Josh Hader may be the best relief pitcher in all of baseball. However, even a two-time All-Star and former Reliever of the Year winner can’t escape the occasional slump.
This season, Josh Hader is 2-5 with a 2.77 ERA and 0.795 WHIP in 55.1 innings pitched. He has also added 102 strikeouts and 25 saves. Yes, these numbers look dominant but they don’t tell the full story of Hader’s season. Since July 1st, and Hader’s last 13 appearances, he has pitched 14.2 innings and given up 11 runs with 9 of them being earned. This run to inning ratio is enough for a disappointing 5.52 ERA. In this span, opponents are hitting .262 against Hader with an OPS of .935. Also, Hader is 1-2 with 4 holds, 5 saves, and 3 blown saves.
Before this slump, Hader had an ERA of 1.77 in 40.2 innings and 20 saves with only 1 blown. Opponents were hitting just .098 against the lefty. Hader’s recent struggles beg to ask the question, what is going on with Milwaukee’s most reliable bullpen arm?
It almost seems like hitters are starting to figure out Josh Hader. Opposing teams are either attacking the first pitch or doing what they can to get ahead in the count. Hitters have a remarkable .375 batting average with an OPS of 1.625 when they attack the first pitch, which is almost always a fastball. If they lay off the first pitch and get ahead in the count 1-0, batters are hitting just as well with a .364 average. Hader throws his fastball 87.4% of the time and his slider only 12.3%. Simply put, Hader isn’t throwing enough sliders to get batters on their toes, allowing them to sit fastball and attack the pitch they’re looking for. Lastly, when hitters are making contact with a Hader pitch, they are hitting it higher and further than they used to. For example, his home run percentage per fly ball is up 13.7% from 2017 and 8.1% from last year. This is a problem because his fly ball rate is also almost 10% higher than last year’s.
It looks like Josh Hader is developing a closer mentality considering he has an ERA of 1.71 in ninth innings and a 4.95 when he pitches anywhere else. Maybe to rid Hader of his struggles all the Brewers have to do is pitch Hader in the inning he’s most effective. However, I think it’s a much deeper issue where Hader needs to mix up his pitches more consistently to stay dominant. Whatever it is, I hope Josh Hader and the Brewers figure it out considering they are only 0.5 games back of a Wild Card spot and will need Hader to be lights out to stay in the race.
*Stats according to baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.com*