Brewers starting pitching held up relatively well over the 2020 season. Could that mean the pieces for 2021’s rotation are already in place?
When looking back on the 2020 Milwaukee Brewers, there are two areas of the team that generally get discussed the most. You have the bullpen, which was pretty good, and the offense, which was….well, pretty bad.
But one part of the team’s performance that sometimes gets overlooked is that of the starting rotation. Yes, people love to talk about the team’s top two starters, Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes. But the rest of the rotation performed pretty darn well in 2020 too.
Brewers starters ranked in the top ten in the MLB in a number of major statistical categories including FIP (3.69, 3rd), K/9 (9.67, 5th), and HR/9 (1.03, 3rd). Their combined Fangraphs WAR of 6.4 ranked 4th in MLB as well.
Sure, the 1-2 punch of Woodruff and Burnes had a lot to do with that. But contributions by veterans Josh Lindblom and Brett Anderson as well as spot starts by Brent Suter, all three of which finished with an fWAR of at least 0.4 as a starter, played into it too.
The Brewers enter this offseason with every pitcher who made a start in 2020 under team control except for Anderson, who was under a one-year contract last season. So with plenty of needs to address on offense this offseason, could Milwaukee stay internal in filling out their 2021 rotation?
If they decide to focus their resources on offense this offseason, the Brewers already have the talent in place to assemble a starting rotation in house.
As the old adage goes, you can never have enough pitching, which is why it’s very common for teams to go shopping for starting pitching in the offseason. Even teams with seemingly stable rotations might go grab a backend starter just for safety’s sake.
But Milwaukee’s lack of spending money combined with a need to improve a horrible 2020 offense could make that hard for them to do. As a result, GM David Stearns might stick with internal options to staff their rotation.
Three spots are already locked up for the 2021 starting staff. Woodruff and Burnes will return to form a fearsome duo for opposing offenses at the top of the rotation. Lindblolm, who was up and down in his first year as a Brewer and is under contract for two more years, will almost certainly join them.
After that, you have a handful of options for the final two spots. First, there is Adrian Houser who started 11 games and finished with a disappointing 5.30 ERA after a strong start to 2020. Manager Craig Counsell seems to prefer him as a starter and he has shown promise in the past so he likely has a leg up on other options for a starting gig.
Next there’s Freddy Peralta, who had a 3.08 ERA and 15.04 K/9 as a reliever in 2020 but has been uneven as a starter in the past. The Brewers signed him to a five-year contract extension last offseason with the long-term vision of using him as a starter. Could that vision be realized in 2021?
After that, you have Eric Lauer, who had a very forgetful 2020 season but was very sharp in Spring Training and may just need another quick stop at the pitching lab to shore some things up again. There’s also Brent Suter, who filled in for four short starts last year, though Counsell prefers using him as a reliever.
A strategy like this would be similar to 2019 when the team first attempted a rotation with a core of Woodruff, Burnes, and Peralta. It didn’t work very well back then, but all three of them, as well as Houser, are two years older and more experienced. Perhaps the Brewers just tried that experiment two years too early.
The Brewers should be plenty active in the market this offseason at a number of positions. Just don’t be surprised if one those acquisitions isn’t a starting pitcher.