Josh Hader strikes out hitters at a remarkable clip. In fact, he is punching out opposing hitters 55.8% of the time in 2019. He even has an immaculate inning to his credit this year. Due to injuries to the other two members of the “Electric Dudes,” Hader has also taken on the closer role in many of the games, logging seven saves to this point. But all is not right in Hader-ville.
Josh Hader seems to be giving up a lot of home runs this year. In fact, after Ian Desmond’s two-run shot, Hader has given up four home runs in 11 appearances on the year. If you will notice in that Desmond at-bat, Yasmani Grandal wants the pitch up and on the outer half. Hader misses his location badly, and the pitch ends up low and on the inner half of the plate instead. Desmond is hitting .173 against opposing pitchers fastballs, so the Brewers were probably confident in getting him out with a fastball away. The problem is that Hader missed his spot significantly giving Desmond a chance that paid off for him.
If we go back to the first game of the year, there were signs that the home run ball might be a problem. The elation that Lorenzo Cain gave Brewer Nation after robbing Jose Martinez was great, but could it have masked something problematic with the dominant reliever? Again look where Grandal sets up. He wants the pitch low and off the plate. Hader misses as he gets the ball up more than Grandal wants and the pitch get too much of the plate.
Since his outing on April 15 against St. Louis, Josh Hader has given up all four of his home runs allowed in 2019. Marcell Ozuna got him on the 15th with a solo shot. In this at-bat, Hader does not miss his spot as badly as in other instances. Yet he does miss, and he misses it over the heart of the plate. Fortunately, that home run meant little to the outcome of the game, so que sera, sera. Josh Hader is still great, no worries.
Hader would give up home runs in big spots just a few days later though. On April, 19, Kiki Hernanez hit a three-run shot off of him that would cost the Brewers the game. In this at-bat, Grandal sets up low and inside. Hader’s pitch was up and over the plate. Hernandez took advantage of the mistake.
Two days later, Cody Bellinger would walk the Brewers off. In this at-bat, the catcher is setting up low and outside. In this case, the pitch called for is a slider, and the catcher is expecting the pitch to be well off the plate. Hader hangs the slider over the middle of the plate, and parks it over the right field wall to end the game. Time to worry?
Four home runs and one almost home run off arguably the best reliever in baseball. What do they have in common? Every pitch missed location over the heart of the plate. I am sure that would not be unusual if we took every pitcher’s home runs and assessed location vs. catcher set up. The problem is that Hader is lauded for his command. In each instance, his command is off significantly with the exception of the Ozuna home run. In every case, those pitches were barreled. Unfortunately for Hader, when opposing hitters barrel him, they hit him harder than just about any other pitcher in MLB. The advanced statistics suggest that it is so bad that is scary.
Hader is in the 1st percentile in hard hit percentage. He is in the first percentile in exit velocity. Not shown below, he is in the 1st percentile in barrel percentage too. First percentile in this case is really, really bad. On the flip side, he is in the 100th percentile in strike out percentage, and that is really, really good. Unfortunately when MLB hitters hit Hader, they hit him hard.
If we look at location of pitches thrown by Hader, we can see where he gets hit the hardest. Generally if he misses over the plate, and the batter is able to catch up to his fastball, they hit the ball hard. At the same time, batters hit the ball pretty hard everywhere. Hader’s fly ball percentage is 70%. His ground ball percentage is 20%. That is an extreme variance to be concerned with. Batters, when they hit the ball, not only hit the ball hard, but get the ball in the air a lot. The combination is not a good one for a pitcher.
Just to illustrate further, here are the StatCast locations of some of the pitches thrown by Hader that resulted in high exit velocity. First is the Cody Bellinger homer.
Next is Ozuna’s homer on April 15.
Next is not a home run, but a double by David Freese. Exit velocity was 110 mph!
There have been just seven hits against Hader showing up on StatCast (there are only six illustrated in the matrix below as StatCast has yet to include the Desmond home run). You can see where each pitch was located. Results are a single, two doubles, and three home runs (plus Desmond home run to make four).
All of this might just suggest that batters are sitting on his fastball over the middle of the plate. Hader is using his fastball 86% of the time. We all marveled earlier in the year when he was using his fastball and just his fastball to lay waste to the opposition. The league (primarily the very intelligent Dodgers) made an adjustment. Others will follow. Everyone knows Hader is coming with his fastball so they are selling out and hunting it. It may be time to utilize the slider as more than just a pitch to get a batter out when they have two strikes. As you can see below, he uses the pitch most often when hitters have two strikes.
So it looks like Josh Hader has a few things to think about:
- His fly ball percentage is at 70% currently. In his previous two seasons, those percentages were around 50%. The result is that his HR/FB percentage currently is 28.6%. Last year it was 14.5%. The likelihood is that those percentages will come back to previous norms. That is very good news and suggests that he is just going through a funk that will turn.
- He is missing his spots enough to be concerned. When batters hit him, they are hitting location mistakes with his fastball (except for the hanging slider to Bellinger on April 19). Batters are sitting on his fastball looking for that mistake and capitalizing right now. He is at the bottom of MLB in barrel percentage, hard hit percentage, and exit velocity. Hader must adjust, because MLB hitters are going to make contact at least 50% of the time. He and the Brewers want that contact to be less violent. With that in mind, he might want to really think about the third thing.
- He needs to throw the slider more. Batters are not off balance enough. His slider should change that if he increases its usage. Just for reference, Hader threw his slider 20.6% of the time last season. Maybe it would behoove him to approach that level of usage again. That also might allow him to get away with some of those location mistakes that seem to haunt him currently.
Baseball statistics courtesy of Fangraphs, Baseball Reference, and Baseball Savant