MVBrewers Honorable Mention: John Axford

David Banks-US PRESSWIRE

John Axford's struggles will define his 2012 season, but his pitching to end it may provide hope for a rebound year in 2013.

MVBrewers is a player-by-player look at the most valuable members of the 2012 Brewers, as voted on by you. Here's our top ten:

1. Ryan Braun
2. Aramis Ramirez
3. Yovani Gallardo
4. Corey Hart
5. Norichika Aoki
6. Jonathan Lucroy
7. Carlos Gomez
8. Zack Greinke

9. Marco Estrada
10: Mike Fiers

Honorable Mentions: Martin Maldonado, Rickie Weeks, Jim Henderson, Mark Rogers, Shaun Marcum, Wily Peralta, Jean Segura, Jose Veras, John Axford

The series now continues with Honorable Mentions, to cover some of the Brewers we've missed. This is the ninth installment in that segment. You can see all the player profiles in the Most Valuable Brewers 2012 section. The series continues Monday with the final Honorable Mention.

Coming in to 2012, John Axford was coming off of a career year. He recorded a 1.95 ERA with 46 saves in 2012, including a string of 43 consecutive saves to end the year. He also had a 1.29 ERA in 6 postseason appearances with 3 saves. He also received some postseason award votes, ending up 9th in the NL Cy Young vote and 17th in the NL MVP vote. It was unrealistic to expect him to be that stellar again, but they had hoped for something better than what they got.

Let's start with the good points of the season. Axford did pitch some critical innings for the Brewers as their primary closer in 2012. He recorded 35 saves and finished 54 games. His strikeout rate was also up to 12.1 K/9 through the year. Overall, he did what was needed to keep the Brewers in most of the games he pitched.

However, the rough stretches and other struggles will be what defines Axford's 2012 season. His BB/9 rate jumped up from 3.1 in 2011 to 5.1 in 2012, which highlights the control issues that he had. His HR/9 rate also jumped from 0.5 in 2011 to 1.3 in 2012. Finally, his ERA had a major jump, going from 1.95 to 4.67.

If you look at his performance by month, you can see where his roughest patches came in:

Month G IP SV BS K BB HR ERA Batting Line
April 9 7.2 5 0 13 6 0 4.70 .273/.383/.303
May 12 11.2 5 1 18 5 0 2.31 .200/.294/.311
June 10 10.0 3 3 10 7 4 9.00 .231/.348/.615
July 15 15.1 4 3 17 5 3 4.70 .255/.323/.436
August 12 9.1 5 1 13 7 0 5.79 .289/.391/.289
Sept./Oct. 17 15.1 13 1 22 9 3 2.93 .161/.277/.357

Axford's struggles in June and July would lead to a change at closer in 2012, as a few other players received chances to close. However, with no one dominating the role, Axford would eventually reclaim the role and lock it down again with solid pitching through the last part of the season.

There is some cause for optimism entering 2013. Axford's performance over the last month and a half helped the Brewers make their run to end the season. After a blown save in Colorado on August 10th, he converted 17 of 18 save chances and recorded a 3.38 ERA through the end of the season. His fastball velocity was also up in 2012 (95.5 MPH in 2011, 96.1 MPH in 2012), so there's no concern about a loss of velocity. If he can fix his control issues and get his walk rate down, he could get back on track in 2013 and be a valuable asset for the Brewers again.

Best Game

In a game against the Cubs on June 7th, the Brewers had tied the game in the 8th inning and called on John Axford to keep the game tied. He pitched a clean ninth inning, then came back out to repeat his performance in the tenth inning. He only struck out one batter that day, but retired all six batters he faced and set the game up for Norichika Aoki to win it in the bottom of the tenth inning with a solo home run.

For those of you looking for a highlight, here's one for you. While it wasn't his best save of the season, it may have been his most exciting. It was a strike out-throw out double-play on April 29th for Axford's fifth save of the season:

Contract Status

John Axford will enter his first year of arbitration in 2013, and he is in line for a massive raise. He made $525,000 in 2012, and early projections put him around $5.1 million in his first year of arbitration. He will also be eligible for arbitration in 2014 and 2015, and will be a free agent in 2016.

Considering what some closers have made in arbitration, John Axford could be in line for some big paydays if he gets back on track. Here's a few closers who recently went through arbitration, along with what they made each time:

Player 1st Arbitration 2nd Arbitration 3rd Arbitration 4th Arbitration
Jonathan Papelbon $6.25 Million $9.35 Million $12 Million
Brian Wilson $6.5 Million $6.5 Million $8.5 Million (2013)
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