With the benefit of hindsight, we can now say that David Stearns’ decision to go with three young guns in the starting rotation to begin the 2019 season was a failure. The rise of Brandon Woodruff to All-Star status, however, kept Stearns’ mistake from becoming a complete and unmitigated disaster.
Woodruff pitched parts of the two previous seasons at the big league level before 2019 and showed flashes of his potential, especially during 2018’s stretch run and into the playoffs. He actually struggled a bit out of the gates to begin this year, allowing 4+ earned runs in three of his first five starts while posting a 5.17 ERA in March/April. After that, though, Woody allowed only four runs or more three times in his remaining 17 starts.
A bulldog on the mound, Woodruff gave his club an opportunity to win just about every time he took the mound, as evidenced by his 11 winning decisions to lead the club. He posted three of Milwaukee’s top-10 pitching starts this season by Game Score:
26 May: 8.0 innings, two hits, one run, 11 strikeouts against Philadelphia
19 May: 8.0 innings, five hits, two runs, six strikeouts against Atlanta
14 May: 6.0 innings, one hit, zero runs, five walks, five strikeouts against Philadelphia
Some added velocity certainly helped Woodruff’s cause. After averaging 95.8 MPH on his four-seamer last year while working mainly out of the bullpen, Brandon somehow boosted the temp on his heater even as he transitioned to the starting rotation. His typical four-seam fastball crossed the plate at 96.7 MPH this year, which ranked in the top-6 among all starters who threw at least as many innings as Woodruff this season. Unlike many pitchers in today’s game, Woody also introduced a sinker into his regular repertoire in 2019, and he used it to great affect. The pitch averaged 96.3 MPH and was thrown a little over 23% of the time, generally more often to right-handed hitters. Woodruff’s two fastballs were the main weapons in his arsenal; batters hit only .224 against the sinker and it was valued at +10.1 runs above average, while the four-seamer yielded a mere .218 average against and was Woodruff’s go-to pitch with two strikes, as he recorded 85 of his 143 strikeouts with the offering. Woody’s four-seam fastball was rated as +14.2 runs above average.
Despite missing nearly two months of the season from late July through mid-September with an oblique injury, Woodruff still finished at or near the top of the list in most categories among the team’s starting pitchers:
22 starts (3rd)
121.2 IP (3rd)
11 wins (1st)
143 strikeouts (1st)
2.22 BB/9 (1st)
0.89 HR/9 (1st)
22.9 K-BB% (1st)
1.14 WHIP (2nd)
3.62 ERA (3rd)
3.01 FIP (1st)
3.3 fWAR (1st)
Woodruff was selected to pitch in his first All-Star game this summer and was also named as the starter for the Cream City Nine in the National League Wild Card contest, delivering 4.0 innings of one-run ball against Washington. The oblique injury kept him from piling up more innings and he didn’t have the lowest ERA on the staff, but aesthetically, there was not a better pitcher in Milwaukee’s starting rotation this year than Brandon Woodruff. He looks like a potential front-line starter for the next several years going forward, and the Brewers have control of his contract for another five seasons before he hits free agency. And in 2019, he was your #3 Most Valuable Milwaukee Brewer.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs