Posted on May 29 2018
Josh Hader - Cy Young?
Entering the 2018 season, the Milwaukee Brewers had a lot to prove. Having just missed out on a playoff spot in the prior season, the Crew had made some valuable additions in outfielders Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich. However, what they didn’t know was that their biggest upgrade wouldn’t be made via trade or free agency, it’d come from the progression of former high rated pitching prospect Josh Hader.
Hader, drafted by Baltimore in the 19th round of the 2012 draft as a left handed starter out of high school, found his way to Milwaukee after getting traded to Houston for Bud Norris, and then getting traded to the Brewers along with Domingo Santana and Brett Phillips in the trade that sent Mike Fiers and Carlos Gomez to the Astros in 2015. After several successful minor league seasons in A and AA, Hader had made a name for himself, placing 61st on MLB’s prospect ratings coming into the 2016 season. In 2016, Hader was promoted to a hitter friendly AAA in Colorado Springs, where he would post a 5.28 ERA despite striking out 10.3 batters per 9 innings pitched in 26 starts over two seasons.
While his numbers may not have been incredibly impressive on the surface, Milwaukee knew they still had a special prospect on their hands. Midway through the 2017 season, Hader got the call. However, his role for the Brewers would be out of the bullpen, rather than the rotation where he had pitched in the minors.
Hader’s new role allowed him to reinvent his game. Only having to go a couple of innings per appearance rather than the majority of the game, Hader could put more effort into each pitch, as stamina wasn’t as much of an issue. In 47.2 innings for the Brewers in 2017, Hader posted a 2.08 ERA, while striking out 68 of the 188 batters he faced. His 36.2% K% ranked 11th best in baseball among all pitchers with 40 innings pitched, ahead of guys like Max Scherzer, Corey Kluber, and Aroldis Chapman, among others. His high walk rate (11.7%) was an area for improvement, and with a FIP nearly a point higher than his ERA (3.03 compared to 2.08), it looked as if regression was in store if no adjustments were made.
He did adjust, and as of Memorial Day, has been not only a Reliever of the Year frontrunner, but also an early candidate for the NL Cy Young award.
In 31.1 innings, the left hander has posted a remarkable 1.15 ERA, going along with 62 strikeouts and 10 walks. His 56.9% strikeout percentage laps the competition (Aroldis Chapman’s 46.4% is second best), and his 0.94 FIP also tops the rest of the field.
Here’s a graph of all pitchers since 1950 with at least 50 innings pitched in a season, with Josh Hader’s 2018 pace added in. The higher a pitcher is, the more strikeouts they had, and the further right they are, the more batters they faced. The greener their dot is, the higher their K%.
The key to finding Josh Hader on these kinds of graphs is to look for the dot that is far away from the other dots. Did you find him? I’ll help you out:
Here’s another graph, featuring all of the same pitchers as the last one, but instead of looking at strikeouts vs batters faced, it looks at strikeouts vs earned runs allowed. The goal, for a pitcher, is to be as up, left, and green as possible.
Can you find Josh Hader? I can.
Josh Hader is an outlier in every sense of the word. He’s striking out guys in a historic fashion, while also preventing runs at an incredible rate. As of the morning of Memorial Day, he leads his team in strikeouts and ranks in the top 15 in the National League.
Eric Gagne, the last reliever to win a Cy Young award, posted a 1.20 ERA with a 15.0 K/9 in 2003. Hader sits at a 1.15 ERA and a 17.8 K/9 a third of the way through the 2018 season. Is he next?