When the Brewers traded reliever John Axford to St. Louis for reliever Michael Blazek on August 31, it seemed that the pitcher that had once saved 49 consecutive games for the team had lost his former magic. After the deal, however, it was apparent that Axford hadn’t quite lost his old form.
After a 46 save, 1.95 ERA season in 2011, Axford posted a collective 4.57 ERA over 124 innings in his next two seasons with Milwaukee. After the trade, he posted a 1.74 ERA in 13 games for the Cardinals and bested that with a 1.59 ERA in six postseason appearances. In large part due to his rebound in St. Louis, Axford earned a $4.5 million deal with the Indians this winter as a free agent.
Though his time in St. Louis was relatively short, it was “pivotal and profitable”, per John Lott of the National Post:“On John Axford’s first day with the St. Louis Cardinals, his new coaches sat him down for a meeting. We’ve been scouting you for five years, they said. And by the way, you might be interested in one thing we know about you: You’re tipping your pitches. … I don’t think I would be in the position I’m in right now with the Cleveland Indians if I wasn’t traded [from Milwaukee].”
If the Cardinals caught onto this flaw in Axford’s delivery that the Brewers never got onto, it’s hard to to see it in his career splits against St. Louis. In 27.2 innings against the Redbirds, he holds 2.93 career ERA, 1.482 WHIP, and 1.40 K:BB, compared to his career marks of 3.29/1.326/2.67. Obviously St. Louis was able to put the ball into play more, walk more, and strike out a lot less. It’s difficult to read too much into the numbers in any case that the sample size is so small, not even taking into account the difficult of trying to figure out how/if pitch tipping influenced those figures.
Axford did credit Cardinals coaches for pointing it out to him, making no mention of it ever being addressed in Milwaukee.“[The St. Louis] coaching staff really helped me out, picking that up and helping me along the way for those two months. And pitching well, and pitching well in the playoffs – I think that’s what really catapulted the opportunity for me to be a closer again.”
So you can take everything in and read into it how you would prefer.