The Brewers are making Josh Hader a traditional closer this year instead of the untraditional multi-inning weapon they used him as in the past.
Since Josh Hader has joined the Milwaukee Brewers as a fixture in their bullpen, he has been dominant to say the least. With a 15.3 K/9 average since joining the big league club in 2017, it’s easy to say he’s been one of the best, if not the best relievers in the game over that time span.
With a career 2.54 ERA and .858 WHIP, he not only punches out batters at a terrifying rate, but he keeps runners from getting on base and from scoring even if they do manage to reach safely.
Even with that weapon in the pen, Craig Counsell hasn’t used him like a prototypical closer outside of the 2019 season. With the news coming out today from Brewers beat writer Adam McCalvy that Counsell plans to use Hader in a normal closer role, there are some questions as to whether that is the best move for the team or not.
2019 was the first season in which Hader acted as the set closer and that was more due to lack of options than a set game plan. There were 13 saves recorded by seven pitchers outside of Hader’s 37. This happened to be the season without Corey Knebel due to injury and a season of regression from Jeremy Jeffress as his ERA ballooned from 1.29 in 2018 to 5.02 in 2019.
The Brewers and Craig Counsell have been creative in how games have been close out and they typically went against the grain with their use of Josh Hader.
Hader has often been used in non-save situations to ensure the Brewers kept a lead instead of saving him for the 9th in hopes that the Crew still had the lead when the game got there. This strategy has been effective for years as the Brewers have had multiple pitchers that could be trusted to save games.
Even more importantly, however, there was an emphasis on locking things down in an inning where a major swing could occur.
Having multiple pitchers than can close things down in the 9th is huge (Hader, Knebel and Jeffress in 2018) but being able to shut down the opponents meat of their lineup in say, the 7th inning, has proven to be equally as important for the Brewers over the last couple of years.
Deploying Hader as more of an out getting weapon instead of a standard closer has worked wonders over the years and shouldn’t be written off heading into 2021.
His ability to get more than three outs also tends to get overlooked as locking down the 7th and 8th is huge.
Even though rosters won’t be finalized for a week or so yet, it’s looking like the Brewers bullpen should have enough back end arms to allow Hader to be deployed as needed, and not just as a closer. Devin Williams and Hader appear to be a dominant 8th and 9th inning duo like they were in a shortened 2020 season, but we can’t overlook names like Drew Rasmussen, Justin Topa, Ray Black, Angel Perdomo and even minor league options like Ashby and Small.
The Brewers for years have relied on analytics to find the best path to victory. The bullpen during that span has been a huge asset compared to the rest of the MLB and has been a huge reason why the Brewers have been to the postseason for three straight years.
With the arms the Brewers appear to have heading into the 2021 season, they should continue to play matchups and rely on analytics as opposed to falling in line with the traditional bullpen roles many teams abide by.