Five Predictions for the 2020 Milwaukee Brewers Season
What might the summer hold in store for players like Jedd Gyorko or Brett Anderson?
Nearly four months after MLB’s originally-scheduled Opening Day, baseball will be returning for a shortened 60-game season. The Milwaukee Brewers will open their season tonight against the Chicago Cubs. While many of the younger players from last year’s team remain, the club’s roster has undergone significant reconstruction since the end of last season. As the franchise celebrates its 50th anniversary amid an unprecedented season, here are five predictions for the following two months of Brewers baseball.
(It should be noted that all predictions are made under the assumption that the entirety of the 60-game schedule is played and each of the following players do not contract COVID-19. That is far from a certainty, but I believe I am more optimistic than most in that regard.)
Lorenzo Cain bounces back
The 2019 campaign was a rough one for Cain, who dealt with lower body injuries and finished the year with an underwhelming .325 OBP after serving as an excellent leadoff hitter the season prior. Cain reportedly spent the offseason getting into better shape, and his underlying stats give reason for optimism. His hard hit and barrel rates remained essentially the same, and he was one of the unluckiest hitters in baseball if you go by Statcast’s Expected Weighted On-Base Average (xwOBA). At age 34, Cain is unlikely to ever fully return to his 2018 form, but a league-average offensive line and stellar defense in center field will make him a valuable contributor for the 2020 Brewers.
Jedd Gyorko quickly emerges as the regular third baseman
Eric Sogard will likely be penciled in at the hot corner on Opening Day. He and Gyorko are expected to platoon at the position, but it would be no surprise to see Gyorko take over on a more regular basis.
Sogard’s 2019 breakout season looks questionable at best, particularly in the power department. His home run total of 13 (higher than his previous career total of 11) was fueled by a 9.3% home run to fly ball ratio, seven percentage points higher than his previous career ratio. Sogard’s average fly ball distance of 303 feet was the 15th-worst of all hitters who hit 50 or more fly balls, and his average home run distance of 378 feet was the second-worst among hitters to go deep 10 or more times. His quality of contact metrics were among the worst in the league, lagging far behind his 115 wRC+.
Sogard’s offensive performance in 2020 will profile more like that of a utility man than a regular third baseman. It will not take long for him to slide into more of a versatile bench role.
Gyorko, meanwhile, was limited by a back injury to just 101 plate appearances last year, posting a putrid 36 wRC+. However, from 2016–2018, he slashed .259/.331/.463 with 61 home runs, good for a solid 112 wRC+. That stacks up quite well as a replacement for Mike Moustakas, who slashed .254/.329/.516 with Milwaukee last year and has posted a 113 wRC+ since the start of the 2015 season. Gyorko’s batted ball numbers are nothing to write home about either, but he managed to consistently overperform them for three years. He has also graded out as a solid defender at the hot corner according to DRS and OAA. When healthy, Gyorko is the better option over Sogard.
Brett Anderson makes no more than four starts as a Brewer
David Stearns gave the veteran a cheap one-year deal to fill a rotation spot despite Anderson’s lengthy injury history and uninspiring peripherals. In 2019, he made it through an entire season in good health for just the third time in his 11-year career. An extreme pitch-to-contact southpaw, he struck out just 12.1% of the hitters he faced. That could be overcome if he were excellent at suppressing hard contact (that was the Wade Miley model in 2018), but his Statcast numbers were… not good.
Anderson’s 102 FIP- was serviceable, but his 5.65 DRA, 5.17 SIERA, and 5.34 xERA are an ugly contrast to his 3.89 ERA. To his credit, he kept the ball on the ground and limited home runs, but the list of positive attributes ends there. His overall profile simply doesn’t inspire much confidence. Injury, poor performance, or both will have him out of the rotation quickly. Anderson is already missing his first scheduled start due to a blister.
J.P. Feyereisen emerges as one of Craig Counsell’s top high-leverage relievers
The Wisconsin native was trapped in the Yankees system behind their loaded bullpen before being acquired by the Brewers. Had he been in any other organization, he likely would have cracked the Majors last year. Feyereisen was fantastic as a multi-inning reliever in Triple-A, posting a 2.49 ERA and 2.08 DRA. Armed with a mid-90’s fastball, he punched out 94 in 61 1/3 innings. The 27-year-old has the potential to do big things in a bullpen that could use some stability behind Josh Hader.
Adrian Houser gets down-ballot Cy Young votes
Houser dominated out of the bullpen before injuries to multiple starters necessitated a move to the rotation. After a bit of an adjustment period, he posted a strong 3.28 ERA, 3.42 FIP, and 3.73 SIERA in his final 12 starts. Houser’s primary pitch is a two-seam fastball that averages 94.3 miles per hour with solid movement. It was one of baseball’s most valuable two-seamers last season.
Because of his combination of velocity and movement, Houser excelled at both racking up strikeouts and controlling quality of contact. He punched out 25.3% of hitters, limited them to an 86.7 mile per hour average exit velocity, and induced ground balls at a 53.4% clip.
Houser’s repertoire also features a four-seamer, a curveball, a slider, and a changeup, giving him the five-pitch mix that often helps pitchers work deep into games. His curveball has fantastic drop, and his changeup possesses late fade. If he can master his secondary pitches, look out. The first Brewer who comes to mind as a dark-horse Cy Young candidate is Brandon Woodruff, but Houser should be firmly in that mix as well. Will he win? Unlikely. But Houser will open eyes this summer, and not just in Milwaukee.
Bonus Prediction! Logan Morrison spends a good amount of time in the outfield despite having no business playing there
Someone has to take Eric Thames’ place as the first base/DH type who has plenty of adventures in a corner outfield position. Thames had prior outfield experience, but had been almost exclusively a first baseman since joining the KBO in 2014. Even though he has limited range, took poor routes, and it killed his legs, Thames spent 490 innings on the grass in Milwaukee. David Stearns and Craig Counsell have no hesitation when it comes to deploying a “if you can hit, we’ll put you somewhere” philosophy. Morrison has over 2,400 professional innings in the outfield, and while he hasn’t spent significant time there since 2012, chances are high that he’ll be out there more than we want him to be. The presence of Ben Gamel, Brock Holt, and even Eric Sogard as outfield depth might lead you doubt this prediction, but trust me, it’s going to happen.
With that, Go Brewers.