Milwaukee Brewers: Josh Hader Dominating, Carrying Lackluster Bullpen
By Matt Yeazel
Milwaukee Brewers All-Star reliever Josh Hader has been tasked with a lot given that teammates Corey Knebel and Jeremy Jeffress have not been available to start this season. So far, Hader has excelled and has shown just how valuable he is to this team.
Josh Hader has not given up a run in five appearances this season, totaling 7.2 Innings pitched. All five of those appearances counted as saves for the Milwaukee Brewers, and he has tallied 13 strikeouts along with just one walk and one hit given up.
The fact that he has five saves shows how Hader has had to step into a new role, because even in his dominance last season, he was not typically the closer. If he were to close games, it would be him being brought in the 7th or 8th inning and just finishing the game, which is what happened Sunday against the Cubs when he went 2.2 innings.
Jeremy Jeffress is the typical closer, as he has a lot of experience in that role and while he can go multiple innings as well, he excelled in the one to two inning role last season and lives for the energy of the ninth inning. When Jeffress comes back, they will probably work him back in before putting him into the fire, but I’m sure Jeffress will want to get back into saves situations as soon as possible.
What makes Hader such a valuable weapon is that ability to go deeper into games than most high-level relievers. The fact that you can have a starter go five or six innings then bring in Hader and it’s essentially game over is something very unique and something that no other team really has. There are definitely bullpens better than the Brewers, but no pitchers more dominant than Hader right now.
An example of that utter dominance this season was the first Saturday when he had an immaculate inning against the Cardinals. The most impressive part of this is that every pitch is a fastball, and in fact, almost every pitch he’s thrown this season has been a fastball because that’s really all he’s needed.
He has started to bring the offspeed stuff back in his game, mostly just his slider with confirmation that he has also tried out a changeup as well, which could be a fun experiment to revisit for him. However, if he can just continue to blow fastballs by hitters and make them look lost at the plate, they can take an ‘if it’s not broke, don’t fix it’ mindset.
His slider is nothing to scoff at though, and when teams start to focus in on his fastball and expect that to be what’s coming, he can use his deception and release point to throw a hard breaking slider when they expect a 95+ mph fastball to be coming. The video below from Sunday shows how his release point is the same, but the pitches are much different, causing confusion.
The best part of all this is that every time Hader steps on the mound you’re amazed by what you’re seeing. It’s not a situation where you’ve seen it before so it’s not cool anymore. When you’re at a Brewer game, you want Hader to pitch to see in person, and even on TV, every time you see him it’s an experience because we’ve really never seen anyone like him.
Carrying The Bullpen
As Hader continues his dominance, the rest of the bullpen is, well, not dominating. The bullpen pitchers not named Hader have given up 21 runs in 31 innings, and there just isn’t a truly reliable second option right now. Guys like Jacob Barnes and Taylor Williams are thought to have a lot of potential with high velocity and decent stuff, but so far, it hasn’t been showing.
Jake Petricka has been called up from Triple-A to try and bring some help, but right now there are a lot of question marks in that unit. With such a young rotation, the Milwaukee Brewers need to find some stability other than Hader or Jeffress when he returns, because relying on Junior Guerra or Matt Albers to get through innings against these tough NL teams is going to backfire at some point.
Of course, the idea of bringing in star free agent closer Craig Kimbrel is still on the table, because ridiculously enough, he is still available despite the season being close to two weeks in. If Kimbrel were brought in, it would fill an obvious need, and would essentially replace and upgrade the hole left by Knebel’s year ending injury.
If that could happen, it would be huge for this bullpen and the Milwaukee Brewers as a whole, but the money and contract situation must be very complicated for him to not have signed by this point, and that point stands for Dallas Keuchel as well. However, Kimbrel may start to have leverage over these contending teams who are having troubles in the bullpen.
Overall, Craig Counsell has done a great job managing Hader and bringing him in when the team needs him, but with the resources he has right now other than him, it is pleasantly surprising that it hasn’t come back to haunt the currently 8-2 squad other than Saturday against Chicago.
If Jeffress comes back and looks like he did last season, that is a huge addition back to the team and upgrades a vital part to the game plan that Counsell has established for the Milwaukee Brewers.