Entering the National League Championship Series, most probably aren’t too worried about the prospect of facing Milwaukee Brewers starters Jhoulys Chacin or Wade Miley, although both were effective during the regular season and pitched well in the NL Division Series.
The real reason the Brewers are four wins away from the World Series is their bullpen. If the Los Angeles Dodgers want another shot at a championship, they’ll have to beat one of the best relief corps in baseball.
Josh Hader has established himself as one of the best relievers in the game over the past two years. The 24-year-old southpaw broke out in 2017 and took a leap forward this season, finishing third in MLB in reliever WAR. His fWAR was higher than every Dodgers pitcher not named Clayton Kershaw or Walker Buehler.
Hader goes after hitters with a hellacious fastball, which ranked second in baseball in FanGraphs’ weighted pitch value metric. His slider is also nasty, ranking 22nd. The lefty struck out nearly half the hitters he faced in 2018.
Opponents batted .131 against him overall. However, Had was more susceptible to the longball than one might think, allowing nine homers in 81.1 innings. All of the home runs Hader allowed came against his fastball.
If that wasn’t enough, Milwaukee also boasts a pair of hard-throwing righties that have closing experience. Jeremy Jeffress and Corey Knebel combined for 31 saves and 2.8 fWAR this season. They also flirt with triple digits on the radar gun.
While Jeffress posted a minuscule 1.29 ERA, he managed to go the entire season without allowing a run to left-handed hitters. Righties touched him up for five homers in 46.1 innings, with four coming off his fastball.
Knebel wasn’t quite as dominant but did hold opposing batters to a .193 average. However, hitters could get to his fastball, as he surrendered a .215 ISO when throwing the heater, including 16 extra base hits (six home runs).
Like Jeffress, he posted reverse platoon splits, as righties were better against him than lefties. However, Knebel was nearly untouchable when throwing his curveball. The league hit just .102 against his bender this season.
Then there are relievers who get less recognition like former Dodgers farmhand Joakim Soria and swingman Brandon Woodruff. Soria was acquired from the Chigao White Sox for a former personal favorite draft prospect Kodi Medeiros and a 20-year-old pitcher who’s still in the Dominican Summer League.
Don’t let the 4.09 ERA with the Brew Crew fool you, he’s legit. Woodruff is yet another hard-thrower who, again, was more susceptible to righties, allowing a .606 slugging percentage against them on his slider.
So what have we learned? Well, the Brewers have a very good bullpen and bullpens are immensely important in the postseason. They’re right-handed heavy, but righty bats tend to do slightly better against them so Dodgers manager Dave Roberts needs to refrain from reflexively playing opposite-handed matchups.
Unless you’re a righty facing Woodruff, hunt fastballs. And, even though it goes without saying, make them pay if they make a mistake. Easier said than done, but the Dodgers aren’t in the NLCS because it was easy.
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