Brewers reliever Devin Williams has emerged as one of the best relievers in all of baseball. Should he be closing games for Milwaukee going forward?
For the past two seasons, Brewers reliever Josh Hader has been arguably the most dominant reliver in baseball. The award voters felt that way as well as Hader ended up winning the Trevor Hoffman Reliever of the Year award in both 2018 and 2019.
But while Hader has been good in 2020, Devin Williams has been better. Before the season began, we discussed whether Hader or the returning Corey Knebel should take the role of Milwaukee closer. Should the Brewers now consider using Devin Williams as their closer instead?
The case to keep Josh Hader as Brewers closer
2019 was Josher Hader’s first full season as the Brewers closer after 2018 consisted of a rotation of 9th inning pitchers. In 2018 Knebel lead the team with 16 saves, Jeremy Jeffress had 15 saves, and Hader recorded 12 saves. In 2019, Hader would collect 37 saves despite giving up a career-high 15 home runs. So far in 2020, Hader is 9 for 11 in save opportunities.
The biggest improvement in Hader’s game in 2020 is the increased use of the slider. With his fastball velocity down a few ticks (94.3 MPH average in 2020 vs 95.5 MPH in 2019) throwing the slider for strikes has turned Hader into more of a pitcher this year, as opposed to just a hard-throwing lefty.
The case to switch to Devin Williams as Brewers closer
It is no secret that Williams is one of the best, if not the best, relievers in baseball this year. He is currently among consideration for Rookie of the Year as well as NL Reliever of the Year. Williams has found success with a lethal strikeout combination in using arguably the best changeup in baseball with a mid to high-90’s fastball.
As for closing experience, Williams scattered seven career saves in the minor leagues with four of them coming in 2019 when he was pitching for the Biloxi Shuckers. While he has gained the trust of Craig Counsell in high leverage situations this year, we all know closing games in the 9th requires a special type of mentality.
The verdict: stay put, for now
With a mere two weeks left in the 2020 regular season, it seems unlikely that the Brewers would switch closers at this point in the season, barring any sort of collapse by Hader. Having to debate between which of your elite relievers should close games out is a good problem to have, so for now we should enjoy watching the two of them pitch!
To me the bigger question is what the Brewers will do going forward into 2021 and beyond. One thing to consider is what the Brewers will do with Hader, given he is always drawing trade interest from other teams.
One positive coming out this season: if the Brewers do elect to trade Hader in the off-season, they could feel confident knowing that they still have Williams at the back end of their bullpen and under club control for years to come. They also likely would have Knebel a year removed from Tommy John surgery who could challenge for the closer’s role if he bounces back.
The other aspect to consider is if the Brewers do not trade Hader in the off-season. In retaining Hader, you almost guarantee that the Brewers have one of the best backends of a bullpen in the MLB. We saw how a three-headed monster approach of closers worked in 2018 and it certainly would be great to see something similar to that again.
As fun as it would be to see a guy like Williams rise all the way from prospect to closer in the course of one year, the Brewers are best off sitting tight. That doesn’t mean the job might be his for the taking, eventually.