Heading into the season it was announced by Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell that Josh Hader was going to be used more as a traditional closer. This of course sparked lots of controversy among fans, but all that aside, Hader has been off to a dominating start to begin the season and this should not be overlooked!
In 10.2 innings pitched, Hader has struck out 19 batters, or 47.5% of batters faced. His seven saves are tied for the second most in baseball and he is pitching with an uptick in velocity this season.
His current fastball averages 96.2 MPH, which is the highest it has been throughout his career. Having to only pitch one inning per night may be a contributing factor to his velocity increase, but this will be something to monitor as we progress through an entire 162-game season.
From a statistic standpoint Hader is among the league’s best in nearly every advanced metric out there including but not limited to: xwOBA (98th percentile), xSLG (99th), xERA(98th), K% (99th), Whiff % (100th), and hard hit % (99th). In fact, his 48.8% whiff rate is the league’s best.
All that is to say that Josh Hader has been dominant as a closer for the Brewers so far in 2021.
Contributing to his swings and misses is his slider. For years he has possessed a rarely used slider but so far this year it is nearly untouchable and has a 61.5% whiff rate. A large part of that may be due to improved command and sequencing, but lets not forget that Hader is throwing changeups this year as well which really allows him to keep hitters guessing at the plate.
Aside from the statistics, like it or not, Josh Hader being used as a traditional closer in a one inning per game manner is paying dividends for the Brewers. With an elite pitching staff, the Brewers played in a lot of close games during the month of April. Had Hader pitched multiple innings on a few occurrences, he likely may have missed out on additional late game opportunities.
One example of this was during the April 18th Pirates game. Hader threw a 13-pitch 9th inning to send the game into extra innings and then handed the ball over to J.P. Feyereisen in the 10th. The Brewers ended up losing the game, but the next day Hader was able to record a save against San Diego. In fact, Hader ended up picking up two saves in that Padres series.
Another more recent example is in the current Dodgers series. With each game being close, Hader recorded back-to-back saves in the first two games. Because he was not asked to pick up any multi-inning saves, he was able to pitch for a third consecutive day and sent game three into extra innings. The Brewers went on to win that game in dramatic fashion on a Travis Shaw walkoff single.
I will say having additional weapons in the bullpen like Devin Williams and Feyereisen certainly does help support using Hader one inning at a time. But regardless of your personal belief, Josh Hader’s game has somehow improved this season. As miraculous as that statement is, one can not help but wonder if it is due to finally having a better sense of his role.