The Brewers spent the past week on the road with tests against both the St. Louis Cardinals and the New York Mets. While they started the week well with two wins against the Cardinals, the Brewers dropped two games in New York: a poor performance from Zach Davies and a walk-off home run by Wilmer Flores against Matt Albers.
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On Saturday, Josh Hader earned his first career save, striking out five Mets in two innings of work, allowing no baserunners. The outing continued Hader’s dominance this season, as he has now struck out twenty two of the thirty-four batters he’s faced. Based on his 9.7 innings this season, Hader has a K/9 of 20.5, which would have led MLB last season amongst all pitchers with at least 10 games. Hader already produced great numbers in his debut last season, but he’s taken things to another level in 2018.
There’s been some alteration to his pitch mix when compared with 2017:
Hader is following the hot trend of mixing in more breaking balls at the expense of his fastball. It also appears that he’s ditched his changeup. He threw it thrice in one game this season, but otherwise hasn’t used it. The increased slider usage has fueled the rise in his swing rate from 52.05 percent to 55.40 percent, and his swinging strike rate from 37.83 percent to 43.84 percent. Comparing 2017 with 2018, his fastball swing and swinging strike percentages have remained stable while batters are offering (and missing) more at his slider. Batters have only managed one single off the pitch.
In 2017, Hader rarely used his slider against right handers. He generally pumped fastballs and relied more on his changeup if he wanted to mix things up. While he still throws the slider more to left handed batters, Hader now will come at righties with a slider, most frequently on the first pitch of an at bat. He’s gotten better at burying that pitch low and inside, compared with the few times he threw it in 2017. Josh Hader has cemented himself as an important piece of the bullpen. On a team with questionable starting pitching, a relief ace is important to bridge those middle innings on days where the starter can’t go long. Hader was very good last season, but if these gains stay, he’s among the best relief pitchers in MLB, keeping batters unbalanced and swinging and missing more than ever.
On Wednesday, Junior Guerra made his season debut against the Cardinals. He pitched 5.1 innings, allowing one run on four hits and two walks, while striking out four batters. After his breakout 2016 campaign, Guerra struggled amid injuries last season. If he can regain some of his success from 2016, then he can be a valuable starter behind Chase Anderson and Zach Davies, as well as Jimmy Nelson after he returns from injury.
Guerra still pitches primarily off his fourseam fastball, throwing it for his half his pitches, which is in line with his previous seasons, with some slight increases in his sinker and slider usage, at the expense of the splitter. For one game, nothing particularly noteworthy in terms of a new pitch mix.
Batters swung at his individual pitches at around the same rate as his past seasons, except for his sinker. Guerra was wild with the sinker all day. Ideally, he’s throwing the pitch in on his arm side and low, making it a tough pitch for both lefties and righties, but on Wednesday, the pitch was all over the strike zone plot, with not as many of those pitches as low as he’d like.
Out of Guerra’s four strikeouts on the day, two strike threes came on his fourseam fastball, which is his secondary weapon with two strikes. Usually, his splitter is the pitch that gets whiffs, but he only got one swing and miss in that start. The vertical and horizontal movement on the splitter was comparable with past seasons, so it’s likely this was a one start anomaly.
The good news is that Guerra is back, and he looks like the same pitcher. If he can take the mount on a regular basis and provide six innings a start, that will be a huge boost to a team that needs some stability to start games. If he can get batters flailing at his splitter like they did in 2016, then he can be a very good mid rotation arm for the Brewers.
Up Next: The Brewers return home and have seven games at Miller Park, which will be a sight for sore eyes after the weather this weekend in New York. The competition this week will also be not be at the same level as the Cardinals and the Mets. Cincinnati arrives first for three games. The Reds are currently last in the NL Central, as well as 29th in the most recent BP Hit Lost. Coincidentally, the team that’s last on the Hit List comes to town immediately afterwards as the Miami Marlins make their visit to Milwaukee for four games.
Photo Credit: Scott Kane, USA Today Sports Images