In Search of: The Next Josh Hader – Does it Exist?
I’m probably showing my age, but this title has Leonard Nemoy running around all inside my head. Have no fear, we’re not looking for Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster. Instead, we’re looking for something that may be just as hard to find. We’re In Search of… the next Josh Hader. I’ve long been an advocate of using middle relievers in fantasy baseball. Here are a few reasons I think they’re an even bigger weapon in 2019 mixed leagues. What Josh Hader has done over the last two seasons just reinforces my thoughts on this.
Before we get too deep into our search, let’s acknowledge the big elephant in the room. There’s a good chance we don’t find another Josh Hader out there. He’s been a pretty special pitcher so far. Hader had just 12 saves in 2018, yet according to FanGraphs’ Auction Calculator, he was the 12th most valuable pitcher in 2018 12-team mixed leagues. If the Brewers changed course and decided to use him as a starter, Hader would have a very real chance to be one of the top 10 best starts in baseball and that might be conservative. So yeah, we might have to stretch real far in comparing any of these pitchers to Josh Hader. With that caveat out of the way, that doesn’t mean we can’t find other valuable middle relievers who might be able to pull it off on a lesser level. On with the search!
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Our Josh Hader Clone Candidates
To begin our search we have to lay out the parameters of what we’re looking for. One key is obviously the strikeout rate. In order for a non-closer to provide serious value in mixed leagues, they’re gonna have to strike out enough hitters to at least approach the bottom third of starting pitchers. We’re also probably gonna need a pitcher who at least occasionally throws multiple innings. This will help with the Ks and also allow for a few more win chances. Ideally, we’re looking for a pitcher with good control, but seeing as Hader had a 3.32 BB/9 last year, nasty unhittable stuff can cover for a few small blemishes. It also wouldn’t hurt for the pitcher to be on a team that is flexible in the way they close games out. While Hader’s value is not save-reliant, they certainly add to his appeal.
Our search will focus on two types of pitchers. First, of course, are conventional relievers with the right stuff to take it to another level. The other category pulls from pitchers more like Hader; starting pitchers who have been relegated to the bullpen for health issues or innings limitations. Before we bring in our first candidate let’s look at Josh Hader’s 2018 season stats to see what these pitchers have to live up to.
Josh Hader 2018: 55 games, 81.1 IP, 6-1 record, 2.43 ERA (2.05 xFIP), 143 strikeouts (15.82 K/9), 0.81 WHIP, .131 BAA
Chad Green, RHP, New York Yankees
The Yankees bullpen is ridiculous. Green would likely be closing on just about any other team. He’s gone 13-3 over the last two years, with a combined 197 strikeouts. Green works earlier in games than the Yankees big-name relievers and gets plenty of opportunities for wins. Since starting eight games in 2016, Green has been moved to the pen for good and his velocity has jumped almost 2.0 mph. Green averaged 1.7 innings per appearance in 2017, but just 1.2 last season. Josh Hader averaged 1.5 innings per appearance.
Why Green could be the next Josh Hader: The Yankees starters will not pitch deep into games very often, meaning 10+ wins is within reach. That plus 100 strikeouts and a sub-1.00 WHIP would be very valuable.
Brad Peacock, RHP, Houston Astros
Peacock was a once a highly touted prospect who pretty much fizzled out after a few ugly seasons in the Astros’ rotation. He seemed to figure things out late in 2016 and put up a semi-breakout 13-win season in 2017, appearing in 34 games and starting 21. He spent all of 2016 in the bullpen, striking out 96 batters (13.29 K/9) with a 3.46 ERA. A 2.40 SIERA says things could have looked much better. He enters 2019 in a battle with youngster Josh James for the final spot in the Astros’ rotation.
Why Peacock could be the next Josh Hader: Peacock could be a very important member of the Houston staff in 2019. Collin McHugh, who also pitched out of the pen in 2018 is likely headed for the rotation. Peacock has the resume to soak up many of those innings. Get Peacock something close to the 81 innings Hader pitched and he could approach 120 Ks.
Why he won’t: Peacock is likely 4th in line for saves and at age 31 is unlikely to repeat last year’s strikeout rate.
Jose Castillo, LHP, San Diego Padres
Castillo was a rookie in 2018 and came up with little fanfare. He appeared in 37 games and posted a 3.29 ERA and 12.28 K/9. He features a 95+ mph fastball and a wipeout slider that was 7.1 runs above average. That’s in line with a typical Chris Sale slider prior to 2018. Castillo is just 23 and should be an integral part of the Padres staff this season.
