If you had to guess which player currently on the Milwaukee Brewers roster has the lowest ERA as a reliever, a few names would come to mind. And most fans’ first few guesses would be understandable.
Josh Hader is the star of the Milwaukee Brewers bullpen but it’s not him. Jeremy Jeffress has started looking more like himself after starting the season on the injured list, but it’s not him either. Junior Guerra surprised people with his impressive start to his first season as a full-time reliever, but he doesn’t own the distinction either. No, the honor goes to…..
Well, technically the honor goes to Hernan Perez, who hasn’t given up a run in two relief appearances. However, if we’re talking actual pitchers, go figure that the pitcher with the lowest ERA in relief would belong to a career starter in the minors who didn’t even make the opening day roster.
Yes, that pitcher would be Adrian Houser. After starting the year in at Triple-A as a starter and originally being called up for a spot start that didn’t exactly go well, go figure that the right-hander has settled in as possibly the team’s most effective reliever outside of Hader.
How did we get here?
Houser definitely started off the year turning heads in the minors. In three starts, he gave up just two runs over 16 1/3 innings, good for an ERA of 1.10. He struck out 18 and walked just two. With Freddy Peralta heading to the injured list at the time, Houser was rewarded by being called up for his first career major league start against the Cardinals on April 22nd.
That start went…..poorly to say the least. He was knocked around for five earned runs over four innings and the Milwaukee Brewers lost 13-to-5. Houser would get sent back to the minors the very next day.
After one more solid start with San Antonio and the Brewers bullpen in need of some major tweaking, Houser was recalled on May 3rd, this time to serve in a relief role. Since his return, he has been lights out.
In 12 appearances since returning to the Milwaukee Brewers, including one a start as an “opener” for Peralta, Houser has given up zero earned runs 11 times. In two of those appearances, he pitched two scoreless innings in extra innings and kept the team in the game just long enough to score and bring home a win, the most recent occasion happening on Wednesday against the AL-leading Astros. Those two outings account for Houser’s two wins on the season.
How do the numbers stack up?
They stack up pretty well. As mentioned earlier, Houser’s ERA as a reliever, which currently stands at 0.93, is the best among pitchers currently on the Milwaukee Brewers’ roster. Even factoring in the two starts, his ERA of 2.49 is third best on the team behind Hader and Zach Davies.
But going back to just relief stats among currently rostered Brewers pitchers, his .177 opponents’ batting average is third best behind Hader and Guerra. His 31.5 K% is third behind Hader and Corbin Burnes, his 1.03 WHIP is second behind just Hader, and his 0.5 HR/9 leads the relievers.
Batters definitely aren’t squaring up on Houser either. The 29.3% hard contact against him is the third lowest as a reliever behind Peralta and Alex Claudio. As a result, his 67.5% ground ball rate is the highest on the team and his 17.5% fly ball rate and 15.0% line drive rate are the lowest. So if hitters aren’t striking out they’re beating the ball into the ground, generally a recipe for success.
Part of the reason the Brewers were so successful last year was because they had one of the best bullpens in all of baseball. It took a little bit for the bullpen to gel this year, and having pitchers like Hader and Jeffress returning this year certainly helps. But a successful pitching staff needs unexpected players to step up as well, and Houser has more than fit the bill in that regard.
As one of the top options out of the bullpen this year, Houser should definitely be in the majors to stay going forward. Whether he profiles as a starter or reliever long-term is yet to be seen, but in the meantime the Brewers have no reservations turning to him with the game on the line.