For the first two months of 2018, you could have argued that Matt Albers was one of the three best pitchers in the Milwaukee Brewers’ bullpen.
Then, of course, we got to June and everything seemed to fall apart.
Despite that, it looks like Craig Counsell and David Stearns are willing to bet — at least to start the year — that the Albers we saw in the first half before his injury woes struck is closer to the real thing than the version with no movement on his pitches we saw in the second half.
Today, Adam McCalvy reports that according to Counsell, Albers is a lock to make the Opening Day roster:
This shouldn't surprise anyone thinking logically, but Craig Counsell said it today so I'll pass it along: Matt Albers is on the team. He's in the group of relievers with set jobs who won't get into Cactus League games right away because there's no need to rush them.— Adam McCalvy (@AdamMcCalvy) February 22, 2019
The veteran right-hander gave up a grand total of 3 earned runs in his first 21 appearances in 2018, striking out 21 batters and walking just 5 in 25 innings. He looked like another bargain signing by David Stearns and the guy who had seemingly made a breakthrough the year before in Washington.
But then things went downhill in a hurry.
He matched his season total by allowing 3 earned runs in his first two appearances in June, including back-to-back home runs to the White Sox’ Daniel Palka and Adam Engel that led to an embarrassing home series loss to one of the worst teams in the league. He was likely due for some regression at that point, and as frustrating as those outings were, he seemed to bounce back in his next appearance when he threw 1.2 scoreless innings against the Phillies in Philadelphia.
But then he was clubbed to the tune of 5 runs in just 2⁄3 of an inning against the Cubs, landed on the DL with shoulder soreness the next day, and was never the same.
He wouldn’t return until July 29th, when he made an appearance against the San Francisco Giants, got rocked again (3 ER in 2⁄3 of an inning), and then three more times over the next week (7 ER in 1.1 total innings) before landing on the DL again until late-August — this time for a hamstring injury. He would return in September but was largely only trusted in a mop-up role.
Albers is due $2.5 million this season in the second and final year of his contract with the Brewers, and it looks like the team is willing to at least see what he has at the start of the year.
While there may be some who are dismayed to see him basically guaranteed a job when there could be plenty of competition for the last couple of bullpen spots, it’s likely worth the gamble. If he’s the same Matt Albers he was in Washington and to start 2018, the Brewers have another cheap and effective bullpen arm. If his shoulder is still shot, they’re off the hook after this season anyway and they’ll pay him the rest of his $2.5 million to move on.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference