The Milwaukee Brewers and Josh Hader appear headed to an arbitration hearing to determine the flamethrowing southpaw’s salary for the 2020 season.
In a short amount of time, Brewers lefty Josh Hader has reached star-level status in MLB. His unique ability to throw multiple innings late in games, his hard-to-hit fastball, and wipeout slider make him an easily recognizable player that has already earned two All-Star selections.
Due to a later than usual Super 2 cutoff date this year, Hader will qualify for arbitration four times, instead of the usual three. Initially, the Brewers were expecting to pay Hader near league-minimum in 2020, and now they’ll have to pay him at least six times his salary in 2019, and that’s only if they win the case. If Hader wins, his salary will increase almost tenfold.
The Brewers filed at $4.1MM and Hader put in his desired salary at $6.4MM. He earned $687.6k in 2019.
It’ll be interesting to see who wins this case, should it go to trial, and both sides will have good arguments. Let’s examine what each side can bring to the hearing room in February.
The Brewers Case Against Hader
To get the independent arbitrator to side with the Brewers, they will have to argue that he is not worth a $6.4MM salary. Hader put in for that salary because that would be a record for a first-time arbitration eligible reliever. Jonathan Papelbon currently holds that record with a $6.3MM salary. With Hader looking to beat it, he’s arguing that he’s a better reliever than Papelbon was.
At that time, Papelbon had recorded 113 saves in his career already through his three full seasons. Hader has recorded just 49. Saves are an important statistic, especially when it comes to arbitration rulings. Hader also blew seven saves in 2019 and has a career save conversion rate of 79%. Papelbon was at 88% at the same point.
Another issue with Hader that the Brewers will point out is his struggles in 2019. Now his bottom line still showed great numbers with a 2.62 ERA and a 0.806 WHIP, but it was clear there were struggles at times in 2019. His home run rate drastically increased in 2019, with his HR/FB ratio jumping from 14.5% in 2018 to 21.4% in 2019. His HR/9 rate increased from 1.00 to 1.78, and he allowed 15 home runs in 75.2 IP last year, compared to just nine homers in 81.1IP the year before.
Hader’s side will likely counter with numbers about the home run spike around baseball, and that Hader was not the only victim of it. But Hader is a hard thrower and when contact is made, it’s usually up in the air, as shown by his 51.6% fly ball rate over his career. When you throw that hard and contact is made that puts the ball in the air, the ball is going to fly a long ways, and that leaves Hader more susceptible to home runs than other pitchers.
For whatever reason, Hader also became increasingly reliant on his fastball, throwing it 84.3% of the time in 2019. His slider usage dropped from 20.7% in 2018 to just 15.4% in 2019. As great as his fastball is, throwing it that often will result in hitters being able to time it up eventually.
The Milwaukee Brewers could also point to another way to avoid a huge salary increase for Hader. Corey Knebel is coming back from Tommy John surgery in 2020, and was the closer behind Hader in 2017 and 2018, and could become the closer again in 2020 upon his return. Should he do so, Hader will no longer get the bulk of the save opportunities, will pitch mostly in the 7th and 8th innings again, and thus not worth a top closer’s salary since he would not be closing.
There’s a very real chance the Brewers move Hader out of the closer’s role in 2020 with the return of Knebel and despite his immense talent, being the guy to close it out in the 9th gets you paid more in arbitration than doing it in the 7th or 8th.