I’m in love with relief aces. In today’s day and age, particularly once you get to the playoffs, they’re invaluable. Starting pitchers are going less and less deep into games, so unless you have a top-20 SP there’s an argument to be made that a relief ace in the playoffs is nearly as valuable as a good (not great) starter.
We know the story of how we got to this point. The Royals (what a random, insanely good two-year run they had) were the first to master bullpen usage in the playoffs. Then Terry Francona and Andrew Miller happened. Then last year a bunch of starting pitchers started coming out of the pen in October.
But we’re here to talk about the regular season. Mainly the 2018 regular season, and thus far there hasn’t been a better reliever in baseball than 24-year-old Josh Hader of the Milwaukee Brewers. His stats are good. Through six appearances (9 2/3 innings) he has a 1.86 ERA with 22 strikeouts, which is good for 20.5 K/9. Wait what? *polishes glasses, squints a bit* I apologize for saying his stats are good. Those numbers are fucking phenomenal. 20.5 K/9!!!
So who is Hader? He is a former 19th round draft pick who bounced around a couple organizations before landing in Milwaukee. He was a starter with control problems, so when the Brew Crew were surprise contenders last season they brought him up to bolster the pen. Magically he found control of his pitches and has been great ever since. His 12.8 K/9 from a season ago helped put him on the map, but his start to 2018 cements him in the conversation of “best reliever in baseball”.
I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself. Until fully proven otherwise Kenley Jansen is still the best reliever in baseball. Craig Kimbrel is right there too. So are Roberto Osuna, Edwin Diaz, Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, Chad Green, and Chris Devenski. The point is Hader now belongs in that tier. Maybe not the top tier, but certainly the next group. This is a multi-inning weapon who strikes batters out like Chapman but can be used like Miller.
It sucks he’s going unrecognized right now but it makes sense when you figure he isn’t a closer and he plays in Milwaukee. The Brewers are smart to keep him in a multi inning role even with Corey Knebel sidelined though. Relief aces are that valuable these days, and Josh Hader is the latest name to become one.