StaTuesday: Brewers’ Hader an old-school closer

When it comes to closers, Milwaukee’s Josh Hader is about as close to old school as it’s going to get.

Once upon a time in Major League Baseball, relievers who finished off games weren’t limited to coming in for just one inning. That’s changed (for better or worse) over the last few decades.

Being on the mound for 2+ innings and notching a save was not out of the ordinary. For example, Hall of Famers Rollie Fingers (135), Bruce Sutter (130) and Rich Gossage (125) each had over 100 games in which they went at least two innings and recorded a save. They also rank 1-2-3 in MLB history in games with a save when going 2+ innings. Dan Quisenberry, with 120, is fourth. All four of those relievers pitched part or most of their careers in the 1980s, with the first three also racking up a lot of saves in the ‘70s.

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In fact, of the relievers in the top 11 of 2+ inning saves in MLB history, 10 pitched in the 1970s or ‘80s (the others being Gene Garber, 107; Mike Marshall, 95; Lee Smith, 94; Sparky Lyle, 91; Tug McGraw, 79; and Jeff Reardon, 78). The lone reliever on the list not from that era is Hoyt Wilhelm, who mainly pitched in the 1950s and ‘60s, with 118).

This is not to say Hader is going to be joining that above list any time soon, or even ever. But when it comes to 2+ inning saves, Hader is a throwback to the 1970s and ‘80s.

On Sunday in San Francisco, he notched his 13th career save in which he recorded six or more outs. That tied him with Eduardo Rodriguez for seventh-most on the Brewers’ all-time list.

But here’s the special thing about Hader – that outing against the Giants was the seventh time he hadn’t allowed a baserunner in a 2+ inning save. In other words, more than half of his 13 such saves. Of the names mentioned above, Wilhelm had the most career 2+ inning saves without allowing a baserunner – 23. Gossage had 21, Sutter and Fingers 19 and Garver 17. In other words, fewer than 20%.

In Milwaukee Brewers history, only 29 pitchers have had perfect save of two or more innings, and of those, just eight did it more than one time. Hader’s seven already tie him for the most in franchise history with Fingers. Dan Plesac had five, Chuck Crim three and Bill Castro, Tom Murphy, Ken Sanders and Brian Shouse each had two.

That outing against the Giants was the fourth time this season Hader has recorded a perfect 2+ inning save (three of those were two innings, the other 2 2/3 against the Cubs on April 7). Since 1990, only three relievers have had four saves where they pitched 2+ perfect innings: Hader, this season, with his four (so far), San Francisco’s Jerermy Affeldt (4) in 2003 and Cincinnati’s Jeff Shaw (4), yes, Travis’ dad, in 1996.

Those are three of the just 23 times in MLB history a reliever has had four or more outings not allowing a baserunner in 2+ innings while recording a save. Wilhelm has the most, with six in 1965. Five pitchers have done it five times, and none since San Diego’s Gossage in 1984. The others: Boston’s Tom Burgmeier in 1980, Minnesota’s Bill Dailey in 1963, Atlanta’s Garber in 1982 and the New York Mets’ Skip Lockwood in 1976.

Hader has all summer to join that exclusive company of those to have five or perhaps join, or pass, Wilhelm as the only pitchers with more than five perfect 2+ inning saves in a season.

But Hader is already in special territory. Since 1990, around the time the evolution to closers pitching just one inning, no other pitcher has more 2+ inning saves without allowing a baserunner than Hader.

Along with Hader, three others have seven: Affeldt (three with Kansas City in 2003 and the above-mentioned four with the Giants in ’03), Jeff Brantley (one with the Giants in 1990, two more in ’91, two with Cincinnati in 1994 and another in ’96 and one with St. Louis in 1998) and Mike Hennemann (all with Detroit, one in 1990, three in ’91, two in ’92 and one in ’93).

Over that 30-year span, only one reliever had six such games in the regular season – Shaw – and five pitchers had five (Rick Aguilera, Rob Dibble, Jeff Montgomery, Mike Stanton and John Wetteland).

(Note: There have been nine such outings in the postseason since 1990 and the New York Yankees’ Mariano Rivera had five of them.)

Here are Hader’s seven perfect 2+ inning saves over his career:

DATE OPP SCORE IP K
4/14/2018 Mets 5-1 2 5
5/8/2018 Indians 3-2 2 3
8/11/2018 Braves 4-2 2 3
3/28/2019 Cardinals 5-4 2 4
4/7/2019 Cubs 4-2 2.2 3
4/27/2019 Mets 8-6 2 5
6/16/2019 Giants 5-3 2 3

While Hader has a little old-school in him with his multiple-inning performances – overall, regardless of result, he’s pitched 2+ innings 41 times in his career – he is of course also very much part of the new-look relievers, blowing hitters away.

Hader is allowing just 3.3 hits per nine innings this season (side note fact: He’s given up just three singles). In major-league history, coming into this season only three pitchers had allowed 3.3 or fewer hits per 9 while tossing at least 20 innings – and two of those were starters: Ed Cushman of Milwaukee of the Union Association in 1884 (four starts, 2.50 H/9 in 36 innings) and Baltimore’s Bob Milacki (3.24 H/9 over 25 innings in three starts) in 1988. The other was reliever Matt Smith at 3.05 H/9 in 2006 for the Yankees and Phillies.

He has a 53.5 K% — no one in MLB history who has pitched 10+ innings has ever had a higher percentage. Also, Hader’s 17.41 K/9 currently ranks third all-time among pitchers who have 20+ innings.

Old school, new school, Hader is seemingly the perfect blend to both and dishing out lessons on futility to hitters nearly every time he takes the mound.

Dave Heller is the author of Ken Williams: A Slugger in Ruth’s Shadow (a Larry Ritter Book Award nominee), Facing Ted Williams – Players From the Golden Age of Baseball Recall the Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived and As Good As It Got: The 1944 St. Louis Browns