The Brewers bullpen has been known as one of the best in the business and a huge area of strength for Milwaukee for a good amount of time now. But this year’s group might be one of the most inexperienced that Brewers fans have seen in awhile to start the year. Five of the 12 relievers listed on the depth chart made their MLB debut last season for Craig Counsell.
The Crew will be without three key arms returning for the 2021 season that they had the luxury of having last season. David Phelps was traded to the Phillies toward the end of the season for three young pitchers, but he put up some of the best numbers of his career when he was with Milwaukee including an ERA of 2.77 and a strikeout to walk ratio of 10:1.
Another reliever that the Brewers will sorely miss is Alex Claudio. Claudio was non-tendered for the second time in December and was later picked up by the Los Angeles Angels for $1.25MM. He was one of Craig Counsell’s most relied upon arms against left-handed hitters and was among the top guys for most innings pitched by Brewers relievers in his two years in Milwaukee.
The last and probably the most important departure this offseason is Corey Knebel. Knebel has been a staple in the Brewers bullpen since 2015 with an All-Star nomination in 2017 where he led the league in games appeared in (76) and posted a 1.78 ERA with 39 saves.
Last year was a bit of a tough year for Knebel where he once again battled injury with a hamstring strain, while the year before he was on the 60-day injured list with a right elbow injury. It’s difficult to say he will ever get back to his All-Star form, but equally as difficult to say goodbye to such a reliable guy when it counted most.
So those guys are gone, but there is reason to be optimistic Brewers fans. Let’s dive into the current depth chart and predict what we might see in the upcoming campaign.
Josh Hader is one of the best relievers in baseball. That is a constant. He has cemented himself as such after two All-Star game appearances in 2018 and 2019 and leading the league in saves last season with 13.
He has become virtually unhittable against lefties and has proved to be able to go more than just one inning if called upon by his skipper. Hader is climbing up the leaderboards in Brewers history for saves and with a full season, he could crack the top five all-time for the club. I believe he’ll once again rank among the best in MLB in 2021.
Some may say it’s too early in his career to make this claim but I believe it’s already time to place Devin Williams in “The Expected” category. Will he post another 0.33 ERA and 17.7 K/9 line this coming season? Probably not. But after embarrassing opposing hitters all season with his elite changeup, he will be a force to be reckoned with for a while.
He was considered a rookie last season, but did play a bit in the prior year where he also put up pretty solid numbers. Expect the ‘Airbender’ to be dominant again this year.
The 1-2 punch of Devin Williams and Josh Hader should give the Brewers a dominant back end of the bullpen.
Brent Suter will once again be solid this coming season I believe. It’s quite the advantage to have a guy like Suter that can go two or three innings if called upon and he’s settled into that extended reliever position quite nicely.
Last year, ‘The Raptor’ put up some of the best strikeout numbers of his career, posting a strikeout to walk ratio of almost 8:1. His ability to work so quickly is an element that hitters aren’t used to, and he does a great job of using that to disrupt the timing of the hitter.
Suter will be a reliable arm this year but it’s even more likely that you’ll miss a half inning of baseball if you blink while he’s on the mound.