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Who is Josh Hader?

Brewers left hander Josh Hader is causing quite a stir thanks to his strike out mania. The Milwaukee reliever began the season with a fascinating 15.3 IP performance in 10 appearances, striking out 31 of 53 batters faced. But the breakout arguably occurred on April 30, 2018, when Hader completed an eight out save (2.7 IP) by striking out eight batters at Cincinnati; only one walk kept it from “perfect outing” status. Since that performance, Hader experienced his first blown save of the year, but was picked up by his teammates for the win, and progressed to another absurd strike out performance in Minneapolis: Hader struck out six batters across 2.3 IP against the Twins to pick up the win in Saturday night’s close contest.

For a team that is seriously out performing their run differential (expected Runs Scored / Runs Allowed record), Hader more than any other pitcher personifies a bullpen that is ready to support their club in any scenario and (usually) bring home the win. Even failings in close games, such as Sunday’s 1-3 loss to the Twins, typically have the stamp of a poor offensive performance, leaving it difficult to fully blame the bullpen or pitching staff as a whole unit. Hader is also quite a thrilling personality, as he exemplifies one of the prospects acquired during the first rebuilding stint (started July 2015 by President Doug Melvin) reaching the MLB in a successful role. Now that Hader is a successful reliever, it’s tough for fans to remember that not even three years ago he was a questionable prospect that could offer many potential futures to the Brewers; now Hader represents a winning club on the field, which undoubtedly enhances his face of the post-rebuilding Brewers.

It’s tough to hang on a role on Hader right now. The southpaw is undoubtedly capable of serving as a closer, as well as a multi-inning fireman in any part of the game. He’s a true strategic role player for the Brewers, but even his elite performance is not enough for some fans; some Brewers fans and analysts continue to question whether Milwaukee should employ Hader as a starter, insinuating that even 27.3 IP, 1.10 DRA, 8 runs prevented (!) of relief work are not enough to settle the question of Hader’s role.

Yet, evidence is emerging that Hader himself is part of a vanguard of multi-inning relievers working in the game. Much of the credit for this trend goes to Andrew Miller, who assembled a thrilling set of multi-inning performances during Cleveland’s 2016 march to an American League Championship. But Miller is hardly the face of this high inning relief movement; in fact, when searching for MLB relievers that work at least 1.50 IP/G and work exclusively during relief (Relief IP / Overall IP = 100%), Andrew Miller is nowhere to be found. What is found, however, is that Josh Hader is one of nine long multi-inning relievers working in 2018; for context, the season is hardly a quarter of the way through, and nearly as many long multi-inning relievers are working in 2018 as worked during 2016-2017 (11. See Table One below).

Table One: Long Multi-Inning Relievers, 2013-present (Minimum 1.50 IP / G, 100% Relief IP)

2013-2018 High IP Relievers Year IP/G IP DRA
Josh Hader 2018 MIL 1.71 27.3 1.10
Tyler Glasnow 2018 PIT 2.06 22.7 3.41
Seth Lugo 2018 NYN 1.71 27.3 4.69
Paul Sewald 2018 NYN 1.76 24.7 3.20
Burch Smith 2018 KCA 1.69 22.0 7.81
Jesse Chavez 2018 TEX 1.93 27.0 2.82
Miguel Castro 2018 BAL 1.66 28.3 4.74
T.J. McFarland 2018 ARI 2.18 28.3 4.38
Austin Pruitt 2018 TBA 2.90 20.3 4.18
Mike Wright 2017 BAL 1.92 25.0 5.01
Albert Suarez 2017 SFN 1.76 31.7 3.40
Casey Lawrence 2017 SEA 1.83 42.0 5.02
Michael Brady 2017 OAK 1.98 31.7 5.62
Chris Smith 2016 OAK 1.90 24.7 2.65
Chris Capuano 2016 MIL 1.50 24.0 4.91
Tyler Lyons 2016 SLN 1.60 48.0 3.18
Brett Oberholtzer 2016 PHI 1.93 50.3 6.34
Odrisamer Despaigne 2016 BAL 1.71 27.3 7.22
Kyle Lobstein 2016 PIT 1.79 25.0 7.33
T.J. McFarland 2016 BAL 1.54 24.7 7.11
Joe Blanton 2015 PIT 1.63 34.3 2.29
Radhames Liz 2015 PIT 1.66 23.3 2.89
Carlos Villanueva 2015 SLN 1.74 61.0 4.07
Brandon Finnegan 2015 KCA 1.74 24.3 5.49
Jeff Francis 2015 TOR 1.57 22.0 5.00
Esmil Rogers 2015 NYA 1.83 33.0 3.41
Scott Carroll 2015 CHA 2.04 36.7 5.31
Anthony Bass 2015 TEX 1.94 64.0 5.29
Pedro Villarreal 2015 CIN 1.72 50.0 5.63
Sugar Ray Marimon 2015 ATL 1.61 25.7 5.21
Stolmy Pimentel 2014 PIT 1.64 32.7 3.40
Todd Redmond 2014 TOR 1.79 75.0 5.18
Alex Wilson 2014 BOS 1.57 28.3 4.99
Jerome Williams 2014 HOU 1.83 47.7 4.86
Paul Clemens 2014 HOU 1.90 24.7 6.42
Chad Jenkins 2014 TOR 1.51 31.7 5.29
Juan Perez 2013 TOR 1.67 31.7 3.53
Adam Ottavino 2013 COL 1.54 78.3 3.52
Tim Stauffer 2013 SDN 1.62 69.7 4.14
Josh Collmenter 2013 ARI 1.88 92.0 3.29
Jesse Chavez 2013 OAK 1.64 57.3 2.39
Jose Cisnero 2013 HOU 1.56 43.7 5.23
Anthony Swarzak 2013 MIN 2.00 96.0 4.29
Anthony Bass 2013 SDN 1.75 42.0 4.38
Ryan Pressly 2013 MIN 1.57 76.7 3.40
Curtis Partch 2013 CIN 1.66 23.3 7.36

What is striking about this trend is that while the long multi-inning relievers employed in 2013 were mostly quality pitchers judged by Deserved Run Average (DRA), from 2014-2017 the arms were mostly unsavory options, which leads one to wonder whether these relievers were closer to the standard “long mop up option” than 2018 Josh Hader. Now, in 2018, Josh Hader is one of several quality long relievers working.

Table Two: Classic Strike Out Relievers, 1962-1994 (Minimum 75% Relief IP, No IP/G Minimum)

Classic K% Relievers Year IP/G K_Index IP DRA
Rob Dibble 1992 CIN 1.12 2.50 70.3 2.50
Skip Lockwood 1975 NYN 2.01 2.43 48.3 2.91
John Henry Johnson 1980 TEX 1.17 2.40 38.7 2.66
Ron Davis 1981 NYA 1.70 2.40 73.0 2.41
Rob Dibble 1991 CIN 1.23 2.38 82.3 2.12
Rob Dibble 1990 CIN 1.44 2.35 98.0 2.05
Bill Caudill 1982 SEA 1.37 2.33 95.7 2.88
Duane Ward 1993 TOR 1.01 2.33 71.7 2.49
Lee Smith 1989 BOS 1.10 2.32 70.7 2.91
Norm Charlton 1993 SEA 1.02 2.30 34.7 2.88
John Hiller 1975 DET 1.96 2.29 70.7 3.38
Tom Henke 1987 TOR 1.31 2.29 94.0 2.59
Rob Dibble 1989 CIN 1.34 2.29 99.0 1.99
Rich Gossage 1981 NYA 1.46 2.29 46.7 2.27
Tom Henke 1989 TOR 1.39 2.28 89.0 2.29
Rich Gossage 1982 NYA 1.66 2.28 93.0 2.75
Bruce Sutter 1977 CHN 1.73 2.24 107.3 2.09
Bryan Harvey 1989 CAL 1.08 2.23 55.0 3.88
Skip Lockwood 1976 NYN 1.68 2.22 94.3 2.24
Bryan Harvey 1991 CAL 1.17 2.20 78.7 2.03
Victor Cruz 1978 TOR 1.48 2.17 47.3 4.58
Rich Gossage 1980 NYA 1.55 2.16 99.0 2.77
Dave LaRoche 1976 CLE 1.58 2.15 96.3 2.96
Mark Littell 1978 SLN 1.48 2.15 106.3 2.47
Dennis Eckersley 1992 OAK 1.16 2.14 80.0 1.77
John Wetteland 1993 MON 1.22 2.14 85.3 2.71
Tom Henke 1986 TOR 1.45 2.12 91.3 2.77
Bobby Ayala 1994 SEA 1.23 2.09 56.7 2.36
Bryan Harvey 1990 CAL 1.19 2.09 64.3 2.72
Dick Radatz 1962 BOS 2.01 2.09 124.7 2.82

