Sometimes prospects totally outperform your expectations once they reach the major leagues. Some of those players are a flash in the pan; so-so prospects that get a shot due to injury or poor performance on the parent club, and can never match their red-hot starts again (Hurricane Bob Hazle for the 1957 Braves, for instance). I am hopeful that we don’t have that situation with #2 BCB prospect from 2017, Josh Hader.
Hader’s stuff has had him pegged as a potential significant piece for the Brewers ever since his acquisition from the Houston Astros in the 2015 deal that netted Domingo Santana, Hader, Brett Phillips, and Adrian Houser for Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers. (That deal has certainly worked for the Brewers so far, and given this year’s results for the Astros they have no complaint.) Josh has mostly been viewed as a starter during his climb through the Brewers’ system, but early in his 2017 campaign for AAA Colorado Springs Milwaukee began shortening his starts to two innings to prepare him for a call-up and insertion into the bullpen. Oh my, did that work out well.
Hader’s stats for the Sky Sox in 2017 won’t blow anybody away. He posted a 5.37 ERA with an xFIP of 4.99, and in 12 starts worked 52.1 innings. He struck out 8.83 per nine innings, his first time below 9 per game since 2013 in the Orioles’ system. He walked 5.37 per nine (ouch), and control has always been an issue during his minor league career. A 25.5% homerun/flyball rate (wow!) led to 2.48 dingers per nine innings.
But somewhere between the Sky Sox rotation and the bullpen at Miller Park Hader discovered something. That something was probably the opportunity to not pace himself for a long start, and the opportunity to throw his fastball almost exclusively. He used the three-quarters delivery fastball 81.3% of the time and averaged 94.3 mph on the pitch. The Brewers used him frequently for multiple innings (47.2 innings in 35 appearances, 14 of which were for more than an inning), and when given days off between said appearances he was able to maintain that velocity. After his early June call-up and insertion into the pen, Hader gave the Brewers a 2.08 ERA (3.66 xFIP), and struck out 12.84 per nine.
Walks were still a concern (4.15 per nine), but he only walked two over his last 16.1 innings. Homers dropped to 0.76 per nine. Opposing batters hit just .154 off of Josh, and his WHIP was 0.99 (his AAA WHIP had been 1.54). Josh produced a 1.1 WAR for his first season.
Due to the injury to Jimmy Nelson and rising expectations of division and wild card contention, many are looking for a return to the rotation for Hader next year. His AAA numbers are likely somewhat inflated by the rarefied air of Colorado Springs, but the incredible success he has had as a reliever suggest to me that the Brewers would be much better off with Josh reprising his role as a multi-inning mid to late game fireman for at least the 2018 season.
BCB members got this one right. Josh Hader is a bona fide major leaguer, and I expect good things from him in the future. As good as 2017? Probably not. He was surprisingly dominant, and numbers like that are hard to duplicate. But he didn’t look like he had sudden collapse potential, at least not as a reliever.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs.com