PT TOMORROW: NL Central—Hader running out of gas in Milwaukee

Milwaukee Brewers

It’s hard to ring alarm bells when looking at Josh Hader’s (LHP, MIL) season-long line, highlighted by raw stats like a 2.77 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, and 102 strikeouts across 55.1 innings. However, he’s allowed at least one earned run in four of his last five appearances, resulting in five earned runs across 4.2 innings and two blown saves in four chances.

At first glance, workload doesn’t appear to be the issue. Hader has worked only 55.1 innings as compared to 81.1 last season. On the other hand, his usage paints a different story. Notably, Hader has already nearly matched his inherited runners total from last season (currently 22 versus 23 in 2018). While his 1.31 Leverage Index in 2018 was already an impressive mark, that number has spiked to an incredible mark of 1.79 in 2019. Given those numbers, it may be more instructive to look at the intensity of his pitches rather than the number of innings he’s thrown.

While there’s no definitive way to prove Hader is simply worn out, his recent velocity trends back that theory. In seven appearances from June 29 to July 21, Hader averaged 96.6 mph on his fastball. However, in his past seven appearances, that number has fallen to 95.8 mph. Put another way, since July 21, Hader has averaged greater than 96 mph in just one appearance, something he has done a total of 18 times this season.

While it’s not particularly difficult to identify the potential issue, finding a solution proves a trickier task. Given their shaky rotation, the Brewers need Hader and all their bullpen pieces, so extended rest isn’t a likely option. Instead, the Brewers could turn to a committee approach to record their saves. Matt Albers (RHP, MIL) may have worked his way into the saves picture with nine consecutive scoreless appearances, prior to allowing an earned run in his latest outing—ironically an appearance in which he notched his second save in the season.


Chicago Cubs

After surrendering nine earned runs on 10 hits and three walks across four innings in his start on August 6, Jon Lester (LHP, CHC) called himself the weakest link in the Cubs’ rotation. Based on his performance across the last month, his statement is accurate. In six starts since the All-Star break, his ERA has risen from 3.72 to 4.43, and he’s failed to work more than five innings in each of his past three starts. Somewhat surprisingly, Lester’s skills haven’t deteriorated at the same rate, as he’s managed a 36:9 K:BB (4.0 Cmd). While he’s surrendered 1.6 HR/9, that isn’t that far from his 1.5 HR/9 mark for the season.

Similar to his underlying numbers, there’s not much to suggest that Lester is hurt when looking at the velocity or spin rate on his pitches. Given both his status as a well-respected and World Series winning veteran and the skills he’s displayed, it’s a bit outlandish to suggest the team would move him out of the rotation without news of an injury. Still, the possibility is at least worth considering.

Adbert Alzolay (RHP, CHC) was activated from the minor league injured list and started Friday with Triple-A Iowa, working 2.2 innings with five punchouts and four walks. While there’s plenty of potential in his profile, it’s difficult to make a strong case he’d provide much of an upgrade over Lester based on his inability to work deep into games and his overall struggles during his first tenure in the major leagues. While he doesn’t provide much in terms name value, Alec Mills (RHP, CHC) has put together a strong season, mostly at Triple-A Iowa. Called up on Friday to replace Kyle Ryan (LHP, CHC), who is currently on the bereavement list, Mills has managed a 3.81 xERA and posted PQS-3 efforts in both of his two starts this season. If the Cubs choose to keep Lester in the rotation, Mills could also serve as a piggy-back starter, capable of eating several innings in any starts in which Lester is forced to exit early.


Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates second-half swoon has them rightfully looking to the future. Mitch Keller (RHP, PIT) began his second stint with the big league team last night and there’s rampant speculation of whether the pairing of Neal Huntington and Clint Hurdle will survive the offseason. While the Pirates are notoriously slow with the promotion of their prospects, Ke’Bryan Hayes (3B, PIT) could be next in line to provide major changes to the club.  

Though it likely didn’t change any of the team’s plans in the short term, Hayes hadn’t exactly been knocking down the door at Triple-A Indianapolis this season. He hit just .245/.336/.398 in 241 at-bats prior to the All-Star break, bogged down by lines of .227/.313/.371 and .222/.333/.389 in May and June, respectively. However, those numbers have rebounded of late; since the All-Star break he’s slashed .275/.322/.431, highlighted by nine extra-base hits in 109 at-bats.

Colin Moran (3B, PIT) isn’t making much of a case to block Hayes’s ascension. He’s shown no above-average skills for the season (91 HctX, 81 xPX, 74 ct%), and things have only eroded further since the All-Star break (80 HctX, 74 xPX, 73 ct%). While he’s been gifted over 700 at-bats since joining the Pirates organization, Moran has done little to suggest he’s worthy of getting continued at-bats—especially when considering his defensive shortcomings.


Cincinnati Reds

The Reds have followed through on their preseason promise to play Nick Senzel (OF, CIN) as a regular outfielder. In fact, each of his first 75 appearances came as the Reds’ center fielder. However, on August 8, Senzel made his debut at second base as part of a double-switch. The scenario was certainly unique—the Reds were trailing 11-5 at the time and Kyle Farmer (INF, CIN) was on the mound—so this is hardly a repeatable phenomenon.

On the other hand, the Reds have a plethora of young outfielders to give run at the end of the season. While sure to cool down, Aristides Aquino (OF, CIN) has given the team no choice but to play him every day given his scorching form at the plate. The team certainly has been more hesitant to plug and play Jesse Winker (OF, CIN), and while he’s failed to take a major step forward, he’s still 25 years old and has a 56 BPV for the season. Meanwhile, the team has found every excuse not to give Philip Ervin (OF, CIN) consistent at-bats, yet he’s managed an 80 BPV in 62 at-bats since July 1. In short, the Reds have plenty of intriguing assets in the outfield, even when excluding Senzel from the mix.

Given the viable replacements for Senzel in the outfield, it’s notable the way he could improve the team’s lineup if he made a shift back to second base. For the season, the Reds have gotten a horrific .213/.289/.376 line out of the second base position as a whole. Senzel (.280/.334/.460) would represent a significant improvement there, while Ervin (.282/.349/.456) and Winker (.284/.377/.463) represent no tangible loss of production while manning the outfield.


St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals have had an up-and-down stretch since the All-Star break, winning 12 out of their first 15 games. However, they’re just 5-8 in their last 13 games thanks to a stalled offense that has averaged only 3.2 runs per game (through Sunday’s action). While the team has moved Matt Carpenter (3B, STL) out of the leadoff spot in favor of Dexter Fowler (OF, STL), they’re still in the need of an offensive spark.

Randy Arozarena (OF, STL) could fit that bill. Heading into the season, Arozarena ranked as the team’s fourth-rated prospect. His write-up noted that he struggled a bit with his first taste of Triple-A competition, in which he slashed .232/.328/.348. However, he’s proven capable of adjustment and growth as he’s hitting a monstrous .374/.445/.571 with 24 extra-base hits in 198 at-bats. Juiced ball or not, those numbers will play.  

Decision-makers at the major-league level have taken note of his production. After a game in the team’s weekend series, manager Mike Shildt was asked about Arozarena, to which he replied, “He’s done a lot of what he needs to do offensively. He’s got a really high OPS. Defensively he’s capable. We’ve seen that. There’s nothing else he really needs to be able to prove. It’s a matter of justifying…do we bring him up and have him come off the bench (as reported by Rick Hummel of The St. Louis Dispatch)?” Given Jose Martinez’s (OF, STL) recent play (-78 BPV in 20 August at-bats) and the potential injury he suffered Sunday, regular playing time may not be a concern for Arozarena for much longer.

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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.