The Beer Slinger Dynasty

Who slings the brew for the crew?

The Milwaukee Brewers have — as calculated by WAR — the 4th best starting rotation in baseball right now. The top two teams are those you might expect: the high-spending Los Angeles Dodgers and the Chicago White Sox. The third team, the Tampa Bay Rays, have that low-payroll aesthetic that landed them in the 2020 World Series. Yet the Brewers are sporting a rotation that’s half the cost of the thrifty Rays, and that’s worth noting in the context of Moneyball-inspired contract efficiency. What’s more, is that the Brewers have the majority of their rotation under control through 2024. That’s right: the fourth-best rotation in baseball right now is set to be a dynasty of affordable aces well into the future. So let’s take a look at the Brew Crew and see if it’s feasible that they’re building the beer slinger dynasty that will dominate the NL Central for the foreseeable future.

Brandon and Burnes


It’s early in the season, and in three months, readers might come back here to pillory me for my unwavering love of the mound-dwellers from the east side of Wisconsin. But for now, I’m prognosticating that the Brewers are holding on to one of the best 1A/1B duos in the Major Leagues: Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff.

Let’s start with Burnes, the man of reinvention. Every pitcher needs a second chance, and after Burnes got torched to the tune of a nearly 9.00 ERA in 2019 alongside one of the worst fastballs in the league, he ditched his four-seamer, switched to the cutter, and then he started [pinky to mouth] burning bats. Over his last 12 starts — which spans back into the fabled 2020 season — Burnes has thrown 68 innings with a ridiculous 35.1 K-BB%, and an ERA of 1.19 with all the SABRmetrics to agree with it. There’s no luck here; just pure-brewed goodness. It’s a good thing not many fans are in the stands because they might feel a chill wind due to Burnes’ 16% swinging-strike rate. Kids don’t show up to games anymore to try and catch home runs because Burnes just sends batters back to the dugout without giving them a chance. Since August 18 of last year, Burnes trails only Jacob deGrom in K-BB%, he has a league-best FIP, the second-best SIERA, and the 6th best CSW%.

The formal SP1 for the Brewers goes to Brandon Woodruff, a 4-pitch prototypical “number 1” starter who added a 5th pitch — a cutter — and has quickly assumed ace status over the past year. Behind a fastball that averages 96 MPH, over the last 200 IP (a span stretching to 2018), Woodruff has gathered a 15-8 record in 39 starts, a cumulative 3.26 ERA (2.94 FIP), and 260 strikeouts, good for a 10.72 K/9. Over the past two years, Woodruff sits in the top 20 of all MLB starters who threw more than 70 IP (cough Covid season cough wear that mask). With Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes demonstrating that they are a true 1-2 ace combo over the past two years, Milwaukee has two of the best starters in the league to lead off its rotation. But what about the other guys?


Adrian and Freddy


Here’s where the classic baseball fans separate themselves from the modern, SABRmetric-loving stat heads. Come on, there’s room for everybody! Whereas many “traditionalists” might want the proven veteran to be the mid-rotation starter, Milwaukee also has these two relatively young pitchers under team control for a significant amount of time. And there’s 33-year-old Brett Anderson as well, but he’s a free agent this year and doesn’t appear to factor into the club’s future plans. So let’s take a look at the potential future stars of the Brewers rotation, which might give the Wisconsin east-siders a devastating 1-2-3-4 lineup for years to come. 

After a 2019 where he pitched nearly as well as Brandon Woodruff, Adrian Houser spent 2020 nearly working himself out of the Brewers rotation. In 2019, Houser stuck with the Brewers rotation as a 26-year-old, throwing 111 innings with a 3.72 ERA and a lovely 17.3 K-BB%. His 94 MPH fastball missed bats regularly, although his other pitches needed some work. With so much hype on the Brewers rotation in 2020 though, Houser struggled to a 5.30 ERA and a dull 9.3 K-BB%. But he was actually missing more bats and batters weren’t hitting him any harder. With a BABIP of .325 (nearly 2% higher than his career averages), it seemed like any balls that were hit found a hole. Over his last 4 starts in 2020, his K/9 cranked up to 9.53, but 70% of batters who got on base scored. The problem came from his worsening command, where his BB/9 ballooned to 4.76. To start 2021, Houser’s command remains uncertain, with 7 walks to 10 strikeouts over his first three starts. Yet, his xFIP sits at 3.98 and batters are still making mostly non-hard contact. If Houser can get back to his 2019 walk rate (2.99 BB/9), the Brewers will have a third exceptional starter that’s capable of striking out batters while limiting damage.

