The Milwaukee Brewers traded Josh Hader ahead of the MLB trade deadline last week, taking their four-year established closer out of the 9th inning and leaving a role to be filled. Who should fill that 9th inning role?
There is a plethora of options that manager Craig Counsell and the Brewers could look to employ between players who were here before the trade deadline like Devin Williams and Brad Boxberger or some new faces who arrived after the deadline passed. But which one is the right call?
Who are the options the Milwaukee Brewers have at closer going forward?
The easy answer and the one Milwaukee Brewers fans likely assumed would move into the closing role is Devin Williams. Williams had been in the middle of a 30-game scoreless streak, one of the longest single season stretches in Milwaukee Brewers history. Devin Williams also makes sense as he was the one closing games while Josh Hader was tending to his family earlier in the season.
After a slow start in the first series of the season and a rough outing on May 10th, Williams has been one of the best relievers in baseball, resulting in his first All-Star appearance in 2022. He has his ERA down to 1.70 and ranks near the top percentile rankings with the league’s best in several categories.
Williams is currently sporting 14.7 strikeouts per nine innings. The only issue with him is that he is walking batters more than most pitchers. If Williams can solve the walks, there is no reason why he and his industry-dominating changeup can’t make for a dominant MLB closer.
The next potential option to fill the 9th inning void left by Hader is one guy the Brewers got in the return in Taylor Rogers, who when coming over to Milwaukee was second in baseball in saves to only Hader. As it stands today, Rogers (28) still trails Hader (29) by just one save for the lead in baseball. Rogers has 78 career saves, his other strong save season being the 30 he recorded in 2019 as a member of the Minnesota Twins.
The next internal option the Milwaukee Brewers could use in the 9th inning is former closer Brad Boxberger. Now in his second year with the Brewers and one of Craig Counsell’s most reliable relievers in that time, Boxberger has carved out a pretty defined 7th inning role, which he usually turned over to Williams for the 8th and Hader for the 9th.
However, in his lone season with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2018, Boxberger registered 32 saves, and in 2015 as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays he saved 41 games. Boxberger does have one save for the Brewers this year and a very respectable 2.53 ERA.
Boxberger does a good job of getting batters out multiple ways, not relying too much on trying to get batters to chase pitches for strikeouts, getting a lot of groundouts, and keeping the ball in the ballpark having surrendered just four home runs against 178 batters faced.
There was a wrench thrown in the 9th inning “plans” on Tuesday night when Craig Counsell used Matt Bush to close out the game. Counsell passed on Rogers, who recently had an injection in his knee, and Devin Williams who has had a large workload lately. The recently acquired Bush did a great job Tuesday night and earned just his third save since 2017.
The Brewers will get another arm in the bullpen later in August, when Trevor Rosenthal joins the pen off the injured list. Rosenthal, another trade deadline acquisition, has 132 saves in his career and a career 3.36 ERA. Most recently in 2020, Rosenthal posted a 1.90 ERA in splitting time with the Kansas City Royals and the San Diego Padres.
So, who gets the closing job for the Milwaukee Brewers?
Right now, it’s anyone’s guess, Craig Counsell could opt for the versatility of having potentially five different players that could pitch the 9th inning, a potentially useful arsenal if the Brewers have a stretch of games with no off days.
Additionally, versatility could also be considered uncertainty, which if managed correctly could result in opponents having a harder time game-planning for who they will see later in games. As good as some of the above options may be, a closer-by-committee could be the way to go.
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As we get nearer to the postseason, it is likely that we will get a feel for who Craig Counsell wants to use in the highest leverage situations.