The shortened 2020 regular season begins today for the Milwaukee Brewers, and it will be a year unlike any other that we’ve ever seen or experienced before. A shortened 60-game regional schedule, an expanded postseason including 16 teams, and the fact that it’s being played in empty stadiums (with the Blue Jays not even allowed to play at home in Canada) in the middle of an ongoing pandemic. Everything about the attempt to play Major League Baseball this year is bold, so naturally the Brew Crew Ball staff has some intrepid predictions to offer for this unprecedented season:
David Gibson: Brandon Woodruff wins the Cy Young
To win the award, Woodruff’s pitching numbers will have to be so dominant that there is no question that he is better than the obvious like Jacob DeGrom, Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw, and Stephen Strasburg. He will have to outpitch more young heralded pitchers as well, like Jack Flaherty, Walker Buehler, Chris Paddack, and Luis Castillo. To make the prediction just a bit more bold, I will add that Woodruff even outpitches Gerrit Cole. I am extremely high on Woodruff and think he could carve up opposing batters all season long.
Jaymes L: Ryan Braun won’t lead the Brewers in starts at DH
Ever since it was announced the NL would be playing with a DH this year, the assumption has been that Braun will be the team’s DH. The team even made it a part of their promotional video for 2020. But Craig Counsell has never been one to settle on one guy when using the DH before in interleague games, and has said he’ll use the spot to give guys a day off from the field (Avisail Garcia, Christian Yelich, Keston Hiura) or get other bats into the lineup (Logan Morrison, maybe someone like Jedd Gyorko). That tells me playing time will be spread out a lot more at that spot, and Braun may end up playing the field more often than we think.
-JP-: No Milwaukee pitcher throws 60 innings
This isn’t necessarily a prediction that the pitching staff struggles. It’s a prediction on how this pitching staff will be used. Last season, the Brewers didn’t have any pitchers that “qualified” for the average stats (qualfied pitchers must pitch 1 inning per game played, so 162 innings in a normal season). The closest was Zach Davies at 159.2 innings. Brandon Woodruff may have made it there if he pitched a full season, but his injury stopped that from happening. With a short season coming up and bigger rosters with a larger pitcher pool, Craig Counsell can take full advantage of his pitching staff throughout the season. While there may be starters good enough to record 60 innings, strategy will dictate this season and that strategy will keep the pitching staff rotating in every game.
Brad Ford: A Brewer will win the Cy Young
It might be Woodruff, it might be Hader, but someone’s walking out of this weird season with some mantle hardware.
Jack Stern: Justin Smoak will be one of the NL’s best power hitters
Smoak, who is replacing Eric Thames at first base, is coming off what looks at first glance like a down season. The switch-hitting slugger still left the yard 22 times, but his 101 wRC+ was a notable step back from his previous two campaigns with the Blue Jays. Under the hood, however, there’s a lot to like that no doubt caught the attention of Milwaukee’s front office. The patient Smoak drew walks at the highest rate of his career and cut down on strikeouts. His .366 xwOBA placed him in the 88th percentile of hitters. It seems that poor batted ball luck is what held him down, as his BABIP dropped to .223 after hovering around the .290 mark for the previous three seasons.
12 home runs would be the equivalent to 33 long balls in a typical season. With positive regression inevitable and a new power-friendly home ballpark, Smoak will mash and be an on-base machine for Milwaukee.
Kyle Lesniewski: JP Feyereisen will break out as a reliever
When he made the first Opening Day roster of his career this season, JP Feyereisen also became the first Wisconsin-native on the Milwaukee Brewers since Vinny Rottino more than a decade ago, Local products are always a fun story to root for, but beyond that, Feyereisen seems to have legitimate potential to be an impact arm in the bullpen. He reported to Summer Camp in notably improved shape and impressed the coaching staff with his stuff. ZiPS sees him as a useful contributor this year while PECOTA projects him to have the third-best DRA on the staff behind only Hader and Woodruff. Feyereisen has consistently performed in the upper levels of the minors for the past several years, and I believe he’ll carry over that performance to the big leagues now that he’s finally getting an opportunity at the game’s highest level.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus