When the Brewers shipped John Axford to St. Louis on Friday, August 30th, the initial return was the infamous PTBNL (player to be named later). But it didn’t take long for that player to be named. By Saturday, August 31st, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that the player would be 24-year-old Michael Blazek, who quickly joined the Crew and made his Miller Park debut on Monday, September 2nd.
Michael Blazek is a 6’ 0”, 200 lb, right-hander that the Cardinals selected in the 35th round in 2007. Drafted directly out of Arbor View High School in Las Vegas, Blazek decided against going to college and instead joined the Cardinals minor league system. Blazek spent the next seven seasons being groomed by the Red Birds until getting his first taste of the show on June 22, 2013, when he struck out two during a scoreless inning of relief against Texas.
As his debut indicated, Blazek’s potential to be a strike out machine is undeniable. Blazek averaged 9.0 SO/9 during his minor league career and was punching out 10.2 SO/9 this season before being called up. Though he owns a career 4.13 ERA in the minors, between 17 appearances for AA Springfield and 19 for Triple-A Memphis, Blazek was firing on all cylinders this year. He managed a 1.97 ERA / 1.182 WHIP, struck out 52 to 26 walks, and allowed only one home run.
Since being called up, it’s been tougher sledding for Blazek. In 14 appearances, between St. Louis and Milwaukee, he’s pitched 13.1 innings and allowed 10 ER, including 3 home runs, for a 6.75 ERA / 1.800 WHIP. The kid may be just starting to get his feet under him at the major league level, but his numbers and overall stuff do bear more than a passing resemblance to the player he was traded for.
Let’s start with the home runs. All three home runs that Blazek has allowed have been hit by the Cincinnati Reds. With two of the home runs coming at Great American Ballpark and the other one at Miller Park, Blazek is already falling in line with an Axford trend. As J.P. Breen noted in his piece following Axford’s trade, outside of Miller Park and Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, Axford has only allowed four home runs anywhere else. If, like Axford, Blazek turns out to be prone to dingers, the confines of Miller Park may not treat him kindly.
Ok, I’ll admit that the above is a cheeky comparison to Axford for many reasons, including the small sample size for Blazek. But looking at Blazek’s arsenal, and how he uses it, more Axford alarm bells begin to ring. Both Axford and Blazek are primarily four-seam fastball, curve, and slider pitchers. Their four-seamers sit around 96 MPH, though Axford uses his more frequently (67.75%) while Blazek uses his 54.31% of the time and his sinker 6.37%. Their curve balls are thrown about 20% of the time and used mainly when they’re ahead in the count, though both aren’t afraid to throw it on the first pitch to keep batters off-balance. Both also have 84 MPH sliders that they use about 13% of the time, primarily to right-handers. One difference between Blazek and Axford is that Blazek isn’t afraid to use a change-up against left-handed hitters, normally when he’s behind in the count.
Even though Blazek’s stuff may profile like Axford 2.0, there’s no guarantee he will reach both Axford’s highs and lows. As the 1,068th overall selection of the 2007 draft, Blazek has already overcome a lot to get to the major leagues. While the final step in his development is still to be seen, the Axford comparison might hint at the potential value Blazek possesses.