Hader’s absurd strike out performance is also worth noting in terms of redefining this long multi-inning reliever role. Hader’s strike out performance can easily be assessed against classic closers, and while his strike outs are exciting, adjusted for era one can find that there are a classic group of MLB relievers and swingmen who ably exceeded the strike out averages of their respective leagues (Table Two, above). 30 years ago, strike out rates were approximately 35 percent lower than current totals, which means that strike out statistics must be normalized or indexed to the league environment in order to compare performances across eras. Using Baseball Reference League Encyclopedia and Baseball Prospectus historical Individual Pitching Stats by Team, I contextualized strike out performance by indexing a pitcher’s individual strike out percentage (K%) to their league’s percentage. By assessing the “K_Index” alongside innings pitcher per game, one can get closer to normalizing relief performance across time and assessing relief pitching excellence. Thus, although we will see below that Hader’s strike out performance is very good, there is a group of historical arms, especially Rob Dibble, Ron Davis, Bill Caudill, Duane Ward, Lee Smith, and Norm Charlton, who compare quite well to Hader while also working significantly more innings (it will be interesting to see if Hader maintains his early strike out brilliance for a 70-to-90 IP workload).

In terms of assessing workload, the Brewers’ young southpaw has yet to reach the 2.0 inning per game threshold, but there is a “classic bullpen era” (1962-1994) set of pitchers that may serve as an aspirational model for designing Hader’s role moving forward. Table Three (below) lists forgotten relievers that worked from 1962-1994 with at least 2.0 IP per game, sorted by strike out excellence.

Table Three: Classic High Strike Out, High Inning Relievers, 1962-1994 (Minimum 2.0 IP / G, 100% relief IP)

Classic High IP Relievers Year IP/G K_Index IP DRA
Skip Lockwood 1975 NYN 2.01 2.43 48.3 2.91
Dick Radatz 1962 BOS 2.01 2.09 124.7 2.82
Jim Kern 1979 TEX 2.01 2.01 143.0 2.42
Dick Radatz 1963 BOS 2.00 2.00 132.3 2.90
Mark Clear 1981 BOS 2.26 1.95 76.7 3.92
Rich Gossage 1978 NYA 2.13 1.90 134.3 2.38
Calvin Schiraldi 1986 BOS 2.04 1.85 51.0 3.72
Karl Best 1985 SEA 2.15 1.84 32.3 3.28
Mark Eichhorn 1986 TOR 2.28 1.80 157.0 2.08
Andy Hassler 1980 CAL 2.02 1.78 83.0 2.45
Tim Stoddard 1979 BAL 2.00 1.76 58.0 2.74
Jose Pena 1971 LAN 2.05 1.75 43.0 2.96
Aurelio Lopez 1979 DET 2.08 1.74 127.0 3.80
Mark Clear 1979 CAL 2.10 1.74 109.0 4.95
Rich Gossage 1975 CHA 2.29 1.73 141.7 2.70
Dewey Robinson 1980 CHA 2.33 1.67 35.0 4.34
John Hiller 1974 DET 2.54 1.64 150.0 3.27
Tippy Martinez 1979 BAL 2.00 1.64 78.0 2.81
Cecilio Guante 1982 PIT 2.70 1.60 27.0 3.57
Steve Senteney 1982 TOR 2.00 1.59 22.0 4.31
Roy Thomas 1983 SEA 2.06 1.58 88.7 3.12
Moe Drabowsky 1967 BAL 2.22 1.57 95.3 2.32
De Wayne Buice 1987 CAL 2.00 1.55 114.0 3.37
Rocky Childress 1988 HOU 2.12 1.55 23.3 4.16
John Henry Johnson 1986 MIL 2.32 1.52 44.0 3.35
Bill Campbell 1977 BOS 2.03 1.51 140.0 3.21
Aurelio Lopez 1983 DET 2.02 1.50 115.3 4.45
Don Aase 1982 CAL 2.17 1.50 52.0 4.18
Frank Wills 1988 TOR 2.07 1.49 20.7 3.40
Jim Acker 1989 TOR 2.02 1.45 28.3 3.11
Mike Boddicker 1982 BAL 3.67 1.45 25.7 4.29
Mark Clear 1983 BOS 2.00 1.43 96.0 5.86
Steve Foucault 1974 TEX 2.09 1.41 144.3 2.79
Win Remmerswaal 1979 BOS 2.54 1.41 20.3 6.10
Tom Burgmeier 1979 BOS 2.02 1.39 88.7 3.01
Eddie Watt 1967 BAL 2.12 1.38 103.7 2.51
Lindy McDaniel 1968 NYA 2.14 1.37 51.3 2.29
George Culver 1972 HOU 2.16 1.37 97.3 4.47
Rich Hinton 1975 CHA 2.49 1.37 37.3 3.34
Bobby Shantz 1962 SLN 2.06 1.37 57.7 2.94

Note that while many of these relievers would not fit “our” current understanding of a closer or high leverage reliever, this group of relievers generally were strike out monsters of their time, compiling relatively high strike out rates during comparably low strike out eras. The DRA follow suit, as 26 of these pitchers posted DRA below 3.50.

