Brewers Past and Present: Josh Hader

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When Josh Hader was traded to Milwaukee in 2015, it was clear the team had acquired a lefty with raw talent. Case in point: in his short professional career, Hader quickly increased his pitching velocity from 84 mph to 95 mph. The prospect showed tremendous potential, especially if he could harness his power.

Early Career

Josh Hader had a successful high school pitching career and was set to start community college in 2012. Those plans changed when he was drafted in the 19th round by the Baltimore Orioles. He immediately transitioned into the rookie league and then to Class A ball. In 17 appearances, Hader finished with a 1.88 ERA in his first year. In 2013, he again started with one of the Orioles’ Class A teams before being traded to the Astros organization in July. He continued playing Class A ball for the Quad Cities River Bandits and was moved up to play for Class A-Advanced Lancaster. He finished 2013 with a 2.77 ERA in 107 innings pitched.

In 2014, Josh started the year with Lancaster in the California League. He quickly made his presence known when he and two relievers combined their efforts in pitching a a no hitter. Hader had a 9-2 record before he moved up to Class AA with the Corpus Christi Hooks in August. There was a bit of a learning curve, but Josh finished 2014 with a combined 3.28 ERA in 123.1 innings pitched. He began 2015 with Corpus Christi, starting 10 games and appearing in another seven. Prior to his trade to the Brewers, Hader pitched in 63 innings and had an ERA of 3.17.

With The Crew

2015

The Astros traded Josh Hader to the Brewers organization in July 2015. The same transaction brought outfielders Domingo Santana, Brett Phillips and pitcher Adrian Houser to the team. Hader pitched well in the minors with the AA Biloxi Shuckers, appearing in seven games and finishing the year with a 3.03 combined ERA.

2016

In 2016, the Brewers invited Josh to training camp, giving him a small taste of the Big Leagues. After Spring Training, he started the season in Biloxi where he pitched in 11 games, notched 57 innings and posted an impressive 0.95 ERA. Josh’s stock was on the rise and, as a result, he was promoted to Colorado Springs. He made his first AAA start for the Sky Sox on June 12, 2016. Hader took a few knocks in AAA but still ended 2016 with a combined ERA of 3.29. His minor league success resulted in Josh being added to the Brewers’ 40 man roster near the end of the season.

2017

Josh started the 2017 season in Colorado but was called up to the big leagues on June 9th. The very next day, he made his major league debut at the age of 23. He pitched a scoreless inning of relief, although he had to work through a few nerves first. Hader walked the first batter, and then was directed to intentionally walk batter number two. He then delivered back to back fly-outs before striking out the side on a 95 mph fastball. It was a great first showing and less than a month later, he recorded his first win. Hader spent the remainder of the season in the bullpen, honing his craft and getting used to Major League hitters. And learn he did. Josh pitched 42.2 innings and finished the year with a 2.08 ERA.

2018

In 2018, Josh Hader again started out in the bullpen continuing his work towards a potential starting spot in Milwaukee’s rotation. However, things were about to get interesting for The Crew and their talented lefty. On April 14, he earned his first Major League save. Just a few weeks later, on April 30th, he recorded 8 strikeouts in less than three innings worked, becoming the first pitcher to do so. Josh continued his impressive first half of 2018, striking out 83 batters in 44 innings. His mid-season 1.21 ERA landed him on the All-Star team.

Josh Hader’s success did not stop at the All-Star break. For example, he broke the franchise record for strikeouts by a reliever in a single season, previously set by Corey Knebel. Josh also posted the most strikeouts in Major League history by a left-handed reliever in a single season. Haderade was on fire! Josh made 23 appearances of at least 2.0 innings and the team went undefeated in those outings. He recorded 7 saves during his appearances in 2+ innings. Josh finished 2018 with a 6-1 record, a 2.43 ERA and 12 saves in 55 relief appearances. He was credited with the win in the Brewers’ tie breaker against Chicago, and had seven scoreless appearances in the Crew’s postseason. Hader was named the National League Reliever of the Year.

2019

All thoughts of Josh Hader as a starter quickly shifted when relievers Jeremy Jeffress and Corey Knebel were sidelined by injuries. Hader was now the team’s closer. He stepped into the role in impressive fashion. On March 30th, he struck out nine consecutive batters, seven of whom went down swinging, to earn a save. Josh Hader was named to his second straight All-Star team.

Haderade was at it again. His 37 were the eighth best in franchise history. He pitched in 75.2 innings, going at least two innings 14 times with the team going 13-1 in those games. In nine of those games, he recorded saves, another MLB best. Batters did not fare well against Hader, as he finished second in the majors with an opponent batting average of .155. The Brewers again made the postseason, due in large part to their lefty’s relief efforts. He was again named the National League Reliever of the Year.

Fun Facts

  • Josh is recognizable for his long hair and tattoos
  • Hader’s delivery has remained basically the same since the minors, with minimal tweaks along the way
  • He was the first pitcher ever to record eight strikeouts in an outing less than three innings long (April 30, 2018)
  • Josh turned 26 on April 7th
  • He lists his hobbies as hunting, fishing and photography
  • While Twitter has caused Hader some angst, it is also the way he met long-time girlfriend Maria Macias – through direct message
  • Josh and Maria were married on November 30, 2019

The Future

Josh Hader has been ultra-successful with the Brewers. In his first year of arbitration, he sought to bankroll that success into a larger salary. And who could blame him? He earned just over $687,000 in 2019, which may seem like a lot to the common fan, but was a far cry from the league’s best. Looking at other relievers’ salaries, Josh requested $6.4 million, while the Brewers countered with $4.1 million.

Unfortunately for Josh, the arbitration board sided with the Brewers. It is widely held that the arbitration process is still tied to traditional stats in a day and age when the game has changed significantly. After the ruling, Hader lamented, “We’re in a unique position, the way we are used as relievers nowadays. I think the system is just outdated on how we’re used. We’re mostly being used for lineups, not innings.” Craig Counsell echoed the sentiments about the flawed process, saying, “Any system that doesn’t reward Josh Hader doesn’t make sense to me.” 

Josh Hader will be eligible for free agency after the 2023 season. Barring a trade, we still have some promising years ahead of us. Let’s hope for more success from our premiere lefty, and a short memory on his part.

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