in which their Opening Day starter survived the curse! Brandon Woodruff, AKA “the Curse-Breaker” was able to make it through 2020 without his performance tanking, without injury, and without being traded/designated for assignment like previous Opening Day starters in recent memory.
Woodruff had a ton of expectations entering the 2020 season. In his first year as a full time starter in 2019 he showed flashes of “ace” material and many expected him to make the jump to ace in 2020.
Woodruff did improve in a shorter 2020 season with his ERA decreasing from 3.62 rom 2019 to 3.05 in 2020. However, I’m not sure this is enough to classify him as an ace, in fact he may not have even been the Brewers best starter in 2020 due to the breakout of Corbin Burnes. Let’s examine exactly how Woodruff performed this season.
Brandon Woodruff Overall Season Grade: B+
Woodruff’s 13 starts for the Brewers in 2020 was a team high, but it is worth mentioning that in five of those starts, or 38 percent, he failed to pitch in the sixth inning. In fact, if you break down his ERA by inning it gets progressively worse the later in the game you go and includes a 4.15 4th inning, 5.91 6th inning, and 8.10 7th inning.
Woodruff did alter his pitch repertoire in 2020 as he threw significantly less sliders. His slider usage decreased from 20 percent in 2019 to 11 percent in 2020. He did combat this by throwing his changeup and curveball more often to go along with his fastball/sinker combo that he still relied heavily upon.
Woodruff’s expanded repertoire was suppose to allow him to work deeper into games, but it was evident that he did not always have all of his pitches working for him, hence his persistent 4th-5th inning struggles. If he can perfect his craft on his off speed pitches, he may finally reach ace level.
On the flip side, when Woodruff’s pitches were all working, his stuff was electric. Against the Cardinals he pitched a seven inning complete game due to the doubleheader rules, against the Cubs he tied his career best in strikeouts with 12, and three times he reached double digit strikeout totals.
His most impressive start likely came on the Brewers penultimate game of the year, in which was a must win for the Brewers. In that game he delivered eight innings of shutout baseball, allowed just two hits, was touching 98 MPH still late in the ballgame, and struck out ten Cardinals as the Brewers offense provided three runs of cushion for him to work with.
When compared with other National League starting pitchers he was among the best. Of the National League pitchers who qualified with a minimum of 60 innings pitched, Woodruff was tied for eighth with the least amount of earned runs allowed in 25 and ninth in ERA. It is fair to say that despite his mid-inning struggles, Woodruff was still a very effective pitcher and his 3.05 season ERA does reflect that.
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Overall, Brandon Woodruff had a pretty good season. His expectation were extremely high entering the season and while he did not quite reach them it is also important to remember that he did not regress. I believe we are yet to see Brandon Woodruff’s ceiling over an entire season, which means watching his starts over the next few years is a must.