The 2020 season was a bag of mixed results for the Milwaukee Brewers. Overall, the team finished the season with a 29-31 record which was good enough for fourth place in the National League Central. The good news was that the team clinched the eighth seed in the NL playoff picture. However, that later resulted in a two-game sweep by the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Combined, the Milwaukee Brewers had a 16-18 record between July and August. However, once the calendar turned to September they finished the month with a .500 record (13-13). With that being said, the team really shined in one-run games posting an 11-5 record in those games while scoring 59 runs and allowing 53. That’s a small sample size given the 60-game schedule, but still an intriguing stat nonetheless.
Among the rest of the NL Central, the team played .500 baseball with the most success coming against the Chicago Cubs (5-5). Over the last few years, the Brewers and Cubs have developed a rivalry that has been one of the bigger storylines around the game. After all, both cities are within an hour-and-a-half of one another so it only makes sense from that perspective.
Regardless of the numbers, let’s take a deeper look at what went right and what went wrong for the Brewers this season.
Middle of the Pack Pitching
Collectively as a staff, Brewers pitchers combined for a 4.16 ERA over 517. In that span, Milwaukee pitchers held opposing batters to a .229 batting average and recorded 614 strikeouts – the third-most in baseball.
More specifically, the starting staff finished the year with a 4.18 ERA over 288 and two-thirds innings. Among the rest of baseball, Brewers starters tossed the 12th most innings. Furthermore, over that sample, they allowed 134 runs along with 92 walks while recording 310 strikeouts.
Switching over to the bullpen, Milwaukee relievers posted a 4.17 ERA with 14 saves over 22 save opportunities. Among the rest of baseball, the Brewers relief corps finished the season holding opposing batters to a .215 average – the fifth-lowest among all thirty teams. For comparison, the lowest was the Los Angeles Dodgers at .207 so they weren’t that far away from first place in that category.
Heading into the season, the Brewers possessed one of the more intriguing bullpens in baseball. They had right-hander Corey Knebel returning from Tommy John and southpaw closer Josh Hader at the back end. Additionally, Milwaukee had several arms who had high-leverage potential such as Ray Black, Alex Claudio, and Devin Williams (more on Williams below).
While some of the surface-level numbers (ERA) are high, there were some standout stars in the pitching staff. Let’s focus on those individuals below.
Corbin Burnes Breakout Year
Going into this season, everyone had their list of National League starting pitchers that were expected to be in the Cy Young Award race. There were the easy ones like Jacob deGrom of the New York Mets, Cincinnati Reds starters Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray, and even Jack Flaherty of the St. Louis Cardinals. Then, there were the potential stars like Dinelson Lamet of the San Diego Padres or Mike Soroka of the Atlanta Braves. However, no one likely had Corbin Burnes among the names on that list.
While his season was ultimately cut short at the end due to a left oblique strain, he was still very effective over the twelve games he appeared in – nine of which were as a starter. In that sample, the 22-year old put up a 2.11 ERA with an astonishing 13.27 K/9 rate. What’s even more impressive is that he held right-handed batters to a .140 batting average over that span.
Going into 2021, it’s easy to see why Milwaukee remains high on Burnes and the level of potential he has. He could very well be the team’s Opening Day starter if he’s healthy next year.
Brandon Woodruff – The Quiet Workhorse
Among the underrated pitchers around baseball, the Milwaukee Brewers possess one in right-hander Brandon Woodruff. Woodruff made 13 starts this year posting a 3.05 ERA or an ERA+ of 149 over that span. Furthermore, he allowed 25 runs, nine home runs, 18 walks, and recorded 91 strikeouts.
For a Milwaukee Brewers starting rotation that has lacked consistency in the last few years, Woodruff has certainly stepped up to the plate. Last year, he made all 22 of his starts and remained healthy the entire season this year as well. Going forward, having him to go along with Corbin Burnes at the top will be invaluable for the Brewers who are going to look to keep their current competitive window open.
Devin Williams – Emerging Superstar in the Bullpen
As mentioned previously, the Brewers had an emerging superstar in their bullpen in Devin Williams. Williams concluded the regular season with a 0.33 ERA over 22 appearances or 27 innings of work. In fact, Williams had such a great season that an argument could be made for him to win the NL Cy Young Award. Although that is highly unlikely, it was still a phenomenal year for someone who was still considered a rookie.
