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Milwaukee Brewers decade in review: top-5 seasons by relief pitchers

You’d think it’d be a Josh Hader season, wouldn’t you?

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Milwaukee Brewers Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports

It’s our final look back at the last decade for the Milwaukee Brewers. Today we’re reviewing the best seasons for relief pitchers since 2010.

Yet again, we’re trying to make the system as objective as we possibly can. To do that, we’re using the average of bWAR (Baseball-Reference), fWAR (FanGraphs), and PWARP (Baseball Prospectus). It’s called aggregate WAR (we made it up) and it’s fine.

5. John Axford, 2011 — 73.2 IP || 1.95 ERA || 86 K || 25 BB || 46 SV || 1.140 WHIP || 1.90 Aggregate WAR

Axford was the top closer in baseball in 2011. He went on an insane 35.1 inning streak where he only allowed four runs and didn’t blow a save. Also, he only took two losses on the year. He blew a save on Opening Day against the Cincinnati Reds and then a loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks on the Fourth of July (He also blew a save that the Brewers came back to win).

Axford’s average was helped a lot by his 2.3 bWAR. Regardless, he still had one of the top rankings in the other WAR categories over the decade.

4. Jeremy Jeffress, 2018 — 76.2 IP || 1.29 ERA || 89 K || 27 BB || 15 SV || 0.991 WHIP || 2.38 Aggregate WAR

How insane was Jeremy Jeffress in 2018? He stranded 92.9% of base runners. The 2018 fireman came in with runners on base regularly and left without allowing further damage more often than not.

Jeffress’ performance earned him his first and only All-Star appearance. When Corey Knebel went on the IL and down to AAA, Jeffress took over the closer role and handled it very well. At the end of the season, he suffered from issues with his epilepsy and struggled to perform at the same level in the playoffs.

3. Josh Hader, 2018 — 81.1 IP || 2.43 ERA || 143 K || 30 BB || 12 SV || 0.811 WHIP || 2.48 Aggregate WAR

Hader was ridiculously dominant in 2018. Pitching in his first full season, Hader started establishing himself as one of the best relievers in MLB immediately. His performance was awarded with the Relief Man of the Year at the end of the season.

In 2018, Hader earned the best PWARP and fWAR for a Brewers pitcher in the decade. The FanGraphs WAR hurt his ranking and left him in a very tight third place to...

2. Josh Hader, 2019 — 75.2 IP || 2.62 ERA || 138 K || 20 BB || 37 SV || 0.806 WHIP || 2.50 Aggregate WAR

Surprise, surprise, Hader takes two of the top spots for the decade. In 2019, Hader improved his control (for most appearances) and gained some velo to his fastball. That made him that much more intimidating to hitters than he had already been.

Hader’s season was highlights by his second All-Star and second Relief Pitcher of the Year. It was pretty, pretty, pretty good. But it wasn’t as good as...

  1. Corey Knebel, 2017 — 76 IP || 1.78 ERA || 126 K || 40 BB || 39 SV || 1.158 WHIP || 2.76 Aggregate WAR

I’ll be honest, I didn’t expect Knebel to be first on this list. The Brewers’ closer in 2017 was incredibly dominant, though. In the middle of the season, Knebel went 19 games without allowing a run.

Knebel was put way ahead by bWAR, which gave him the highest score of any category. He also took first for fWAR, but wasn’t nearly as dominant.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus