Do the Brewers have enough starting pitching?
On the surface, that feels like a somewhat silly question. They have a starting rotation of Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes, Adrian Houser, Brett Anderson and Freddy Peralta.
Josh Lindblom will begin the season in the bullpen but can be moved to the rotation at any moment. Brent Suter and Drew Rasmussen are on the roster and can start if needed.
Guys like Eric Lauer, Jordan Zimmermann and Zack Godley will be available if you need them. Plus there is a group of young pitchers that could potentially make Major League starts later this year.
A lot has been made of jumping from the 60-game season to a 162-game season. I don’t know if I have hosted a single Brewers Weekly or Brewers Extra Innings, The Podcast since the end of last season where I did not bring that up. I keep talking about it because of the impact I believe it will have on the 2021 Major League season. Every team will deal with it but you are reading this because you care how it will impact the Brewers.
Last season, Woodruff led the Brewers in innings pitched with 73.2. The gold standard of starting pitching is throwing 200 innings per season. If Woodruff were to throw 200 innings this year, it would be asking him to throw almost three times as many innings as he threw last year.
Bluntly, that’s not going to happen. You are probably playing with a little fire even asking pitchers to double their innings from last year.
If the Brewers are comfortable with that, you get about 150 innings from Woodruff. That seems workable. It should be noted that getting 200 innings from Woodruff, or any Brewers pitcher, even during a normal season is unlikely based on how the Brewers utilize starting pitching.
But what happens with Burnes (59.2 Innings Pitched in 2020), Houser (56) and Anderson (47)? Do the Brewers have enough pitching if none of those guys throw more than 120 innings this year?
In 2019, the Brewers used 12 starting pitchers. Zach Davies led the staff with 159.2 innings while Chase Anderson threw 139 innings. Woodruff had the third-most innings that season with 121.2 and no one else had more than 112 innings.
In 2018, the Brewers used 11 starting pitchers. Jhoulys Chacin led the staff with 192.2 innings. Chase Anderson threw 158 while Junior Guerra logged 141.
The point that I am trying to make is that the Brewers (and every other team in baseball) are simply going to be operating differently this year. Even with the Brewers using a lot of starting pitchers in 2018 and 2019, they still had a few guys each year throwing significant innings.
The expectation this year is that once again the Brewers will use a lot of starting pitchers but they might not have a single guy throw more than 150 innings. That means there will either be more innings for the bullpen to cover or more starts to be taken.
When I spoke to Zimmermann on Brewers Weekly on February 11th, I asked him if pitchers who have the ability to start will have added value this year because teams will be digging deep into organizational depth to find starting pitching during the course of the year.
“You can’t go from 60 games and starters throwing 60 innings to 162 games and asking starters to throw 200 innings. It’s just not going to work,” Zimmermann said.
This past week on Brewers Weekly, producer Greg Hill and I placed the over/under of number of starting pitchers that the Brewers use this year at 12.5.
The more I think about that, the more I think that number should have been set higher. Indications are already being given that the team could utilize a six-man rotation during the parts of the year where there are not many off-days and starters will be skipped at times during the season.
The Brewers like to be creative in how they utilize pitching. For this season, a blank canvas is sitting there ready for a creative masterpiece.