Table Four: Modern High Strike Out Relievers, 1995-Present (100% Relief IP)

Wild Card K% Relievers Year IP/G K_Index IP DRA
Eric Gagne 2003 LAN 1.07 2.62 82.3 1.88
Josh Hader 2018 MIL 1.71 2.58 27.3 1.10
Billy Wagner 1999 HOU 1.13 2.55 74.7 2.31
Brad Lidge 2004 HOU 1.18 2.46 94.7 2.50
Armando Benitez 1999 NYN 1.01 2.41 78.0 2.57
Carter Capps 2015 MIA 1.03 2.38 31.0 1.60
Pat Neshek 2006 MIN 1.16 2.33 37.0 2.63
Kenley Jansen 2011 LAN 1.05 2.31 53.7 2.02
Craig Kimbrel 2017 BOS 1.03 2.30 69.0 1.94
Billy Wagner 1998 HOU 1.03 2.24 60.0 2.83
Francisco Rodriguez 2004 ANA 1.22 2.23 84.0 2.38
Aroldis Chapman 2012 CIN 1.05 2.20 71.7 1.98
Joe Nathan 2006 MIN 1.07 2.20 68.3 2.08
Joba Chamberlain 2007 NYA 1.26 2.20 24.0 2.37
Troy Percival 1996 CAL 1.19 2.19 74.0 3.12
B.J. Ryan 2005 BAL 1.02 2.17 70.3 1.96
Billy Wagner 1997 HOU 1.07 2.16 66.3 2.95
Rafael Soriano 2003 SEA 1.33 2.16 53.0 2.67
Troy Percival 1995 CAL 1.19 2.15 74.0 2.69
Grant Balfour 2008 TBA 1.14 2.14 58.3 2.69
Adam Ottavino 2018 COL 1.09 2.14 25.0 1.49
Joe Nathan 2005 MIN 1.01 2.14 70.0 2.53
Andrew Miller 2016 NYA 1.03 2.14 45.3 1.76
Andrew Miller 2016 CLE 1.12 2.13 29.0 2.10
Armando Benitez 1997 BAL 1.03 2.11 73.3 4.08
Brad Lidge 2005 HOU 1.01 2.09 70.7 2.44
Brad Boxberger 2014 TBA 1.03 2.09 64.7 1.83
Octavio Dotel 2004 OAK 1.13 2.09 50.7 2.84
J.J. Putz 2006 SEA 1.09 2.08 78.3 2.34
Jonathan Broxton 2009 LAN 1.04 2.08 76.0 2.52

Assessing “modern” relievers after the beginning of the Wild Card era, it is difficult to find a solid relief role comparison for Hader. Yet, the fun of the southpaw’s strike out performance is that he is an elite pitcher whether one compares his performance with short inning closers or high inning relievers. For example, Table Four (above) demonstrates that Hader’s overall strike out index is better than any modern reliever save for Eric Gagne, and the adjacent presence of Billy Wagner and Aroldis Chapman provide tantalizing southpaw comparisons. Table Four is truly a list of “who’s who” closers over the last 24 seasons, coupled with a few other surprises.

However, part of Hader’s appeal in his current role is that manager Craig Counsell can employ the lefty for six or more outs during a single appearance. This seemingly places Hader in special company within the modern game; after all, only Rafael Soriano, Joba Chamberlain, Francisco Rodriguez, and Troy Percival come close to reaching Hader’s IP / G in Table Four. Thus, it is also worth comparing Hader’s exceptional performance to relievers with similar innings pitched roles. Table Five (below) demonstrates another terrain of the modern game that helps to define Hader’s current value as a reliever.

