The Milwaukee Brewers have a surplus of young, talented pitching. Guys such as, Brandon Woodruff, Taylor Williams, Adrian Houser, and Corbin Burns. None are more promising than 24 year old Josh Hader. Hader has been hyped up since his arrival via trade with the Astros in 2015. In 2017, Hader burst onto the scene for Milwaukee, becoming their best reliever (outside of Knebel) immediately.
Hader pitched in a long relief role all of last season and excelled, posting a 2.08 ERA, a WHIP of .985, held opponents to a sub .200 batting average, and an absurd strikeout rate of 12.8 K/9. His fastball which tops out at about 97 MPH is very impressive. His electric slider is what really puts him over the top however. He really is the real deal, which leads to many questions for Brewer fans.
With Corey Knebel out, fans have been declaring that Josh Hader should take over the closer role. I am in total agreement with that, as he is easily their best bullpen arm. Matt Albers has been fine in the the two games he had to close out, but he definitely was not “lights out” like you need a closer to be. Jacob Barnes has demonstrated that he is incapable of the role as well. The first blown save he had this year was not his fault due to the errors on the infield. The second one was atrocious though, as he chucked two wild pitches for a blown save. He has 4 saves in 13 career opportunities. He is not good when runners are in scoring position, as he has a career .271 opponent average when there are RISP. He has also struggled against lefties in his career, as they hit .266 off him.
You need your closer to be able to get outs in any situation and that is exactly what Josh Hader can do. Hader has a career .157 opponent average against righties and a minuscule .121 against lefties. His opponent average with RISP? .086. Counsell has shot down the idea of Hader closing and that is just absolutely mind boggling to me. The numbers do not lie, there is no reason not to give Hader a shot.
Brewer fans also want to see Hader crack the starting rotation. There is no doubt Hader has the stuff to be an ace in this league. We do not know how much of a workload Hader can handle yet however. The most innings Hader has thrown was 126 in 2016 in the minor leagues. To be a starter, you need to be able to log 180-200 innings per season. Regardless of that, the Brewers really lack a powerful arm in their rotation (especially with Nelson out). I don’t think there is any harm in giving Hader a few spot starts in the case of an injury.
If you were to take Hader out of the bullpen, it would make it much weaker and there is no denying that. However, I believe Milwaukee has a strong bullpen as is (with Knebel healthy) and they would still be very good without him. Jeremy Jeffress and Matt Albers are good setup guys for Knebel. Barnes, Jennings, and Drake are decent enough arms to keep the bullpen afloat.
I’m afraid that Milwaukee is developing Hader into this Andrew Miller type of pitcher. A guy who can go multiple innings in the bullpen and be absolutely dominant. Miller is very valuable, don’t get me wrong. What is more valuable however, is a guy who can go out and give you that in a starting pitching role. If the Brewers avoid even trying to make Hader into a starter, it is a huge missed opportunity.