Entering the All-Star Break, the Brewers somehow managed to blow not one but two leads of six runs. Perhaps it isn’t fair to characterize the entire Brewers season by those two games, but outside of John Axford, the Brewers bullpen failed to carry its load.
Just a month ago, Kameron Loe was entrenched as Milwaukee’s “eighth inning guy,” the receiving end of jokes and homers off the bats of lefties alike. Zach Braddock, the Brewers would-be left-handed anchor, bounced between poor MLB performances to the disabled list to the minor leagues. With LaTroy Hawkins and Takashi Saito injured for extended periods, that put bullpen pressure on guys like Marco Estrada and Tim Dillard. Both pitchers are deserving of spots on Major League rosters, but teams run into trouble when relievers of such a quality are forced into high leverage situations.
The Brewers were no exception. Thirty days ago, the bullpen owned a pitiful -2.5 WPA, among the worst marks in the league, even in spite of John Axford’s +2.0 as part of his consecutive save streak. Simply put, the middle relief could not be counted on to get outs, putting a tremendous amount of pressure on the offense and the starting rotation.
Enter Francisco Rodriguez. When he was acquired at the All-Star break, it was largely seen as a minor move, but it’s been so much more. Rodriguez’s performance alone has justified taking on his salary, as he has a 2.45 ERA and a 1.65 FIP. But more importantly, he has stabilized a shaky bullpen. Takashi Saito can be used sparingly as a relief ace, as his age and skill necessitates. LaTroy Hawkins is pushed to the fourth option. Kameron Loe can finally be used as a righty specialist instead of as the eighth inning guy.
So there should be little surprise the Brewers bullpen ranks as the fourth best in WPA to go with a 3.14 ERA since Rodriguez joined the squad . With two aces for the late game and three high-quality veterans to clean up what’s left, the Brewers have gone from the cardiac kids to one of the most formidable bullpens in the league.
Even without a lefty.