Table Five: Modern High Innings Workload Relievers Ranked by Strike Out Performance, 1995-Present (Minimum 1.50 IP/G, 100% Relief IP)

Modern High IP Relievers Year IP/G K_Index IP DRA
Josh Hader 2018 MIL 1.71 2.58 27.3 1.10
Norm Charlton 1995 SEA 1.59 2.07 47.7 2.87
Mariano Rivera 1996 NYA 1.77 1.95 107.7 2.95
Keith Foulke 1999 CHA 1.57 1.90 105.3 2.50
Neftali Feliz 2009 TEX 1.55 1.89 31.0 2.90
Scott Williamson 1999 CIN 1.50 1.72 93.3 3.07
Russ Springer 1995 PHI 1.91 1.67 26.7 7.39
Arthur Rhodes 1997 BAL 1.80 1.65 95.3 3.26
Arthur Rhodes 1998 BAL 1.71 1.59 77.0 3.20
Matt Hensley 2004 ANA 1.73 1.52 27.7 4.86
Will Cunnane 2002 CHN 1.64 1.49 26.3 3.61
Fernando Cabrera 2005 CLE 2.05 1.47 30.7 3.96
Grant Roberts 2001 NYN 1.63 1.46 26.0 3.64
Scot Shields 2004 ANA 1.76 1.46 105.3 2.79
Esteban Yan 2003 TEX 1.55 1.45 23.3 5.06
Todd Wellemeyer 2003 CHN 1.85 1.44 27.7 5.24
David Elder 2002 CLE 1.53 1.43 23.0 5.52
Greg Jones 2003 ANA 1.54 1.40 27.7 5.04
Damaso Marte 2001 PIT 1.58 1.40 36.3 3.93
Allen Watson 1999 NYA 1.63 1.39 34.3 5.49
Chris Smith 2016 OAK 1.90 1.39 24.7 2.65
John Bale 2007 KCA 1.54 1.38 40.0 3.53
Joe Blanton 2015 PIT 1.63 1.38 34.3 2.29
Valerio De Los Santos 1998 MIL 1.67 1.37 21.7 3.41
Travis Miller 1998 MIN 1.66 1.36 23.3 4.20
Kevin Gregg 2004 ANA 1.59 1.36 87.7 3.82
Tom Davey 1999 TOR 1.52 1.35 44.0 5.28
Scott Sullivan 1997 CIN 1.65 1.35 97.3 3.74
Dave Borkowski 2001 DET 1.98 1.34 29.7 4.77
Julio Mateo 2003 SEA 1.71 1.34 85.7 3.65
Tyler Glasnow 2018 PIT 2.06 1.32 22.7 3.41
Jim Mecir 1996 NYA 1.55 1.31 40.3 4.22
Al Reyes 1997 MIL 1.56 1.30 29.7 5.25

Once again, Hader shines: whereas the southpaw demonstrated an extremely high workload among the modern closers in Table Four, in Table Five his strike out rate shines among modern pitchers that worked longer outings. Here, more thrilling left handed comparisons emerge, specifically Norm Charlton and Arthur Rhodes. I also expanded Table Five beyond 30 pitchers to showcase Tyler Glasnow, who is another 2018 high inning reliever posting a very strong strike out rate. While Glasnow’s surface statistics do not appear as great as Hader’s thus far, there are peripheral aspects of the righty’s performance that suggest that he could improve. Together, Hader and Glasnow suggest that there may indeed be a sea change in how managers are viewing relief roles (and, perhaps, how front offices are viewing testy starting pitching prospects with delivery and command concerns). The crucial difference between Glasnow and Hader, of course, is that Hader did not need to fail as a starter prior to moving to the bullpen, and it is worth questioning whether that type of player development decision is crucial to Hader’s success as a reliever thus far.

In 2018, Brewers fans are witnessing an elite bullpen, with Hader undoubtedly serving as the sparkplug and the most exciting graduate out of the farm system. The southpaw served as the sparkplug by covering high leverage situations during closer Corey Knebel’s absence, ostensibly giving Counsell more freedom to be more fluid with bullpen roles after Knebel’s return. Hader is arguably the most exciting graduate out of the farm system not only due to his excellent performance during a playoff run in 2017, but due to his enhancement of that role in 2018. With the caveat that much can change over the course of the season, Hader thus far has rightfully sparked excitement by producing a relief performance that has rarely been seen either from elite closers (in terms of innings workload) or high workload relievers (in terms of strike outs). So where will the “regression” take Hader throughout 2018? Hopefully these tables provide numerous comparisons for the lefty, as well as key role comparisons for how MLB managers can use their arms: there is an entire generation of high workload relievers that are forgotten, falling outside of the praise of the classical closers yet giving hints for how a new generation of arms can be employed. Hader and a group of other 2018 hurlers could serve as the vanguard.


 

Photo Credit: David Kohl, USA Today Sports Images


 

References:

Baseball Prospectus. Individual Stats – By Team. CSV retrieved May 20, 2018.

Baseball Reference. League Encyclopedia. CSV retrieved May 20, 2018.

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