Milwaukee Brewers: Time to Break the Opening Day Starter Curse

For the last five seasons, the Milwaukee Brewers Opening Day starter has gone on to have a rough year. It’s now time for the curse to be broken.

The word “curse” is one that we hear quite often in the game of baseball and unfortunately for the Milwaukee Brewers, they appear to have their own that’s been taking place for the last five seasons.

Since 2015, whoever has been the Opening Day starter for Milwaukee has gone on to either deal with injuries or just poor performances on the mound. What the rhyme or reason is for this, I’m not sure that anyone has a great answer. But what I do know, is that it needs to come to an end in 2020.

With Brandon Woodruff as the likely Opening Day starter this season, I think we can all agree that the odds of breaking the curse are good, but as we’ve seen in the past, you never truly know. So if you can stomach it, let’s take a look back at what’s gone wrong the last five seasons.

After a strong 2014 campaign where Kyle Lohse threw nearly 200 innings, recorded a 3.54 ERA, with a fairly similar FIP, and a WHIP of 1.15, he was named the Milwaukee Brewers Opening Day starter for the 2015 season.

Even though he was near the end of his career, his decline in 2015 came very fast. Overall he’d finish the season with a 5.85 ERA, and once again his FIP was in that neighborhood. Along with a 1.464 WHIP and a 5-13 record. Lohse would go on to pitch just nine innings in 2016 with Texas before retiring.

In 2016 it was Wily Peralta’s turn as he would finish the season with a 4.86 ERA with a WHIP of 1.527 and ultimately, he was relegated to the bullpen. However, to some degree, we should have seen this coming because it’s not like he was lights out the season before.

Moving on to 2017, it was Junior Guerra who got the start on Opening Day. For Guerra, his season was derailed early on due to injuries and even though he had some solid outings, in the end, he was never able to put it all together. He would finish that season with a 5.12 ERA and he too was sent to the bullpen.

Then in 2018, it was Chase Anderson who was Milwaukee’s starter after a fantastic 2017 season. While on the surface his 3.93 ERA and 1.19 WHIP certainly aren’t horrible, that doesn’t tell the entire story. Anderson also had a FIP of 5.22, struggled with the home run ball, and was left off of the Brewers’ postseason roster.

And most recently it was Jhoulys Chacin, who once again, emerged as Milwaukee’s ace during the previous season. However, a stint on the DL along with a 5.79 ERA and a WHIP of 1.556 led to him being released in the middle of the season.

So as we look ahead to the 2020 season, the good news is that Woodruff appears to be the best equipped to put this curse to bed.

During the 2019 season, Woody would record a 3.62 ERA, with an even lower FIP of 3.01. His walk rate was only 6.1 percent, he allowed just 12 home runs, and his hard-hit rate sat at 32.7 percent. Not to mention that he struck out 30 percent of the batters he faced.

After a strong finish to the 2018 season, 2019 was the breakout season for Woody that we had all hoped to see. And in 2020, PECOTA is expecting another stellar season from Woodruff.

The projections say that over 166 innings he will tally 184 strikeouts, allow only 59 walks, record an ERA of 3.61, a 4.03 DRA, and a WARP of 3.3. Not a bad season, if I do say so myself.

And in a recent article by Matthew Trueblood of Baseball Prospectus, even though some of the underlying numbers don’t necessarily show him being this effective of a pitcher, he attributes a lot of Woodruff’s success to his ability to keep hitters off-balance:

“Yet, this doesn’t feel crazy, because when one watches a Woodruff start, the thing that jumps out most of all is this: he’s a deeply uncomfortable at-bat. Something about his delivery, power, and movement produces a lot of weak swings from opposing hitters. PECOTA forecasts a continuation of that in 2020.”

Next: Another Projection has the Brewers missing the playoffs

So in regards to the upcoming season for Woodruff as the Milwaukee Brewers’ Opening Day starter, things are certainly looking up. Hopefully, this is the year that the curse is ended because if Woody struggles, I’m not sure that the Brewers have the firepower to make up for his lost production.

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