Since the Craig Counsell managerial area, the Milwaukee Brewers have been known to have one of the better bullpens year in and year out, despite the constant shuffling/change of relief pitchers.
This has resulted in a Brewers pitcher winning the Trevor Hoffman NL Reliever of the year award each of the past three season with Josh Hader winning twice and Devin Williams most recently.
In 2020, the Milwaukee Brewers starting pitchers stepped up in a big way and they are looking to build upon that momentum as we look towards 2021.
Is it reasonable to say that the Milwaukee Brewers have two legit Cy Young candidates in Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes?
First, lets take a look back in Cy Young History.
Trevor Bauer was the recipient last season after having the lowest ERA among starting pitchers while additionally striking out batters at at 12.3 K:9 clip. The previous two seasons before that Jacob deGrom took home the hardware and Max Scherzer the two prior seasons before that in both 2016 and 2017.
One common theme between these three pitchers is that in their Cy Young Award winning seasons they all lead the major leagues in a few specific categories such as: ERA, strikeouts, innings pitched, or complete games/shutouts.
In 2020, Corbin Burnes did receive Cy Young votes, placing 6th overall once all the votes were tallied.
Despite the fact that Burnes finished the season one out shy of being eligible for the ERA title, which he was in contention for entering his last start of the regular season, he likely would not have won had he recorded at minimum one more additional out. After all was said and done, his 2.11 season ERA ranked only behind Trevor Bauer (1.73), Yu Darvish (2.01), and Dinelson Lamet (2.09) in 2020.
Burnes also punched out 88 batters during the season, which ranked as ninth best in the National League. The evolution of his sinker/cutter combination proved be lethal and effectively helped him stay ahead in the count so that he could use his other off-speed pitches, such as his slider, curveball, or changeup, to record additional strikeouts.
In 2020, Brandon Woodruff did not receive any Cy Young votes.
Despite not receiving any votes, Woodruff again improved with a successful campaign that composed of 13 starts and over 73 innings pitched. His ERA against continued to decrease to the tune of 3.05 during the 2020 season. His ERA in 2019 was 3.62 and in 2018 was 3.61.
From a strikeout standpoint, his 91 punch outs ranked 7th best in the national league. His fastball was again his go-to pitch to record strikeouts, but his sinker, slider, and changeup all did an equal amount of damage as well.
When you take a look at both Burnes and Woodruff, if they pitch to their potentials you could see both pitchers receive Cy Young votes this season.
Corbin Burnes probably has the higher ceiling when compared to Woodruff and thus may be more likely to receive Cy Young votes, which was demonstrated in the short 2020 season. The biggest question marks regarding Burnes is if he can be dominant throughout an entire 162 MLB game season.
As for Woodruff, he has been viewed as the Brewers work horse. Even though he did strike out more batters than Corbin Burnes in 2020, I think Woodruff’s best chance at receiving Cy Young votes is to again lower his ERA (3.05 in 2020) and to be among the top of the league in terms of innings pitched.
In conclusion, Burnes has the potential to be a Cy Young award winner given the fact that he can rack up gaudy strikeout numbers while sustaining a low ERA and Woodruff has the potential as well but needs to improve upon his ERA which likely will consist of figuring out how to more effectively work throughout hitters the second and third time through the batting order in order to work deeper into games.
The last time the Brewers had a Cy Young winner, they went to the World Series. It sure would be nice if both those things could happen again here in 2021.