This brings us to the fourth pitcher that the Brewers control for the long-term: Freddy Peralta. Peralta, who is only 24 years old, has been in the majors since 2018 and has worked a mixed usage of bullpen duty and starting gigs. This year, Peralta won the 5th rotation spot in spring training over Josh Lindblom, which was a surprise to many, but Peralta already signed a contract so the front office was unconcerned about service time. After a 2020 season where Peralta threw a stunning 26 K-BB% with a FIP of 2.41 over 29 innings of mostly relief, he’s started almost as hot out of the gate in 2021. Unfortunately, that comes with the caveat of a 6 BB/9 rate so far, which is — I hate to say it — in the realm of Robbie Ray levels of wildness. Yet if you take out Peralta’s very first start of 2021, his BB/9 is 5.06; over the last two starts, it’s 4.09. So, we’re seeing an increasing level of command as the weather warms up and he gets a bit more accustomed to the starter role. Peralta was used almost entirely out of the bullpen in the Majors for the last two years; he’s not used to the 5-day schedule quite yet. But his young age combined with his elite K% shows that the sky is the limit.

Barrel Aging

In brewing, it’s not sufficient to just combine wheat, barley, malt, and water and call it a day. There’s a fermenting process that creates ethanol in the product, or as we like to call it, beer. Some beers are meant to be consumed right away. Other beers are supposed to be aged — kept around in the same place for a while — to get seasoned and build character. After all, it’s hard to build character if you’re treated like you’re meant to be used up in a 6-pack you got on discount at the gas station.

The Brewers have the unusual situation where they control 4/5 of their current starting rotation through the year 2024. So, about the same time Americans get together to vote for a president, the Brewers will finally have to re-think their rotation. And these players are pretty young, too. If they all stay in place, Brandon Woodruff would be only 32 when he hits free agency in the 2025 season. Corbin Burnes and Adrian Houser are also under team control until 2024, subject to arbitration for the next three years. Freddy Peralta is locked in a contract until 2024 with a team option in 2025.

All said and done, the Brewers have the core of their rotation locked up for $8 million dollars this year. With Brett Anderson likely coming off the books this winter, the big 4 listed above could cost as little as $10 million. Certainly, all sorts of contingencies can happen between now and 2024, but if we look at the 3-year projections on Woodruff, Burnes, Houser, and Peralta, we see positive value WAR on all of the players. Woodruff and Burnes are both top 10 pitchers right now, with Burnes being arguably the best pitcher in the league. It’s entirely possible that the Brewers roster all four of these players for the next four years for less than $40 million dollars. Total. In other words, the Brewers will field 80% of their rotation for the foreseeable future for less than one year of Trevor Bauer. Now that’s some aesthetic savings that a front office can celebrate.

But of course, the barrel aging process doesn’t always work out. Sometimes there’s an imperfection in the wood that contaminates the brew. Sometimes the product ages too quickly, or not at all. It’s not an exact science. But when a nice brew ages perfectly? Well, my friends, that’s when you’ve tasted the divine. Let’s hope the beer slingers of Milwaukee build a dynasty and not a drain pour.

Photos by Dan Sanger/Icon Sportswire, Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire, Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire, Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire, Liv Hema/Unsplash, Timothy Dykes/Unsplash | Adapted by Ethan Kaplan (@DJFreddie10 on Twitter)

Blair Williams

Blair holds a PhD in Japanese history and is the author of "Making Japan's National Game: A Cultural History of Baseball." He's a fan of sci-fi, prog metal, and sipping rums.

One response to “The Beer Slinger Dynasty”

  1. J.C. Mosier says:

    Small-market magic! Great analysis.

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