Williams held left-handers to a .075/.191/.151 slash line this year. Additionally, right-handers hit .111/.158/.167 with him on the mound. Good luck trying to make contact and get a rally going when Devin Williams enters the game! Assuming that Milwaukee has a healthy Corey Knebel next year and Josh Hader continues to perform at an elite level, that gives the team a huge three-headed monster at the back of the bullpen. Something that plenty of other teams around baseball would be envious of.
Offense in Review
While Milwaukee had some decent performances among its pitching staff, the one area that the team lacked a lot of consistency was in the lineup. Collectively, the team finished with a .223/.313/.389 slash line over 1,920 at-bats. When you add the on-base and slugging percentage together it equals an OPS of .702. That gave the Brewers the seventh-lowest value in that category among the other 29 teams in baseball.
Furthermore, the team’s offense scored a total of 247 runs this season which ranked in the bottom third in baseball. Beyond that, the lineup was middle-of-the-pack in home runs (75) and finished the season with the second-most strikeouts (582) behind only the Tampa Bay Rays who had 608.
So the biggest question is: what caused the offense to be so lackluster? Well, there are two different answers to that question. First of all, outfielder Lorenzo Cain opted-out at the start of the season due to the Coronavirus. Cain gave Milwaukee an effective middle-of-the-order bat. With him out of the lineup, the team missed that production.
Additionally, another reason is due to how the 2019 NL Most Valuable Player of the Year runner-up Christian Yelich performed. It was a significantly down season overall for Yelich at the plate, and it was a disappointing season for someone who the Brewers front office was expecting so much out of.
Let’s take a deeper look at these factors below here as well as what went right in the Brewers batting order below.
Down Year for Christian Yelich
Yelich finished the regular season with a collective batting line of .205/.356/.430 over 58 games or 247 plate appearances. That was a far cry from the .329/.439/.671 slash line he put up in 2019. However, there are a number of different reasons that could have contributed to his lackluster performance.
For one, the preparation was much different this year compared to last year. Of course, it stemmed from the aforementioned Coronavirus and some players responded differently than others to that. Players started Spring Training for almost six weeks and then that was suspended before baseball resumed with a two-week Summer Camp in July. Additionally, it could have just been the nature of this season and the fact that there were only 60-games. In a normal year, that would end up being right around the end of May. So, there’s likely not a lot of reason to panic about Yelich going into 2021.
Regardless of his struggles this year, Yelich did well slugging against left-handed pitchers. Against lefties, he put up a .638 slugging percentage over 58 at-bats. That’s something to build off of heading into next season for the soon-to-be 29-year old.
Offensive Bright Spots
Now that we’ve focused on the bad, let’s focus on what went right for the Brewers lineup. Easily, the biggest standout is second baseman Keston Hiura. Hiura led the team this season in home runs (13), RBI (32), and hits (46). Altogether, he put up a .212/.297/.410 slash line over 59 games. He is a bright part of the future for Milwaukee meaning that the organization still believes heavily in his offense as well as his defense.
Additionally, shortstop Orlando Arcia deserves some recognition. Arcia led the team with a .260 batting average this year over 59 games. He is another player in the midst of his peak at 26-years old who factors in heavily in Milwaukee’s future. While the organization had a chance to move on from him prior to the start of this year, they remained committed to Arcia and his glove. Hopefully, he can build off of the success at the plate this season heading into 2021.
As the offseason nears, the Milwaukee Brewers are once again one of the more intriguing teams to watch. Milwaukee wants to remain competitive, but as is always the case they will be conscious of how much money they are adding to their payroll. The Brewers will likely look to upgrade their team via trade and free-agent signings, but the degree of those acquisitions remains to be seen.
Last year, the team had the opportunity to add a frontline starting pitcher to their staff given the numerous amount of options available through free agency. However, the Brewers didn’t go down that road and instead elected to slash nearly $70 million dollars off of their payroll and reallocate that towards other upgrades. While that plan didn’t necessarily work out, there’s a chance the team could follow the same line of thinking this offseason.
Regardless, manager Craig Counsell will always keep the Milwaukee Brewers relevant among the National League Central landscape. Whether or not that will lead to another postseason berth in 2021, remains to be seen.
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