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2020 Most Valuable Brewer #7: Josh Hader

The reigning Reliever of the Year’s numbers take a dip in a shortened season.

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

At the start of the 2020 season, I don’t think many of us would believe that Josh Hader would finish seventh in Most Valuable Brewer voting, behind two relievers and neither Christian Yelich nor Keston Hiura finished ahead of him. Well, here we are, headed into the 2020-2021 offseason and Josh Hader might not be the Brewers’ best reliever anymore.

While Hader was still mostly good, there was something very off about him this year. He finished with 19 innings pitched and a 3.79 ERA, his worst ERA of any season since being called up. As the closer, Hader earned 13 saves in the Brewers’ 60 games, which should be important when he comes back to arbitration.

The odd thing about Hader was his already so-so control becoming even worse. Opponents had a 12.8% BB rate against the lefty and his 14.7 K/9 was the lowest of any full season. One of his woes was certainly linked to a dip in velocity. His fastball went down to 95 mph on average, almost a full mile per hour slower than his 2019 campaign. It also wasn’t nearly as effective as usual, carrying only a 0.2 wFB compared to 13.6 the year before and 19.1 in 2018.

Hader also started throwing his slider more than ever before. He went to the pitch 32.2% of the time, which was touted as a change the team and Hader made in the pre-season. While he was using the pitch more, it wasn’t any more dominant than it had been in the past, with just a 3.9 wSL compared to 6.4 in 2019 and 5.7 in 2018.

Now, I hate when people “remove” games, but context is important with the rest of Hader’s performance. A lot of those numbers are impacted by two awful performances. On Aug. 29, Hader came in against the Pittsburgh Pirates and walked five straight batters, letting two runners cross the plate. That game alone is responsible for HALF of Hader’s 2020 walks. Then, on Sept. 12, Hader was pummeled by the Chicago Cubs. The Cubbies scored four runs and hit two homers against Hader. Those are half of the runs given up by Hader all season and 23 of the home runs allowed.

We can’t take those two games out in the season, but we can use them to see how hard Hader was hit by two bad outings in a 60-game season where he only made 20 regular season appearances. It sets Hader up for a great 2021 and a devastating partnership with Devin Williams.