There was a lot of hype surrounding the Opening Day starting rotation for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2019. After each showed out during the 2018 stretch run, the decision was made to give Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes, and Freddy Peralta all a slot in the starting five to begin the year. That move wound up being largely disastrous, however. Only Woodruff managed to stay in the rotation all season long and has evolved into the de facto ace of the staff. Burnes quickly flamed out with serious home run issues and eventually wound up at the pitching lab to try and figure things out, while Peralta bounced between the rotation and bullpen as he continued to battle inconsistency in both roles. Slingin’ Stearns would end up acquiring multiple veteran pitchers to help cover the shortfall, and things eventually worked out as Milwaukee qualified for the Wild Card game.
Heading into the shortened 2020 regular season, however, it appears as though the organization is ready to give the youth movement another opportunity. Woodruff had already been announced as the Opening Day starter in Chicago, and after Brett Anderson went on the IL with a blister, Corbin Burnes was named as the initial out-getter for game #2. With news that Josh Lindblom’s first start would come in the second series, Adam McCalvy of MLB.com used context clues to put together what the first turn of the rotation should like for the Menomonee Valley Nine:
With Peralta pitching today and Lindblom pitching tomorrow in Appleton, looks like the Brewers' opening rotation is lined up as:— Adam McCalvy (@AdamMcCalvy) July 21, 2020
When you add Adrian Houser to the bunch, that makes four starters for the Brewers who are 27 or younger and all with fewer than two full years of Major League service time. The veteran of the quintet is Josh Lindblom, who doesn’t have much of an MLB track record himself. Owner of just 147.0 career big league innings, Lindblom of course made a name for himself over in Korea as he became one of the dominant starters in KBO during the last several seasons.
Woodruff is coming off of a season in which he was named to the All-Star team and finished with a 3.62 ERA and 3.01 FIP across 22 starts and 121.2 innings. His season was interrupted by an oblique strain, otherwise he’d likely be generating a lot more chatter nationally as one of the top young starters in the National League heading into this year. Houser is someone who has seemingly slipped through the cracks during “Summer Camp” and all the talk about the pitching staff, but he broke through for a similarly stellar season in 2019 and has been a better MLB pitcher to this point than either Burnes or Peralta. He eventually settled into the starting rotation last season and finished with a 3.72 ERA and 3.88 FIP in 35 appearances (18 starts) covering 111.1 innings.
The Brewers seem to love Peralta’s upside and felt strongly enough about him being a piece for the future to sign him to a five-year guaranteed contract extension despite a career 4.79 ERA in 163.1 innings since debuting in 2018. Peralta’s ability to miss bats makes him one of the most exciting pitchers to watch on the staff, but his inconsistency can be maddening and is the reason why he has yet to settle into one role. He pitched in 39 games last year and made eight starts, working 85.0 innings with an ugly 5.29 ERA. Peralta’s career FIP (3.96) is nearly a run lower than his ERA, suggesting that brighter things could be on the horizon for him.
Corbin Burnes is the wild card of the bunch. A “spin-rate darling,” he went from a fourth-round pick to consensus top-100 prospect before debuting with the Brewers down the stretch in 2018 and dominating as a relief pitcher. He switched back to the rotation last year and things totally fell apart. Burnes allowed three home runs in each of his first three starts and two in his fourth start before getting demoted. He failed to perform in the minors and was eventually shut down and sent to the pitching lab in Maryvale to try and get things figured out both physically and mentally. At the end of the year, Burnes owned an 8.82 ERA across 49.0 innings pitched, and though he did strikeout 70 versus 20 walks, he served up 17 home runs. But Burnes looked renewed when spring began this year, impressing in the pre-shutdown camp and continuing that strong performance into Summer Camp.
Craig Counsell officially announced his starting rotation this morning, flip-flopping Houser and Lindblom at the back end.
Brewers opening rotation is this order. But don't get too hung up on traditional ideas of starters and relievers at the start, Counsell said.— Adam McCalvy (@AdamMcCalvy) July 22, 2020
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference