Milwaukee Brewers: Rotation or bullpen for Josh Hader?

Matthew Dewoskin
CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 06: Josh Hader
CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 06: Josh Hader /
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The Milwaukee Brewers have a good problem in Josh Hader. The 23-year old left-hander spent the first half the season in Triple-A as a starting pitcher. He then transitioned into a relief role with on Major League roster. Where should he spend 2018?

Josh Hader struggled as a starting pitcher in Triple-A at Colorado Springs. He did pitch in the Pacific Coast League, a known hitters’ league, but the results weren’t great. A 5.37 ERA in 52 innings is rough, even with a 8.83 K/9. Hader was solid in a relief role with the Milwaukee Brewers, and put together a 2.08 ERA in 35 appearances with a 12.84 K/9. He even improved his BB/9 from 5.37 in Triple-A to 4.15 at the Major League level.

The case for Hader to start in 2018

Josh Hader has prepped for a role as a starter for his entire career. He’s started at every level he’s pitched at except in the Majors. That should change in 2018.

The Milwaukee Brewers have to figure out how to fill Jimmy Nelson‘s rotation spot for the half of the season at a minimum. Josh Hader should get the first chance at starting at least until Nelson is ready to return.

The Brewers have Chase Anderson, Zach Davies, and Brandon Woodruff holding down the first three spots in their rotation. That leaves Brent Suter, Junior Guerra, and Josh Hader to compete for the final two spots right now. There probably will be a free-agent brought in to eat up innings. That leaves one free rotation spot for three pitchers.

Junior Guerra is as likely to be non-tendered as he is to make the Brewers rotation. That leaves a competition between Hader and Suter for the fifth rotation spot. Both are left-handed, and both will make the Opening Day roster. Suter proved to be the more effective starter in 2017, while Hader was better as a reliever.

Hader wasn’t great in Triple-A, but very few starters succeed in the thin Colorado air. He offers much greater upside than Suter, and Hader is clearly in the Brewers long term plans. If his change-up develops as expected, there’s no reason to think that he won’t end up in the rotation sooner than later. ‘Sooner’ could mean 2018.

The case for Hader to work in the bullpen in 2018

Josh Hader only has two pitches right now. His fastball and his slider. Starting pitchers need to have at least three pitches to be effective. Until Hader can develop a competent change-up, he shouldn’t be anywhere near the rotation.

Also, Hader threw 99 2/3 innings in 2017 after working 126 innings in 2016. He’ll probably have an innings cap around 120-140 for 2018. It’s much more likely that he works out of the bullpen for at least half the season to stay under his innings limit. Why not start him in the bullpen and allow him to work in situations that he’s likely to succeed in, while developing his third pitch?

Hader was equally tough on lefties and righties last year out of the bullpen, and he proved capable of working more than a single inning. He did struggle with walks at times, but was able to pitch over them with his ability to miss bats and rack up impressive strikeout totals.

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Hader looked awesome coming out of the bullpen, but his role for 2018 depends almost entirely on how his change up develops. If he has a change that he can trust, Brent Suter will end up as a LOOGY. If he struggles with the change, he may scrap it all together and just develop into a lights out set up guy for Corey Knebel. His role for the 2018 season in Milwaukee is really that simple to figure out.

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