A few hours after trading away closer Josh Hader on Monday, the Brewers added a new power arm to their bullpen, acquiring Matt Bush from the Texas Rangers in exchange for Antoine Kelly and Mark Mathias.
The 36-year-old Bush has overcome a pair of injury-riddled seasons to post a 2.95 ERA, 3.42 FIP, and 29.8% strikeout rate in 36 2⁄3 innings for the Rangers this year.
In terms of raw stuff, the right-hander may have been one of the best options available on the relief market this summer. He’s averaging 97.3 mph on his fastball this season, and opponents have hit just .180 with a 29.8% whiff rate against the pitch. His heater has elite spin and excellent rising action, allowing it to play well up in the zone.
However, Bush is no longer the fastball-heavy pitcher he had been in past seasons and is now using his four-seamer less than 50% of the time. The veteran has refined his pitch mix, dropping his slider and changeup and refining his curveball. Bush now uses the hook 32.8% of the time, and opponents are hitting .180 with a 33% whiff rate against it this season.
Finally, Bush has added a cutter as his third pitch, but it has not been nearly as effective. The high fastball and low curveball combination is his bread and butter.
The new pitch mix has turned Bush into a Statcast darling, as he grades out highly in many of Baseball Savant’s advanced metrics.
While his injury history is somewhat of a concern, Bush is a solid addition to the Milwaukee bullpen and is under club control through 2024 via arbitration.
Unfortunately, teams have to give up talent to acquire talent, and the Brewers sent a promising prospect to Texas. Mathias was unlikely to see much playing time with the Crew, but Kelly has shown promise in his first healthy minor-league season. In 91 innings in High-A, the big left-hander’s powerful fastball-slider combination helped him punch out 119 hitters, good for a 30.7% strikeout rate.
That said, Kelly’s walk rate remains a concern, as does his lack of a third pitch. He profiles as a reliever for now rather than a starter. Furthermore, he was eligible for the Rule 5 Draft this winter and would have required a 40-man roster spot to protect him. These factors may have made the Brewers more comfortable with moving him.
With the additions of Bush, Taylor Rogers and Dinelson Lamet, the Brewers have managed to trade away their All-Star closer without dramatically degrading the quality of their relief corps. If anything, their bullpen is deeper and more flexible now than it was 48 hours ago.
For a team that hopes to make a deep playoff run based primarily on run prevention, having as many quality options in the bullpen as possible is vital. Matt Bush plays into that vision extremely well.