For the Milwaukee Brewers, 2013 is going to be the career defining year for John Axford. What we have seen out of the Ax-Man has been pretty brilliant (81 saves in the past two seasons), but the stark contrast between 2011 and 2012 is the current reminder of a tale of two pitchers. Which Axford will we see in 2013? Is this a classic case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? Nobody knows the answer to that, but taking into account Axford’s 2012 from mid-August on, he looked more like the 2011 version and less like the falling apart one.
Hopefully for the Brewers, Axford’s kinks from last year have all been worked out.
John Axford tied Craig Kimbrel in 2011 for the most saves in the NL. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
The tale of Axford is one that Brewers’ fans have been familiar with. A success story really out of the gate, Axford dazzled on the mound, especially in his first 50 game season in 2010 where he went 8-2 with an ERA of 2.48, had 24 saves, and struck out 76 batters in 58 innings pitched. Then his best season in 2011 occurred which we are all very familiar with.
Now, it’s 2012. Axford being fresh off of a 46 save season in 2011 looked to continue that dominance into the new season. April was a so-so month for the Ax-Man as he posted a 4.70 ERA in the month, but had five saves and one loss. He rebounded a bit in May by sporting a 2.31 ERA with five more saves and one blown save.
Then the summer happened.
In June, Axford just couldn’t get a batter out to save his life. Honestly, it wasn’t that he was setting himself into these situations, but that one pitch, that fastball down the middle, kept getting tagged longer and longer. Axford’s HR/9 rose from 0.49 in 2011 to a whopping 1.30 in 2012. June saw Axford have a bloated ERA of 9.00 with only three saves and three blown saves alongside a 1-3 record. Talk about a confidence shaker.
July wasn’t any better for the Ax-Man as he would have the same ERA that he did in April, 4.70, but less production.He would blow three more saves in the month, having a total of seven on the year. The bullpen at this point was in mass hysteria and temporarily, Axford lost his job to a closer committee consisting of himself, Francisco Rodriguez and Jim Henderson. Constant bullpen implosions turned out to be a huge damper on the Brewers’ 2012 season, but Axford isn’t solely to blame for that.
Once August hit, Axford, while still a part of this “closer committee”, was in the minds of most Brewers’ fans, the closer regardless. Axford started off August with a save that gave many fans hope. Then he would go onto blow his eighth save of the season on August 10th. After that, Axford snapped out of his slump and would record 15 saves in a row from August 21st until September 23rd. During this point, Axford gave us chills and a reminder that 2011 was no fluke. Axford would end the season strong with 35 saves, which in the big picture, is really decent considering how mightily he struggled in the heart of the season.
Now THAT is a sight Brewers’ fans love. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Axford would end 2012 with a 4.67 ERA, a WHIP of 1.44, 35 saves, nine blown saves, 69.1 innings pitched and 93 strikeouts. As indicated by June through August, most of the inflated numbers can be attributed to those months. Aside from that, Axford did a spectacular job in reaffirming his stance as a closer near the end of August.
With all this, what can the Brewers’ expect from Axford in 2013? It remains to be seen, but we’ve learned that even at the lowest of lows, he’s able to bounce back. Really, to credit Axford, while the increased HR/9 is certainly far from good, it shows us that he wasn’t going into games, loading up the bases, and allowing hit after hit. It’s far from a justification for the struggles he did have, but in retrospect, it’s not as bad as it seems.
My 2013 prediction for Axford? 3.00 ERA, 40 saves, 75 innings pitched, 102 K’s and who knows what else? In my mind, Axford is the closer of this team despite the downtrend in 2012. He’s done well enough that even though Ron Roenicke still has the “closer committee” active heading into to the new season, everyone knows when it comes down to it, the Ax-Man is our guy.