Why Castillo could be the next Josh Hader: Kirby Yates enters the season as the Padres’ closer, but left-handed hitters hit .293 against him in 2018. There’s also a real possibility he could get traded midseason. Either way, it’s not hard to envision Castillo working his way into at least a share of the saves in the San Diego bullpen. If gets enough volume to approach 100 strikeouts, his value will skyrocket.
Why he won’t: Castillo has some splits issues of his own with right-handed hitters handling his slider much better.
Matt Strahm, LHP, San Diego Padres
Two Padres relievers in here? You betcha. Strahm is reportedly in consideration for a rotation spot this spring, but he likely doesn’t have the secondary offerings to succeed long term. He does, however, have an electric fastball with big-time swing and miss potential and has limited batters to a .180 average as a reliever. While Strahm is an intriguing sleeper if he makes the rotation, my guess is that the Padres like him better in the pen and use him in a way similar to how the Brewers use Hader.
Why Strahm could be the next Josh Hader: If he doesn’t make the rotation he will be still be stretched out and the Padres most effective pitcher capable of pitching multiple innings.
Why he won’t: Man cannot live on fastball alone.
Julio Urias, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
Urias was one of the most-hyped pitching prospects of the last decade when he debuted for the Dodgers in 2016 as a 19-year-old. He pitched 77 innings that year with a 3.39 ERA and a 9.82 K/9. Things didn’t go as well in 2017 when he struggled through 5 games and then had to have anterior capsule surgery in his throwing shoulder. This is a career-threatening injury for a pitcher. Urias came back late last season and seemed to have fully regained his stuff. It was just 10 innings combined between the last few weeks of the regular season, but he looked dominant during that time, giving up just two earned runs and striking out 12 batters. Urias will eventually be a starter, but the Dodgers are already overloaded in the rotation and there’s no doubt they will limit his innings. Thus a multi-inning role in the bullpen may be just what the doctor ordered.
Why Urias could be the next Josh Hader: If he can stay healthy Urias has Cy Young stuff. He may even be able to ratchet it up a notch in shorter outings. The ballpark and the team around him will help him to seven-plus wins and he approaches 100 strikeouts in 75 innings.
Why he won’t: The Dodgers may want Urias to get more regulated work with time to prepare for each outing. This could mean more time in the minors or scheduled outings limiting high-stress situations.
Alex Reyes, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals
Haven’t we had enough of the Reyes hype? Not even. Reyes returned from Tommy John surgery only to suffer a torn lat after just four innings in 2018. Early reports are good, but nobody is really sure what to expect going forward. There’s no doubt the Cardinals will baby him to some extent. That could mean skipping starts in the rotation, a prominent bullpen role, or even more time in the minors to build arm strength. Of all the pitchers on this list, Reyes is probably most similar to Hader. If he’s all the way back, his stuff will match up with just about any pitcher in baseball. He struck out 44 batters in 23 innings during his rehab work last year. His control is not exceptional, but like Josh Hader, he can be nearly unhittable.
Why Reyes could be the next Josh Hader: The Cardinals are a smart organization. They’ll want to limit Reyes’ innings, but they will still use him as a weapon. There’s already talk of Andrew Miller and Jordan Kicks sharing 9th-inning duties. Reyes could easily sneak in there as well. The closer role often means plenty of time to warm up and coming at the beginning of an inning. Maybe that’s what works best for Reyes’ health.
Why he won’t: The Cardinals decide regularly scheduled work is what Reyes needs… or he gets hurt again.
There are plenty of other great middle relief arms with value, but these are the arms who have what it takes to approach the value Josh Hader brings. Which one will pull it off?… Yeah, I know. I tried really hard to make the stretch, but it’s probably not gonna happen. Alex Reyes has the talent to do it, but things are unlikely to unfold that way. Regardless, keep these pitchers in mind as you get ready for drafts. Even a poor Josh Hader impersonation could carry nice value in today’s changing fantasy baseball landscape.
You buying in on any of Doug’s Josh Hader clone candidates? For more great rankings, strategy, and analysis check out the 2019 FantraxHQ Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit. We’ll be adding more content from now right up until Opening Day!
Doug Anderson is an 11-year veteran of the Fantasy Sports industry. His work has appeared on RotoExperts.com, Yahoo.com, SI.com, and NFL.com, as well as in the pages of USA Today’s Fantasy Baseball Weekly and various other magazines. Doug has participated in both LABR and Tout Wars, the two preeminent expert fantasy baseball leagues in existence. Doug was formerly the Executive Editor at RotoExperts and is now Managing Editor here at FantraxHQ. You can follow him on Twitter @RotoDaddy.
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