Just over five years ago, a tall, lanky pitcher with a powerful fastball toed the rubber for the first time as a Milwaukee Brewers reliever. The rest, as they say, is history.
Having been added to a major league roster for the first time in his career the previous day, left-hander Josh Hader made his MLB debut on June 10th, 2017. He would pitch a scoreless inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks, facing five batters, walking two and striking out one, Jake Lamb, for the first of many punch outs to come.
Fast forward to 2022. Hader is now the Crew’s full-time closer and an extremely effective one at that. Last Sunday, he picked up his 19th save of the season, currently the most in MLB, and has just a 0.95 ERA and 0.610 WHIP. He will likely make another All-star appearance as he continues to establish himself as one of the most, if not the most, dominant relievers in the entire league.
It was a long and winding road that led to Brewers reliever Josh Hader being one of the most dominating pitchers in all of baseball.
As most Brewers fans are aware, Hader wasn’t originally drafted by their beloved Crew. That honor went to his hometown Baltimore Orioles who selected him in the 19th round out of high school.
His stay in that organization would be short, however. Just over a year later, he would be shipped off by Baltimore to the Houston Astros in a trade deadline move to acquire starter Bud Norris (a move that would unfortunately for the Orioles not ultimately help secure a playoff berth).
Hader would begin working his way up the Astros organization. By 2015, he would find himself in his second year at the team’s Double-A affiliate in Corpus Christi and ranked 9th on MLB Pipeline’s list of the Top 30 Astros prospects.
Later that year, though, he would find himself in yet another organization. That was the result of a well-documented trade in which the Milwaukee Brewers sent energetic outfielder Carlos Gomez and starting pitcher Mike Fiers to the Astros for a cache of prospects that included Hader.
After almost two more years in the minors, Hader would finally make that fateful MLB debut in 2017. And after starting almost 75% of his career minor league appearances, he would finish that season in the majors with 35 outings that were all in relief, ending his rookie campaign with an impressive 2.08 ERA and a 0.986 WHIP.
But the best was yet to come.
Josh Hader truly broke out as a middle reliever on the Brewers’ 2018 playoff club before taking over as closer in 2019.
The Brewers were a formidable club in 2018, winning the NL Central and falling a game short of reaching the World Series. Part of what made that team so tough for their opponents was a backend of a bullpen that gave hitters nightmares.
Hader combined with fellow relievers Jeremy Jeffress and Corey Knebel to form a three-headed monster out of the pen. Hader would serve as the team’s fireman, entering the game in the most intense of situations. He would finish the season with a 2.43 ERA and a 0.811 WHIP while also picking up 12 saves along with his first career All-Star nomination.
The next season, Hader would be moved into Milwaukee’s closing role, a role he has not relinquished since then. He’d compile 37 saves that year, to date his career high, and also set career best marks in WHIP (.806) and strikeouts per nine innings (16.4).
And now in 2022, Hader is experiencing arguably his finest season yet. He gave up his first and only two runs of the season last Tuesday. He’s zeroing in on his fourth All-Star nod and is just 19 saves away from surpassing Dan Plesac for the franchise’s all-time saves record.
Unfortunately, Hader’s future with the Brewers is unclear. Milwaukee has one more year of control with their hard-throwing lefty, at which point he will become very pricey. Barring an unlikely long-term commitment by the team, his remaining time as a member of the Crew may be short-lived.
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Until then, Brewers fans have the pleasure of watching one of the most dominant relievers in baseball. Hader started that way five years ago and shows no signs of being anything other than that any time soon.