2020 Record: 29-31
4th place, NL Central
Team ERA: 4.16 (11th in MLB)
Team OPS: .702 (24th in MLB)
What Went Right
The Brewers reached the postseason for a third straight season, though they did it with a sub-.500 record and were quickly eliminated by the Dodgers when their lackluster offense again came up short. The team was carried by its pitching from day one this season. Corbin Burnes turned into a Cy Young candidate despite spending most of the first three weeks in the pen, Brandon Woodruff again pitched like an All-Star and Rookie of the Year candidate Devin Williams was incredible in compiling a 0.33 ERA and a 53/9 K/BB ratio in 27 innings. On offense, a fallback platoon of Jedd Gyorko and Daniel Vogelbach provided ample offense at first base after the team gave up on Justin Smoak. Unfortunately, those were the only two hitters on the team to finish with .800 OPSs.
What Went Wrong
Christian Yelich went from winning two straight batting titles to batting just .205 in 58 games. Keston Hiura was also a huge disappointment as a sophomore, hitting .212/.297/.410. Winter additions Avisail Garcia (.659 OPS), Omar Narvaez (.562 OPS), Smoak (.642 OPS), Luis Urias (.602 OPS), Eric Sogard (.560 OPS) and Brock Holt (.322 OPS) were complete busts. Adrian Houser, who was a nice surprise in 2019, went just 1-6 with a 5.30 ERA in the rotation. Josh Hader wasn’t bad, but between his 3.79 ERA and his rising salary in arbitration, he won’t have as much trade value this winter as he would have a year ago.
** Yelich, a top three overall fantasy pick this year, spent much of the season under the Mendoza Line, and while he did show some power with his 12 homers in 247 plate appearances, his home run rate was still down one-third from last year. His Statcast numbers weren’t nearly so bad, though; his average exit velocity was higher than ever, and his xBA, which estimates batting average by quality of contact, put him at .250, rather than .205. And, of course, it was only two months. If he’s available at the end of the first round in mixed leagues next spring, it’ll be well worth betting on a rebound.
** Hiura, on the other hand, didn’t seem so unlucky. His average exit velocity dropped from a significantly above average 91.4 mph as a rookie to a below average 87.4 mph last year, and his strikeout rate jumped from 30.7% to 34.6%, which was the fifth highest mark among the 142 batting-title qualifiers. There’s still a wealth of offensive talent here, and the chances are good that he’ll eventually develop into an All-Star-type hitter. However, he seemed far enough away from that this year that skepticism is warranted for 2021.
** The Brewers badly missed center fielder Lorenzo Cain after he opted out of the season. He’ll be back next year to add a whole lot of defense and a steadying presence in the lineup. That said, Cain will be 35 and he was quite a disappointment offensively in 2019 (.260/.325/.372 in 623 PA). He shouldn’t be looked at as more than a late-round option in mixed drafts.
** Garcia was the Brewers’ biggest signing last winter, getting a two-year, $20 million deal after hitting .282 with 20 homers and 10 steals in 125 games for the Rays. He gave the Brewers (and fantasy owners) a .238 average, two homers and one steal in 53 games this year. One assumes the Brewers would love to be out from this contract now, but that probably isn’t happening. He’s likely to be penciled in as the starting right fielder again, and with his modest five-category potential, he could be a nice late-round find in mixed drafts.
** Freddy Peralta didn’t get the same opportunity as Burnes this season; he started the third game of the season, but he spent the rest of the year in the pen, posting a 3.08 ERA and striking out 44 in 26 1/3 innings. Peralta might yet be interesting as a starter, but it’s possible that he’s in the pen for good now, and if Hader is traded this winter, he might be a factor in the ninth. Williams would also be a possibility there, but he’s probably most valuable to the Brewers in his current role.
Editor’s Note: Whether you want to win a 50/50 or take down a GPP, use our DFS Optimizer, customizable projections and more to create the smartest lineups. Subscribe to all four major sports for as low as $7.99/month!
Braun’s $15 million mutual option is due to be declined, though the two sides could always strike a smaller deal. Gyorko’s $4.5 million club option could be picked up after he hit .248/.333/.504 in 42 games.
Team Needs: Trying to remain contenders with a middling payroll has taken a heavy toll on a Brewers farm system that ranks among the game’s weakest, and filling all of the gaps with lower-cost veterans last winter didn’t work out well at all. Really, though, the Brewers don’t have much choice other than to try it again; they have too much top-end talent to opt for a rebuild now. The big question is whether to simply stay the course and hope to get luckier with the next wave of veterans -- they couldn’t possibly have worse luck than they did with the current group -- or to supplement the free agents by parting with Hader in an attempt to land a quality young regular or two. It’ll probably hinge on what kind of offers they get. As is, the Brewers are only locked in at two outfield spots and second base (and moving Hiura to first base might be a necessity at some point). They’ll also want at least one and perhaps two new starting pitchers. It’s a whole bunch of needs for a team that probably won’t have all that much to spend. At least there should be plenty of good deals among the third-tier free agents this winter.