The Brewers have had relievers win the last three NL Reliever of the Year awards. What new pitchers could emerge to win a fourth?
Peanut butter and jelly. Spaghetti and meatballs. Brandy in an old fashioned. For the last three years, the Milwaukee Brewers and the NL Reliever of the Year award have gone together just as perfectly as these three classic combinations.
It started in 2018 when Josh Hader would begin to stake his two year claim to the title, first primarily as a setup man and then as a closer in 2019. Then last season, Devin Williams dominated hitters on his way to keeping the trophy in Milwaukee for the third year in a row.
Assuming Hader doesn’t make his way to another team at some point this offseason via trade, the Brewers will have high odds at winning the award for a fourth straight season. Hader has been one of the best relievers in the game since his debut. And until hitters prove they’ve figured out Williams, last year’s NL Rookie of the Year appears poised to join him.
Hader and Williams aren’t the only firepower that the Brewers have stocked up in the bullpen, though. Let’s take a look at three other relievers who could emerge from the team’s relief corps to win NL Reliever of the Year in 2021.
RHP Drew Rasmussen
Going into the 2020 season, flame-throwing righty Drew Rasmussen was one prospect that many fans were very excited to see possibly contribute at some point in the season. A good back story (bouncing back from two Tommy John surgeries), a No. 9 ranking on MLB Pipeline’s initial 2020 Brewers Top 30 prospects list, and a 70-grade fastball will do that for you.
Rasmussen had a rocky second outing and rough final two outings, but in between that he was very good. During that middle stretch of 10 1/3 innings, he gave up an earned run, six hits, and six walks to go along with 13 strikeouts. He also picked up his first career major league win.
Rasmussen has the right combo of pitches to be a dominant reliever, using an effective slider and curve to compliment his filthy fastball that had an average velocity of 97.6 MPH in 2020. With a partial season under his belt to calm the nerves, he could be a force to be reckoned with in 2021.
RHP Justin Topa
While Rasmussen was on the radar of some Brewers fans going into 2020, Justin Topa was not. Fans started to take notice and dig into his history a bit, though, when he became one of the few players not on the team’s Top 30 prospects list added to the 60-man player pool last summer.
Topa had his own rude awakening in his first major league outing, giving up a two-run outing in his first inning of work. He was solid the rest of the way, though, giving up no earned runs and five hits in his final 6 2/3 innings and striking out 11 of his final 25 batters faced. He also didn’t walk a single batter in all 7 2/3 innings pitched in 2020.
Like Rasmussen, Topa has his own high-powered fastball, a sinker that averaged 97.5 mph in 2020. He primarily pairs it with a slider that has plenty of movement. As Hader can attest, that’s a pitch combination that can work pretty well for a reliever.
RHP Freddy Peralta
The only way Freddy Peralta finds himself competing for NL Reliever of the Year, of course, is if the Brewers don’t look to make him a starter in 2021 in an attempt to build their rotation in house. Should he stay in the bullpen, 2020 showed that he can be extremely effective as a Brewer reliever.
Peralta was one of the more reliable arms out of the pen last season, finishing with a 3.08 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and 15.04 K/9 as a reliever in 2020. His 0.8 fWAR was second best among all Brewer relievers behind just Williams.
Peralta has always had the stuff with his deceptively fast four-seamer and a curveball that added more horizontal break in 2020, not to mention a slider he developed last offseason that he has yet to fully incorporate into his repertoire. If he can just add that little bit of extra consistency, the sky is the limit for the 24-year-old.
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Four straight NL Relievers of the Year would be a crazy accomplishment for the Brewers. And if it’s not because of Hader or Williams, these three have the ability to get the job done.