Meet Josh Hader, the unlikely face of MLB’s strikeout revolution

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Josh Hader kind of looks like a renegade. His musical taste is renegade-like. He pitches like a renegade, with a style as distinctive as it is effective. Hader might even want people to think he’s a renegade, except he has anything but a renegade personality.

“Hi, I’m Josh,” Hader says to those he meets, reaching out with a friendly hand. It’s a courtesy he extends even to sportswriters, who are not really accustomed to being welcomed in that way, at least not in the clubhouse. It’s not exactly renegade behavior. No, wholesale nfl jerseys the renegade part of Hader’s persona doesn’t emerge until he unleashes the ball toward home plate. Then, as he likes to say, he’s ready to eat.

Hader is feasting so far this season. Opposing batters are hitting .068 against him — 55 points below the big league average for pitchers. Lefty hitters are 1-for-23; righties have fared only a little less horribly, going 4-for-50. The only sign that Hader is human is that he’s given up two home runs — Tommy Pham and Starling Marte have both touched him up, both righties. So far in his big league career, Hader has yet to serve up a home run ball to a lefty hitter.161

Hader is neither a closer nor a starter, though he can do both. The Brewers lefty is a member of that re-emergent species of in-between hurlers that is helping redefine the way we think about pitching staff construction. This season, there are 92 relievers averaging more than three outs per appearance. Five years ago, there were just 42. With that combination of dominance and exposure, Hader is on pace to rack up 5.4 WAR this season, more than any other relief pitcher and more than all but 13 starting pitchers. According to FanGraphs it would be the highest total we’ve seen from a relief pitcher. Ever. That’s why suddenly everybody is scrambling to write about young Mr. Hader.

Hader’s stuff would play no matter what, but he augments it with a three-quarters arm slot that makes it challenging for lefty hitters to get a read on his pitches, a cross-body delivery that hides the ball against righties just long enough, and little hesitation as he goes into a motion that messes with batters’ timing. All of this, combined with his raw stuff, explains why Hader’s platoon split is virtually nil. But Hader had to develop these traits as a professional. He wasn’t drafted by Baltimore until the 19th round of the 2012 draft, underscoring just how far he’s come. He threw in the 80s when he was in high school before his fastball leaped into the 90s soon after he turned pro.

“[My delivery] has always been similar, even coming through the minor leagues, with little tweaks to make sure the mechanics are flowing,” Hader said. “There were times in my career where I really had to learn to pitch inside to righties. Obviously with my closed stance, I’m not going towards them. I’m kind of going away from them, and I’ve really got to get my arm over there to make sure it’s staying inside. If I don’t get it over there, then it’s mostly over the middle.”