Spring Training has not been kind to the Brewers bullpen. Corey Knebel looks to be headed for Tommy John surgery and Jeremy Jeffress is ailing. Maybe the Brewers do grab Craig Kimbrel. They’re probably going to need him.
However, the news is not all bad. The Brewers rotation has a lot more skill and upside than it has had in previous seasons with Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes, and Freddy Peralta all in the group of five that will open the season. Chase Anderson is now a reliever and Jimmy Nelson remains sidelined. Jhoulys Chacin and Zach Davies round out the rotation, with Junior Guerra also in the pen.
There sure have been a lot of injury updates since my season win total guide was released a few weeks ago. You definitely want to check into those if you haven’t fired on any of them as of yet.
Anyway, the Brewers were 96-67 last year in large part because of that bullpen. They were 33-19 in one-run games. They also rattled off eight straight wins to end the regular season and went 23-7 over the last 30 games. This was a good team all year, but a great team late in the year. That will lead some people to fade them.
Milwaukee was 72-48 against right-handed starters. Only the Cubs and Red Sox won more games in that split. The Brewers were 47-21 against teams with losing records and 49-46 against teams .500 or better. One concerning thing is that the Reds have gotten a lot better and that was the only division foe the Brewers handled with a 13-6 record. They were 9-11 against the Cubs, 11-8 against the Cardinals, and 7-12 against the Pirates.
For as bad as everybody believed last year’s rotation to be, the Brewers were 77-66-20 in terms of 1st 5 betting. This year’s rotation has a lot more swing-and-miss upside.
Money Line Spots
Those looking to fade the Brewers have to be disappointed with the starting rotation decisions. Chacin will still get bet against with his 3.50 ERA and 4.47 xFIP. Anderson had a 3.93 ERA with a 5.22 FIP and a 4.79 xFIP. He would have been a guy to go against. Instead, guys like Woodruff, Burnes, and Peralta have strikeout upside. I still think people are skeptical of the Brewers, though, so we could see some moves against them. The bullpen injuries are a very big deal as well.
With the help of that bullpen, the Brewers went 19-47 when trailing after five innings. That’s a .288 win percentage. Teams across the league only posted a .173 win percentage collectively when trailing after five innings. So, with that in mind, we can fade the Brewers against good bullpens this year. They may figure things out, and Kimbrel would help, but top reliever Josh Hader is Will Smith at the end of Fresh Prince right now.
I actually may be looking at more 1st 5 unders with Milwaukee this season with the upgraded rotation. The defense is still pretty solid and I’m expecting some regression from Christian Yelich, Jesus Aguilar, and Travis Shaw.
The Brewers outscored teams 336-279 from the sixth inning on. With these bullpen injuries, I’m concerned at how that unit regresses once the starters leave the game. That could lead to some full-game overs. The Brewers were 81-79-3 to the under last season, with that elite bullpen carrying a lot of the load.
Individual Players to Watch
Corbin Burnes – I want to see how the market views Corbin Burnes. Many believe he’s a burgeoning star in this Brewers rotation. His sample size at Triple-A last season was concerning with a 5.15 ERA, a 4.22 FIP, and a 4.37 xFIP. For those that don’t know, Milwaukee’s Triple-A affiliate was in Colorado Springs and is now in San Antonio. Burnes still limited home runs in the thin air and the notoriously hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, but ran into some luck issues with a .347 BABIP and a 65 percent LOB%.
He worked 38 relief innings for the Brewers and pitched well with a 2.61 ERA, a 3.79 FIP, and a 3.77 xFIP. I’m curious to see how he’ll be priced. Most Brewers minor leaguers have interesting track records with the Double-A affiliate in Biloxi, Mississippi at sea level and the Triple-A affiliate in Colorado Springs. You may want to use your eyes more than anything here.
Josh Hader – How important is this cat now? Hader, the best left-handed reliever in baseball, worked 81.1 innings over 55 games last season and 10 additional innings in the postseason. He was stunningly dominant in the playoffs with 16 strikeouts against one walk and no runs allowed in 35 plate appearances. He also struck out 143 during the regular season and finished seventh in Cy Young voting.
But, for betting purposes, you have to understand how the Brewers use Hader. Hader only made five appearances on no rest. The first one came April 22 and the second one didn’t come until June 27. He had three in August and none in September. They take this kid’s arm very seriously, as they should. More often than not, if you saw Hader the day before, you probably won’t see him the next day. Part of that is because he is a multi-inning weapon most nights, but part of it is also that he’s a very prized possession.
After recording 89 K in 48 innings before the All-Star Break, he “only” had 54 in his final 33.1 innings and his SLG went from .212 to .336. His ERA went from 1.50 to 3.78. There was some bad luck in the second half with a 68.2 percent LOB%. But you want to watch him very closely in light of Milwaukee’s bullpen injuries and keep in mind that he will rarely pitch back-to-back nights.