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There is hope yet for Matt Albers

It was a tale of two seasons in 2018.

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Milwaukee Brewers Photo Day Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images

Assuming he is healthy, Matt Albers will have a spot on the Opening Day roster for the Milwaukee Brewers.

That revelation, which came from manager Craig Counsell at the outset of Spring Training, was much to the dismay of many fans of our local nine. After all, this is the pitcher who allowed multiple runs in nine of his final 12 outings of 2018 on his way to finishing with a 7.34 ERA across 34 appearances. Albers, of course, was excluded from postseason action.

The end results suggest that the reliever’s 2018 was a total disaster, but really it was a tale of two seasons. Prior to June 1st, Albers appeared to be on his way to one of the finest years of his lengthy big league career. He quickly became one of Counsell’s most trusted relievers, getting the ball 21 times through the first 55 games of the season, but things quickly began to unravel for the right-hander following Memorial Day weekend.

It was around the beginning of June that Albers’ shoulder starting barking. He allowed three runs in 3.0 innings during his first three appearances of the month before the stuff really hit the fan on June 11th. Albers was tagged for five runs while recording only two outs against the Cubs at home that day, and after the game was placed on the injured list. He wouldn’t return again until late July, but after yielding multiple runs in his first four outings after being activated, he was once again sent to the IL, this time with a hamstring strain. He came back in late August and was a non-factor during the playoff run in September. Albers made only 13 appearances after June 1st and was scored upon in ten of them, including nine times for multiple runs.

Clearly, the injuries played a significant role in Albers’ diminished effectiveness. His velocity remained relatively steady, but his balky shoulder was keeping him from placing the ball where he wanted to in the strike zone. Batters were teeing off as Albers struggled catching too much of the plate, registering an outrageous 50% rate of hard contact and eight homers given up in 9.1 innings after June 1st.

Matt Albers 2018

Time frame Innings Pitched ERA FIP K% BB% HR/9 SwStr% Hard Contact% GB%
Time frame Innings Pitched ERA FIP K% BB% HR/9 SwStr% Hard Contact% GB%
Before June 1st 25 1.08 3.24 22.3 5.3 0.72 12.2 31.3 49.2
After June 1st 9.1 24.11 14.52 17.5 11.1 7.71 8.5 50 40.5
Career 699.1 4.29 4.48 17 9.4 1.02 7.9 27.8 51.9

But Albers’ numbers from his first two, healthy months of the season should inspire some hope for 2019. He hasn’t typically been one to generate a lot of strikeouts as a big leaguer, instead thriving on limiting hard contact and keeping the ball on the ground. He was doing both of those things during the beginning of the season, allowing a rate of hard contact more than four points below the league average while inducing grounders nearly half the time the ball was put in play against him. His swinging strike rate was on pace to be a career-high and he was limiting walks at his best rate ever.

Albers worked hard over the winter to strengthen his shoulder in an effort to stay healthy through the whole upcoming season. He also got with teammate Jhoulys Chacin and picked his brain regarding the way he grips both his sinker and slider. Albers plans on using his four-seam fastball more often and pitching ‘up’ in the zone with greater frequency, two changes that he began to make during his first year in Milwaukee in 2018.

According to Counsell, the most important thing for Albers is that he has a fresh, healthy arm for the 2019 season. He was one of the most effective relievers in baseball last year before a spate of injuries took their toll, and has looked good so far in limited action this spring. Albers says his work with Chacin has helped to produce improved velocity and spin rate according to the TrackMan data. In his first two appearances covering two scoreless innings, Albers has yielding one hit and two walks while punching out four of the eight batters that he’s faced.

Matt Albers is not one of “electric dudes” in the back end of Milwaukee’s bullpen, but the man Craig Counsell dubbed as “pitch maker” will get plenty of opportunity to prove he’s back to peak form in 2019. As long as he stays healthy, there is reason to hope that he will be up to the task.

Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs