In baseball, the starting pitcher can prove to be a make-or-break position when it comes to a singular game, a home stretch, or even the entire season; in a 60 game race to the postseason, this becomes even more evident. Team’s want an anchor for their rotation, someone who can be dominant, reliable, can pitch in clutch situations, and puzzle batters with plenty of movement or blazing speed.
Luckily for the Brewers, they have one of these pitchers in Brandon Woodruff.
Woodruff has developed into the team’s ace in recent years. Following the Brewer’s near-World Series push in 2018 and a monumental collapse from former teammate Jhoulys Chacin in 2019, Woodruff was thrust into the role, and has certainly shown his capabilities in his time as “ace”.
But what did we see from Woodruff this season? Is he proving to be a consistent star in today’s game? Where does he stand amongst the league’s best following this season? Was his All-Star campaign in 2019 just a fluke season?
Did he prove he is the Brewers’ ace for many more seasons to come?
Woody Shines Statistically
Woodruff showed the league his durability during this COVID-19-shortened season. Leading the league in games started with 13, Woodruff compiled a 3-5 record over his 73.2 innings pitched this year. Through 293 batters faced, Woodruff allowed just 55 hits, striking out 91 batters, and posted career bests in ERA (3.05), WHIP (0.991), K/9 (11.1), K/BB (5.06), and strikeout percentage (31.1). Woodruff finished amongst the top 10 pitchers in the National League in multiple categories. This lengthy list of categories includes ERA (9th), WHIP (5th), H/9 (4th), K/9 (7th), and strikeouts (7th).
Yet with the improvements also came drop-offs in production. Woody had a career-low in balls in play percentage (IP%) at 58%. This is due to the fact that Woodruff also had a career high in home runs per fly ball (HR/FB) at 12.5% (this is because home runs are not considered “in play”). Woodruff also gave up nine home runs in only 13 games this season, compared to 12 home runs in 22 games last season.
Despite this increase in home runs allowed this season, Woodruff still finished amongst the best pitchers in the league. Without him on the team, it is likely that the Brewers would have missed the playoffs.
Further Development in his Arsenal
In his career thus far, Woodruff has used his upper-90s four-seam fastball to blow hitters away. Yes, he had (and still has) a sinker, changeup, slider, and curveball in his pitch arsenal, but his fastball was his go-to strikeout pitch.
That narrative changed a bit this season.
Woodruff saw a drop-off in his fastball and slider usage, meaning he used his other pitches at higher rates. His changeup usage saw a 2.99% increase in 2020 compared to 2019, a 6.93% increase in his sinker usage, and a 4.39% increase in his curveball usage.
Along with usage rates, Woodruff’s pitches moved greater this year than ever before in his career. For example, Woodruff’s changeup dropped on average 2.8 inches lower than league average this season, an improvement of nearly two inches from 2019 (0.9 inches lower than league average). His curveball, too, had a drop greater than league average, along with a horizontal movement greater than league average.
Wrong Time for a Rough Outing
Following the Brewers’ loss to the Dodgers in Game One of the National League Wild Card Series, Woodruff took the hill for Game Two. He was able to hold the Dodgers scoreless through four innings, but the game took a turn in the bottom of fifth inning. With two outs, catcher Austin Barnes hit an RBI single to right field, scoring one, followed by a two-RBI double to left field by Mookie Betts. After the Betts at-bat, Woodruff was notoriously ejected from the game after arguing with the home plate umpire about supposed missed calls during the inning that could have helped Woodruff survive the inning.
Woodruff would finish that game going 4.2 innings pitched, allowing three runs on only five hits (four in the fifth inning) while striking out nine batters. Overall, this performance would not be considered “rough” by many; but considering the circumstances, Woodruff needed only one more out in his final inning, but instead gave up three runs.
Overall Grade: A-
Though he gave up more home runs this year than expected, Woodruff was dominant all year long. He continued to show this year that he is the ace of the Brewers’ pitching staff, and that he will be for years to come. Woodruff is under team control through the 2024-2025 offseason, simply meaning he is not going anywhere any time soon, which is something that should give Brewers’ fans hope for a competitive present, and a competitive future.
Other Brewers’ 2020 Report Cards
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