Did the Brewers fail John Axford?


How will John Axford perform as the closer in Cleveland? Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The first thought that would come to your mind regarding John Axford would more than likely be positive. As a fan favorite, Axford was a sturdy closer in Milwaukee, but would soon run into struggles and never saw a return to the role.

Did the Brewers fail Axford in this sense or was it something he did that caused this happen?

Recently, it was reported that Axford learned during his short tenure with the St. Louis Cardinals that he was tipping his pitches, leading to him giving up the long-ball more often than not. Axford’s big problem in Milwaukee was giving up home runs in a close or critical situation. His struggles in the ninth inning eventually saw the closer’s role go to Francisco Rodriguez and Jim Henderson.

If Axford was indeed tipping his pitches in Milwaukee and nobody picked up on it, wouldn’t pitching coach Rick Kranitz and bullpen coach Lee Tunnell be on the hot seat as a result? Axford saw a monumental rise in his HR/9 (home runs allowed per nine innings) from 2011’s 0.49 to 2012’s 1.30. In 2013, that number rose to 1.38, so clearly there was an issue and that rise in his home runs allowed attributed greatly to his struggles.

We can blame the coaches for Axford’s struggles should he do well as the closer with the Cleveland Indians, but is it really their fault? 2012 was a disaster year all around the bullpen, but last season, they completely revamped things and with a lot of younger players or guys just making their debuts. A shift like that doesn’t necessarily occur from poor coaching, so then I ask, was Axford totally at fault for his tipped pitches?

Of course some people may see this as a black and white issue, but there’s blame on both parts. Clearly there was something wrong with Axford and the coaches clearly couldn’t contain the bleeding, so the problem fixed itself when Axford was traded to St. Louis. While nobody, myself included, wanted to see Axford go, it was an inevitable move as the Cardinals sought an opportunity to work with him. During his time in St. Louis, he sported an ERA of 1.74 in 10.1 innings with a K/9 of 9.6.

So while people will point their fingers at the coaches or at Axford, know this, what’s done is done. Sure, if Axford does well in Cleveland, which I hope he does, then it will reflect poorly on the Brewers’ coaches who could have worked with him and the tipped pitches. Still, we cannot dwell in the past on an issue that may or may have not even been fixed in Milwaukee.