Milwaukee Brewers all star relief pitcher Josh Hader is one of the most unique and electric players in baseball, but his 2019 season was full of ups and downs, all way down to the final pitch he threw in the 2019 season, which ended in heartbreak.
When looking at the numbers, you wouldn’t necessarily be able to tell a huge difference between the pitcher Josh Hader was in 2018 versus who he was in 2019. However as with any high profile reliever, there is more to the story than just what the numbers are telling you.
Regular Season: B+
Hader actually gave up the exact same amount of earned runs (22) in both seasons, but this season he pitched 5 2/3 fewer innings, meaning his ERA increased slightly from 2.43 to 2.62. That is still all star level, but there was one looming issue with Hader throughout the year: the home run.
Hader gave up 15 home runs in 2019, six more than he did in 2018, and many of those home runs were back breaking shots that really hurt the Brewers. Hader took five losses on the year as well compared to only one last season, which means a little more for a closer than for any other pitcher.
The issue Hader faced was the struggles he had throwing his slider. It was covered quite well in the beginning of the year how Hader was almost exclusively throwing fastballs and simply dominating with it. But as the season rolled along, teams caught on, and started to dial in on his fastball, which most of the time resulted in either a strikeout, or a hard hit, very little in between or weak contact.
What was the reason for the extra homers?
When Hader is right, his slider is a huge part of what makes him so good, but for some reason this season, it took him a very long time to be able to throw his slider, and even then it was never really consistent for him.
As you can see from this post by popular Twitter account “PitchingNinja,” Hader’s slider can be very effective, and that has been a pitch he has used in any count, both as a get over pitch and a strikeout pitch. The problem is that hitters can tell when his slider is off, and they can get ready for the fastball, which is exactly what Juan Soto did in the wild card game.
Hader spiked a slider to Soto in the opposite batters box, and then you saw Soto do his intimidating foot swipe maneuver, then step back up and rip a game winning single to right field. Soto knew exactly what Hader was going to throw to him, and he took advantage of it.
So clearly there is an issue with his slider, but there is plenty of potential for that pitch to be great, and if Hader can work on his confidence and execution with that pitch, then there’s no reason why hitters should be able to sit fastball next season.
Hader has also said that he does have a changeup, which would be very interesting, but we have not seen much of that pitch at all. Anything Hader can do to add to his game and to throw hitters off is worth considering given that it doesn’t take away from what is already great about his game.
Another aspect of Hader’s season that was much different from 2018 was when he pitched in the game. In 2018, Hader finished just 14 games, and he was rarely used as the main “closer” for the Milwaukee Brewers.
In 2019, with Corey Knebel down and Jeremy Jeffress never getting back into that role, he was really the only good option for closing games, and he finished 46 games on the mound, which is a significant difference in terms of his role despite the innings and overall numbers being very similar.
With Knebel set to come back healthy for 2020, it will be interesting to see where Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell uses Hader. Does he go right back to trusting Knebel despite the year off, does he stick with Hader and use Knebel as a set up man, or is it a more of a mix of both such as when Hader is unavailable for a game, Knebel closes and vice versa.
Overall, Milwaukee Brewers fans need to remember how good Hader really is. Despite the home run issues, Hader carried this bullpen through the season, and he is a talent that doesn’t come around in Milwaukee, or in baseball very often. He cannot be taken for granted, but the Brewers also need to continue to develop Hader into the best possible version of himself that he can be, which he is not at right now.
There is a long off season ahead for Hader after his performance in the wild card game, but there should still be plenty to look forward too both for him and the Milwaukee Brewers for a now two-time all star who is still one of the best relievers in all of baseball.