Apr 19, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Milwaukee Brewers relief pitcher Michael Blazek (54) pitches against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the eighth inning at PNC Park. The Pirates won 5-2. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
So in all of my blogging glory, I just realized I never graded Michael Blazek‘s 2015.
Blazek joined the Brewers in late 2013 as the player to be named later in the trade that sent John Axford to the St. Louis Cardinals. Blazek originally slotted as a mid-level prospect in the Crew’s then-barren farm system, but after an uninspiring 2014 with AAA Nashville, Blazek largely fell off of lists of top Brewers prospects.
Thus, Blazek wasn’t a favorite to make the Brewers’ bullpen in 2015, but the righty survived Spring Training, beating out the much more experienced (but struggling) Brandon Kintzler for the final spot in the ‘pen.
As rosters were finalized, Derek Harvey of Brew Crew Ball had this to say:
"I’ll admit to some trepidation with regards to Blazek. He’s been rather mediocre in 8 minor league seasons and only saw a boost in production when he was moved out of the bullpen and into a starting role. His main problem is giving up walks due to poor control. He does have the ability to miss bats though. His K% and BAA have typically been strong so there is some upside here. As the long reliever he figures to play a minimal role in games so if he struggles the damage shouldn’t be too great."
This sentiment sums up the general feelings on Blazek going into the season, a guy who didn’t have an easily projectable profile due to command issues. As was expected, Blazek avoided a large role as the long reliever, with just 10 percent of his opponent plate appearances coming in high leverage situations (baseball-reference.com).
But Blazek made the most of his mop-up duties, holding opponents to an excellent .200/.267/.290 slash line, though a .243 BABIP certainly played its part. Blazek’s control issues seemed to evaporate, with the reliever allowing just 2.91 walks per 9 innings, his lowest mark since High-A ball in 2010.
Blazek didn’t post great strikeout numbers, fanning just 7.60 batters per 9, but his 2.43 ERA (3.17 FIP) was excellent. As was the case with Jeremy Jeffress last year, I am hesitant to brush off Blazek’s history of command issues after just one season, but the former certainly proved that a change in profile is very possible.
Blazek compiled the bullpen’s fourth highest innings total, despite being knocked out mid-August with an inexplicable broken finger. Blazek makes my personal short list of pleasant surprises for the Crew in 2015, and proved more than capable as the team’s longman. In fact, Blazek may exceed the role, and if the Crew retains a traditional bullpen, he’s my favorite to start 2016 in seventh inning relief.