Have we tried unplugging Josh Hader and plugging him back in?
Josh Hader is one of those rare pitchers who had never really been bad. Ever since being called up in 2017, he's been perhaps the most dominant reliever in the sport, boasting a ridiculous 15.4 strikeouts per 9 and making 4 All-Star teams in the process. He's been versatile, and he's been consistent. And for the first three months of the 2022 season, he looked better than ever. In his first 27 appearances this year, Hader was brilliant, posting a 1.05 ERA in 25.2 innings with 43 strikeouts to show for it. He also converted 25 saves in 26 opportunities. He was setting the world on fire with that fastball/slider combo. But after July 3rd? OOF! Here are Josh Hader's numbers since July 3rd
4.1 IP 12 H 12 ER 3 BB 9 SO
He's also given up five home runs, including three last night against the Giants in the 9th inning. His ERA over the last 12 days has gone from a microscopic 1.05 to a below-league average 4.50. In his last two outings alone, he's given up nine runs and only recorded one out.
I wish I had more of a thesis here. I tried to look into what's happened to a guy who has been the best reliever in baseball, and quite frankly, there's no smoking gun. The fastball velocity is still there. He's striking out hitters at a high rate. He's just getting completely rocked. He currently has a negative bWAR, which is a bit ironic considering he's an All-Star.
Whenever we use the word "slump," we often associate it with hitters, but pitchers go through the same struggles too. Even Mariano Rivera blew back-to-back saves every so often. As frustrating as it may be, you can accept that even the best suffer a blowup every now and then, but 12 runs in 4.1 innings? Something has to be up. It might just be as simple as leaving too many pitches over the plate because it's not like he's somehow lost his ability to locate. His strike percentage over the last two weeks is down only 4%. If I had to come up with a reason why Hader has struggled as much as he's had, I would say that unless he's striking guys out at a historic rate, he tends to struggle. Good things can happen if you put the ball in play against Josh Hader. That's easier said than done when facing a guy with nearly over 15 strikeouts per nine years of his career. Given the fact that his velocity is still there, I think Hader will ultimately find his footing. His stuff is still too good, but this is a bizarre stretch for a pitcher who has dominated the league from day one.