The way Craig Counsell is using Josh Hader in the second half of the using -- or perhaps more accurately, not using him -- is becoming a pretty significant side storyline as the Brewers have stumbled in the past couple weeks. Those questions have only grown louder as Counsell has opted to use lesser quality relievers in games where the Brewers have trailed by small margins, only to see those pitchers give up more runs to put games out of reach, including Friday night’s game in St. Louis.
Counsell has been pretty clear that he has a set criteria for Josh Hader Appearances: the Brewers need to be ahead or tied in the later innings of a game. That’s become an increasingly rare scenario as the offense has struggled to put runs on the board, the starting pitching has started to waver, and middle relief options trying to get the game to Hader have started to crack. In the 27 games since the All-Star break, the Brewers are 13-14 and Hader has pitched a grand total of 8 times in those 27 games, covering just 10.1 innings.
While Counsell has maintained the only reason Hader isn’t getting into games is because the Brewers (more or less) haven’t been playing well enough to warrant it, he’s also telling reporters that he doesn’t think Hader could have maintained the pace he was on in the first half. From Tom Haudricourt’s notes column:
“What happened was when we started the year, the games worked out where, frankly, he was on an unsustainable pace,” Counsell said. “He was on about a 100-inning pace (through the first two months). And it looked really cool like, ‘Wow, he can do this.’ But he wasn’t going to be able to keep it up.
“Like every other reliever, there have been days he has been sore but nothing out of the ordinary. He’s never been unavailable (when needed). We’re certainly getting to the point where we’re going to get him in a game. But it’s not a bad thing that he has a week (of rest). That’s a good thing for the rest of the year. Josh pitched in the All-Star Game. He didn’t get that rest.
“The pace we were on early in the year, he was fine with it but I believe it would have worn him down if the games would have kept on that pace.”
According to Baseball-Reference’s Play Index, only 6 pitchers that saw all of their innings come in a relief role have hit the 100-inning mark, and nobody has done it since Scott Proctor in 2006. Anthony Swarzak was the most recent pitcher to approach that mark, throwing 96 innings for the Twins in 2013, and he did it while only appearing in 48 games for a team that went 66-96.
Hader is currently sitting at 58.1 innings in 39 appearances, and not only will he not hit 100 innings this year, at his current usage rate he’s no guarantee to even hit 80 innings. Last season, Hader totaled 99.2 innings between Triple-A and the majors, with 47.2 innings coming in relief for the Brewers and 52 innings coming in 12 starts for Colorado Springs.
If you’re optimistic, Counsell’s line saying “we’re getting to the point where we’re going to get him into the game” could mean that the prior thinking on how to use Hader is starting to change.
As Paul Noonan noted over at BP Milwaukee this weekend, if the Brewers were handling Hader’s appearances carefully so he’d be fresh for the stretch run, well, we’re here. With Matt Albers and Joakim Soria on the disabled list and Jeremy Jeffress apparently being saved for the 9th inning, now would be the time to throw the Hader Rules out the window — especially in games against teams the Brewers are directly competing with for a playoff spot.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference