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2019 Most Valuable Brewer #5: Josh Hader

He set a team record for most saves by a lefty this year.

St Louis Cardinals v Milwaukee Brewers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

The 2019 season was a bit of a mixed bag for Josh Hader. He entered as the Brewers' most dominant reliever, and was expected to keep that title throughout the season. While he did prove that he is still the most dominant reliever for the team, it didn’t come without some bumps throughout the season.

Hader’s season started off strong. In his first six games, he pitched nine innings, recording five saves. He allowed a total of three hits and two walks, along with no runs. He also struck out 15 of the 32 batters he faced. Whether it was a single inning or multiple inning appearance, he was nearly unhittable.

Then, batters started to figure him out. He relied so heavily on his fastball that batters were able to use that to their advantage. In his next five appearances spanning from April 15 to 30, he allowed a home run in four of them. That accounted for the only four hits he allowed in that span. The Brewers still won three of those games and he recorded two more saves, but he wasn’t as invincible as he had originally shown.

As the calendar turned to May, Hader seemed to put that home run issue behind him. In the next two months, he only allowed one home run per month, and was back to being nearly unhittable. In those two months, he recorded an ERA of 0.75 and allowed just five hits and seven walks. He struck out over 50% of the batters he faced (41 strikeouts to 81 batters faced), and the only two runs he allowed were those two home runs (both solo shots). He also ended up being the primary closer, recording another 12 saves over that span. The Brewers were still not hesitant to use him multiple innings when necessary, and two inning saves were a common sight.

However, the home run issue wasn’t gone just yet. As July arrived, the home runs came back as well. Over the next two months, Hader would allow seven more home runs. Frustration built as he started blowing saves, and in a five game span to start August, he blew the save in four of them. His strikeout rate was down over those two months (34 strikeouts to 92 batters faced), though his walk rate didn’t increase (only 5 allowed over those two months). Frustration built as games that were once well in hand with him on the mound suddenly turned into uncertain affairs.

September hit and Hader eventually got back to his dominant form. He did allow two home runs in the month, but games were under control with him in the game again as he recorded ten saves in his thirteen appearances, with just one blown save in there. He was back to striking out over 50% of batters faced (27 K to 53 batters), and only allowed three runs in total (all coming on the home runs). The season did end on a bit of a down note as one of the home runs he allowed was in his final game of the regular season against the Rockies, and an unlucky inning in the Wild Card game punctuated his season.

Overall, the season was a success for Hader. He tied for third in MLB and led the National League with 37 saves, and was second among pitchers for the Brewers with a 2.3 fWAR. He also led the team with a 16.41 K/9 rate and was third in walk rate at 2.38 BB/9 (min 10 IP). The one concern going forward is his home run rate, but if he doesn’t rely on his fastball so much and mixes in his slider, that should not be as much of a problem.

The Brewers still have four years of control left on Josh Hader. However, his salary is about to take a big jump up. Despite being at only 2 years and 115 days of service, a low Super Two cutoff will send him into arbitration early. MLB Trade Rumors predicts that he will receive $4.6 million in his first year. It’s well-deserved for him, and he should be a staple in the bullpen for the next several years.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs.