Josh Hader the most exciting pitcher in MLB
He has shoulder length red hair, an arm full of tattoos and a mid-90s fastball that hitters are incapable of putting in play. The Milwaukee Brewers’ Josh Hader is dominating Major League Baseball in his sophomore season, and the argument can be made that he is already the best bullpen arm in the sport at the moment.
43 batters across 20 innings
Through his first 12 appearances in 2018, Hader has struck out 43 batters across 20 innings. The highlight of his impressive opening month was April 30 against the Cincinnati Reds, when he struck out all eight of the batters he faced in 2.2 innings. It was the most dramatic outing he’s had in his young career, but it didn’t come out of nowhere. The lefty was striking out 12.8 batters per nine innings as a rookie a year ago. He’s just taken it to another level in his second season (19.35 strikeouts per nine innings in 2018).
Use of his slider
The major difference between last season and now has been Hader’s increased use of his slider. In 2017, the breaking ball made up 11.3 percent of his offerings. This year, it’s up to nearly 30 percent. This has caused hitter’s to chase bad pitches more often while making significantly less contact on those swings. All of this has added up to a 0.9 WAR for Hader already. He had a WAR of 1.1 over the entirety of last season.
As with most relievers, there should be some healthy skepticism that Hader can maintain this pace, especially with the role that is being carved out for him by Brewers management.
Hader is settling into a role out of the Milwaukee bullpen where he is expected to deliver multiple innings of effective relief. Nine of his 12 appearances have lasted longer than one inning, and seven have gone more than two innings. He has two “plus” pitches in his fastball and slider, so it shouldn’t be an issue for him to go more than one inning. However, the more batters he faces, the sooner the league will learn the depths of his abilities.
On balls put in play, hitters have a batting average of just .158 against Hader this season. That could be a combination of two things. First, the lefty is deceptive and his pitches have great break. That makes it difficult for the opposition to square up his pitches and hit them hard with regularity.
Second, he’s getting a little lucky. Hader hasn’t posted a BABIP that microscopic since his first professional season in low-A. While it’s possible he has “turned a corner” and can now induce weak contact more often, it’s also likely that he has been over performing a tad and that his numbers could normalize soon.
A volatile commodity
Hader very well may be the best relief pitcher in baseball. His stats speak for themselves. But bullpen arms have shown to be the most volatile commodity in recent history. He’ll need to stand the test of time before he is considered superior to Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller and the like.