2019 Record: 89-73
Second Place, NL Central
Team ERA: 4.40 (16th in MLB)
Team OPS: .767 (12th in MLB)
What Went Right
The Brewers failed to repeat as National League Central champions, but they did come close, rattling off a 20-7 record in the month of September to finish just two games back of the first-place Cardinals. Christian Yelich fared even better in 2019 than he did in his MVP campaign in 2018 and has now batted .327/.415/.631 with 80 home runs, 207 RBI, 52 stolen bases, and 218 runs scored in 277 games since being acquired from the Marlins in January 2018. He is under Milwaukee’s control through 2022, at some incredibly team-friendly rates. Yasmani Grandal proved to be a terrific bargain buy on a one-year, $16 million deal, as he delivered an .846 OPS with 28 home runs and 77 RBI in 153 games while remaining near the top of the pitch framing leaderboard among everyday catchers. Mike Moustakas was re-signed to a one-year, $10 million pact in February and went on to tally 35 home runs and 87 RBI, earning his third career All-Star nod. Keston Hiura debuted in mid-May and established himself as the team’s long-term answer at second base with a .303/.368/.570 slash line over his first 348 major league plate appearances. Josh Hader built on his reputation as one of the most dominant relievers in the sport, registering a 2.62 ERA, 0.806 WHIP, and 138/20 K/BB ratio in 75 2/3 innings and finishing top-three among in saves with 37. Brandon Woodruff flashed top-of-the-rotation potential with a 3.62 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and 143 strikeouts in 22 starts covering 121 2/3 innings. Brent Suter returned from Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery on September 1 and posted a 0.49 ERA and 15/1 K/BB ratio in 18 1/3 innings of relief.
What Went Wrong
Bringing this back around, they fell short of repeating as NL Central champions. And they were also quickly dismissed from the postseason after losing 4-3 to the Nationals in the NL Wild Card Game. Christian Yelich’s campaign came to an early end on September 10 when he fouled a ball off his right kneecap and fractured it, though the Brewers somehow managed to go 14-5 down the stretch without him. Travis Shaw dropped off a cliff in his second season with the club, posting only seven home runs and 16 RBI in 86 games, alongside a .157 batting average and .551 OPS. He had an .825 OPS with 32 home runs and 86 RBI over 152 games in 2018. Lorenzo Cain struggled in the second year of a five-year, $80 million free agent deal, slashing .260/.325/.372 in 623 plate appearances while battling a number of injuries. Jesus Aguilar regressed to an outrageous degree from his 35-homer season in 2018 and was shipped off to Tampa Bay at the July 31 trade deadline; the Rays then left him off their roster for the ALDS. Orlando Arcia flashed improved power and again played steady defense at shortstop but finished with a .223 batting average and .283 on-base percentage in 546 plate appearances. Corey Knebel blew out his elbow in the final week of spring training and Jeremy Jeffress didn’t look healthy at any point in the year as the Brewers’ bullpen as a whole took a significant step back. Corbin Burnes made the starting rotation out of camp but ultimately put up an 8.82 ERA in 49 innings of work at the major league level and an 8.46 ERA in 22 1/3 innings at Triple-A San Antonio. Jhoulys Chacin went from Opening Day starter to an August release from the organization.
** Christian Yelich is expected to be fully recovered from his right kneecap fracture by mid-to-late November -- the injury did not require a surgical procedure -- and so he should have a relatively normal offseason. If you wanted to get cute and nominate a player not named Mike Trout as the No. 1 overall pick for 2020, it would have to either be Yelich or Ronald Acuna. Yelich has out-produced Trout in fantasy each of the last two seasons and is also four months younger than the Angels’ superstar. Yelich boasts the more power-friendly home ballpark and will probably continue to have a better supporting cast. Trout should still be the guy at the top of most drafts, but, again, if you wanted to get cute …
** The second most interesting hitter on the Brewers’ roster for 2020 may be rising sophomore Keston Hiura. The 23-year-old second baseman batted .329/.407/.681 with 19 home runs, 46 RBI, seven stolen bases, and 44 runs scored in 57 games this season at Triple-A San Antonio and recorded 19 homers, 49 RBI, nine steals, and 51 runs over his first 84 games in the majors. He moved into the cleanup spot for Milwaukee down the stretch and that’s also where he batted in the National League Wild Card Game. This should be a top-100 player on draft day next spring, and he could very well return top-50 production.
** With a little more luck on the health front, we should see a bounceback of some sort from Lorenzo Cain in 2020. But he will turn 34 years old next April and he’s a poor bet to ever again steal 30 bases. His career-best home run total is 16, and that came back in 2015. It should also be noted that he was no longer locked in as the Brewers’ everyday leadoff man by the end of the 2019 regular season. So what is the upside here? Cain’s average draft position in Yahoo leagues this spring was 52.5. He probably doesn’t belong in the top 100 moving forward.
** Had we known that Josh Hader was going to be installed as the Brewers’ closer for the entirety of the 2019 season, we would have recommended him this spring as the top reliever in fantasy, which is exactly where he wound up placing. But that path to a high saves total didn’t open up for him until most fantasy rosters had been drafted. It’s feasible to think that the Brewers might pursue a more traditional ninth-inning man this winter, and bullpen help in general, perhaps pushing Hader back into his old flexible fireman role. That bears monitoring this winter.
** 12 different pitchers made starts for the Brewers this year. They’ll hope for better health and more consistency in 2020. Brandon Woodruff is going to be a popular name in drafts, but the rest of the fantasy-relevant rotation options are nothing more than dart throws. Chase Anderson posted a solid 3.55 ERA over 139 innings in 2019, but he doesn’t miss enough bats. Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta probably belong on the waiver wire until they’re assured of rotation spots and show reason to be trusted. Adrian Houser might be worth a late-round look in deep formats.
** Trent Grisham looked like a fading prospect this time last year, but the former first-round pick got off to a promising start at Double-A Biloxi and then exploded to the tune of a .381/.471/.776 batting line with 13 home runs, 30 RBI, six stolen bases, and 37 runs scored in 34 games at Triple-A San Antonio. He was called up to Milwaukee on August 1, played regularly down the stretch, and should have a prominent role in 2020. With his combination of speed and power, the 22-year-old will make for an attractive late-round flier in mixed leagues next spring.
Team Needs: Pitching, both rotation and relief help. Third base and catcher might require new faces too. The Brewers should be aggressive to capitalize on the prime years of Yelich.