Yesterday, the Milwaukee Brewers called up their top pitching prospect: 23 year old Josh Hader. The long-locked lefty began his career in 2012 as a 19th round pick by the Baltimore Orioles, but has been traded to two different organization since - first to Houston as a part of the Bud Norris trade in 2013, and then to Milwaukee in the Gomez/Fiers deal back in the summer of 2015. He’s seen his stock as a prospect rise exponentially since joining becoming a Brewer farmhand, so what can we expect to see from this promising young arm?
Hader is a taller, lanky pitcher that stands at 6’3” and is listed at 185 lbs. He’s added a fair bit of muscle over the past few seasons, but it’s still not quite the “sturdy” build that is desirable for a starting pitching prospect. He starts in an upright position on the mound and has a hitch early in his delivery, which when combined with his big twist and leg kick, can make him an especially difficult pitcher to time from the batter’s box. He delivers the ball from a low three-quarters arm slot with good arm speed. There’s some effort in the delivery and he has difficulty repeating it, causing him to get wild at times.
Hader has some of the most premium stuff of any left-handed pitcher in the minor leagues. His fastball routinely grades out at plus or better, typically sitting in the 93-97 MPH range and has been clocked as high as 99 MPH in shorter stints, according to Brooks Baseball. Because of his low release point, he generally gets a good amount of arm-side run on the pitch, away from a left-handed batter. His slider features a ton of horizontal movement and is usually thrown in the high-70s. It’s a pitch that he gets a lot of swings-and-misses with that is easily plus when he’s got it working. Finally, Hader’s third pitch is a changeup that lags behind his other offerings a bit. He’s had trouble in the past throwing it from the same release point as his fastball, but he’s gotten a bit more consistent with in recent seasons. He gets good velocity separation from his fastball, with the change usually running 82-86 MPH. As mentioned above, because of his crossfire delivery he can often struggle with his command and will probably never be consistent enough to earn better than a fringe average grade going forward.
Hader has gotten successful results almost from the get-go in the minor leagues, and he owns a career 3.26 ERA across 541.0 innings with 610 strikeouts and 238 walks. He’s struggled to prevent runs at the AAA level, however, though pitching his home games in Colorado Springs no doubt plays a part in that. This season he’s authored a 5.37 ERA in 52.0 innings pitched, though his Deserved Run Average of 9.33 paints him as one of the worst performing pitchers on the circuit. His strikeouts are down this season but he’s still getting Ks against 22.4% of the batters that he’s faced. His ability to pound the zone with strikes has been a significant issue this year, as he’s walked 5.4 batters per 9 innings and his Called Strikes Above Average (CSAA, a command metric from Baseball Prospectus) rate of -3.03% is in the bottom 10 of qualified AAA pitchers. He has also dealt with a significant platoon split, coughing up a .969 OPS to opposing right-handed hitters while holding lefties to a .414 OPS and 35% strikeout rate this season.
Hader’s propensity for both strikeouts and walks give him a tendency for high pitch counts, meaning he isn’t typically able to work deep into games. Last year he threw a career-high 126.0 innings covering 25 starts, and this season in AAA he’d thrown 52.0 across 12 starts. That, along with his slender build, may make it difficult for Hader to stay in the rotation long-term and be able to hold up to pitching 160+ innings in a season consistently. Given those concerns as well as the issues with his command, changeup, and platoon split, Hader’s best role going forward may be as a fireman or high-leverage reliever out of the bullpen. There, his potentially devastating fastball/slider combination could play up and mitigate the concerns that come with having to go through a lineup multiple times.
Josh Hader is joining the Brewers bullpen, per David Stearns. No starts scheduled as of now. More Stearns: pic.twitter.com/TMxblR2X1t— Adam McCalvy (@AdamMcCalvy) June 9, 2017
As things stand now, Hader will slot into the bullpen with no immediate plans to transition him into the big league starting rotation. Eventually the club will look to give him opportunities as a starter and are hopeful that he can be a mid-rotation starter or better at some point down the road, but for now he should provide a boost to the relief corps of the 1st-place Milwaukee Nine.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs, Baseball Prospectus, and Baseball-Reference