Brandon Woodruff did everything he could for the Brewers in 2017 and 2018. When the rotation needed reinforcements at the end of 2017, he started eight games. When the team needed relief arms in 2018, he filled whatever innings they needed — 10 of his 15 relief appearances went more than an inning, and he contributed four spot starts when the Brewers needed an occasional extra starter. This year, the team needs a starter again, and Woodruff has outdone himself. In 16 starts, he’s gone from solid bullpen arm to the best starter on a playoff team. If the team needs a pitcher to start an elimination game, Woodruff is probably the man for the job.
If I had been asked to make a prediction about Woodruff before the season, I think I would have landed somewhere near our Depth Charts projections — 23 starts, a 4.30 ERA and FIP, and peripherals that looked worse than his 2018 relief turn, when he struck out 26.7% of batters he faced and walked 8%. Pitchers who switch from relieving to starting tend to have worse rate stats across the board, and nothing about Woodruff screamed exception. Instead, he’s improved in essentially every category. He’s striking out 29.6% of the batters he faces, and walking only 6.5%. His FIP is 0.23 lower than it was last year. Heck, he’s gained fastball velocity, something you’re not supposed to do when throwing more pitches per game.
Luckily for the purposes of our analysis, however, he’s also made some changes in approach that we can pore over. If all there was to Woodruff’s improvement was a tick on his fastball, there wouldn’t be much to say. But that’s not how Brandon Woodruff’s season has gone. He has overhauled his arsenal and approach in ways that look well thought-out and sustainable to me. Read the rest of this entry »