The Brewers saw their season come to an unfortunate end in Atlanta when their up-and-down offense fizzled to a postseason halt. With the World Series a few games in and the official off-season quickly approaching, it is time to look back and reflect on the season that was for the Crew. Let’s start with All-Star closer Josh Hader, a key part of Milwaukee’s elite pitching staff.
1. Hader had an excellent season
Entering the year as one of baseball’s top relief pitchers, Hader might have had his best seasons yet. His 1.23 ERA was nearly a full point lower than his previous career best. This year, he was strictly a single inning relief pitcher and he ended up appearing in 60 games, which was only one game short of tying his his single season high in appearances. His 34 saves in 2021 was his second most in a season as well.
His strikeout to walks allowed ratio was above four, he allowed just three home runs all year, and his ERA+ was 135 points higher than his previous best. Batters hit a paltry .127 against him with a slugging percentage below .200. He produced a WPA (win probability added) of 4.9 and a WAR (wins above replacement) of 3.3. Pick any stat you want and odds are that Hader excelled.
Among qualified relief pitchers, he finished fifth in saves. He was the only pitcher with at least 30 save opportunities to blow less than four saves, blowing just one during the regular season. His 97% save percentage led all closers. This was an elite all-around effort. There’s nothing more you could ask of a closer.
We did see one interesting shift this year, as Hader pitched in multiple innings zero times after doing that with at least some regularity in the past. Given the effects that came with that approach, it’s hard to see Craig Counsell going back anytime soon. One-inning Hader is likely here to stay.
2. He would ideally be a fixture in Milwaukee well into the future
Elite closers are nice to have. It is a good feeling knowing that the ninth inning is all but locked up if you can get there with a lead. That is a luxury the Brewers have right now. It’s true that Hader’s season, like that of the team as a whole, ended on a sour note when he gave up a go-ahead homer to Freddie Freeman, but that shouldn’t be a concern moving forward. In 14.1 postseason innings, he’s given up just three runs with a WHIP (walks + hits per inning) below 1. He’s allowed a score in just two of eleven appearances. The man has been just as good of a pitcher in the post-season. With two years remaining until Hader hits free agency, there’s not a single on-field reason for him being in a different uniform any time soon.
3. Any potential trade would require a king’s ransom
With that said, there are some potential financial roadblocks approaching. Hader’s salary is going to rise substantially these next two years in arbitration, in fact he is projected to make $10MM in 2022. Following arbitration, you have the value of a new free market deal to worry about. The unchangeable reality is that Milwaukee has payroll limitations, and you can eventually get to a point where you start to wonder whether paying 10+ percent of that payroll to a single inning reliever makes sense, especially with how badly the offense has been struggling these last two years. In other words, might those resources be better spent elsewhere?
Regardless of the answer to that question, it’s clear that any trade that does occur will require one heck of a return. When the Cubs acquired Aroldis Chapman as a rental back in their World Series season, the return was headlined by a bona fide stud of a prospect in Gleyber Torres. Hader has more than eighteen months more of team control than Chapman did at the time. If the Brewers pull the trigger on a trade at some point before or during next season, expect to feel good about what comes back, even if it really hurts to see Hader go. I, for one, would rather keep him, but the financial reality and the potential to really upgrade the offense are certainly worthy considerations. It’s worth thinking about if the right offer comes.
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