Padres Get Josh Hader in Surprise Blockbuster With Brewers

Josh Hader
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Padres pulled off a blockbuster on Monday afternoon, though it wasn’t the Juan Soto trade that so much of the industry expects. Instead, San Diego sent a four-player package headlined by closer Taylor Rogers, an All-Star last year, to Milwaukee in exchange for closer Josh Hader, an All-Star in four of the past five seasons, including this year.

On the surface, this appears to be something of a challenge trade: a pair of contenders swapping southpaws whose holds on the ninth inning had loosened due to shaky performances over the past month, sending their ERAs north of 4.00:

Josh Hader and Taylor Rogers: One Bad Month
Hader IP K% BB% HR/9 BABIP xwOBA ERA FIP Sv Blown
Thru June 24.2 45.1% 7.7% 0.73 .195 .201 1.09 1.70 24 1
July 9.1 36.0% 10.0% 4.82 .524 .436 12.54 8.16 5 1
Total 34.0 41.8% 8.5% 1.85 .306 .284 4.24 3.47 29 2
Rogers IP K% BB% HR/9 BABIP xwOBA ERA FIP Sv Blown
Thru June 31.2 29.8% 5.6% 0.28 .260 .283 2.84 2.43 22 4
July 9.2 22.0% 4.0% 0.00 .486 .372 9.31 2.09 6 3
Total 41.1 27.6% 5.2% 0.22 .333 .309 4.35 2.01 28 7

But there’s more to the deal when it comes to its respective impacts on the two teams’ 40-man rosters and payrolls, all of which is worth bearing in mind as Tuesday’s deadline approaches.

The full deal swaps the 28-year-old Hader for the 31-year-old Rogers plus 30-year-old righty Dinelson Lamet and a pair of 23-year-old prospects, lefty Robert Gasser, who had been pitching for the Padres’ High-A Fort Wayne affiliate, and outfielder Esteury Ruiz, who joined the major league squad just before the All-Star break.

As you can see from the table above, Hader, who pitched to a 1.23 ERA and 1.69 FIP last year and saved 34 games, was humming along just fine through the season’s first three months, but from July 4–16, he was rocked for five homers and 12 runs in six appearances and just 4.1 innings, getting charged with three losses. On July 13, he failed to retire any of the hitters he faced before serving up a three-run homer to the Twins’ Jose Miranda. Two days later, he retired just one of seven Giants, yielding six runs via three homers, including a walk-off grand slam by Mike Yastrzemski.

Instead of heading to the All-Star Game in Los Angeles after that, Hader joined his wife Maria, who gave birth to the couple’s first child on June 15. About three weeks earlier, she had experienced complications in her pregnancy that led to Hader being placed on the family medical emergency list to be with her. He didn’t offer his family situation as an excuse for his recent struggles, but one could hardly blame him for the distraction. For what it’s worth, he went a week without pitching due to the All-Star break and, since returning, had allowed just one run in four innings, striking out seven, converting two save chances, and picking up a win as well.

Beyond that, other aspects of Hader’s dip are not only worth noting but also may be more germane. His overall 41.8% strikeout rate and strikeout-walk differential of 33.3 are both third among all relievers, but when batters make contact, it’s been a problem. His 17.4% barrel rate is a career high and puts him in the lowest percentile, though his 87.0 mph average exit velo and 34.8% hard-hit rate are in the 81st and 74th percentiles, respectively.

Much of the recent damage against Hader was done to his sinker, which in July was hit for a .345 average and .759 slugging percentage; the 10 hits and five extra-base hits he allowed during the month were more than he allowed via the pitch from April through June (four hits, three for extra bases). Hader has thrown the pitch faster this year than last, but he’s throwing it from a higher arm slot and getting less movement on it (h/t to Sports Info Solutions’ Dominick Ricotta):

Josh Hader’s Sinker
Year Velo Drop (in) Break (in) V Rel (in) H Rel (in) AVG SLG wOBA xwOBA
2019 95.5 12.6 9.6 62.6 38.3 .171 .424 .276 .258
2020 94.5 13.6 9.9 62.9 39.5 .179 .462 .350 .315
2021 96.4 12.1 9.8 63.8 36.7 .103 .171 .191 .228
2022 97.2 11.5 8.5 66.5 34.0 .207 .415 .314 .312
July 2022 97.4 12.0 9.0 66.8 33.8 .345 .759 .453 .460

(Statcast reports its pitch movement in inches but its horizontal and vertical release points in feet; I’ve converted those to inches to give a better idea of the scales.)

As you can see, Hader’s vertical release point is rising as his horizontal release point is moving toward the plate. He’s getting less run on the pitch, and possibly less deception, which may explain why it’s getting hit more often. This recent hiccup aside, it’s still an effective pitch, with batters whiffing on it 31.1% of the time, the majors’ ninth-highest rate. Meanwhile, his slider remains dominant, with batters managing just a .146 AVG/.317 SLG against it, along with an astronomical 57.5% whiff rate.

Hader is making $11 million this year and has one more year of arbitration eligibility remaining, meaning that his salary could wind up north of $15 million next season. Particularly given that he’s now a one-inning pitcher — only once in the past three seasons has he gotten more than three outs, and that was in 2020 — that’s a lot of money to tie up for about 60 innings, even 60 high-leverage ones. With the Brewers already having one alternative to close on hand in Devin Williams, who’s again been lights out (1.59 ERA, 1.31 FIP in 39.2 innings), it was tough for president of baseball operations David Stearns to resist the package offered to him by the Padres.

Even with Hader and Williams, the Brewers’ bullpen ranks a modest sixth in the league in ERA (3.93) and eighth in FIP (also 3.93). They’ve been touched by the long ball too often, serving up 1.16 homers per nine, the league’s fourth-highest rate; that’s offset their 25.4% strikeout rate and a strikeout-walk differential of 16.5, both of which rank fifth in the league. Meanwhile, the Padres’ bullpen entered Monday with a nearly identical 3.94 ERA but a 3.67 FIP, good for third in the league. While not quite as prolific in missing bats, their 0.94 homers per nine is the NL’s sixth-lowest; having the league’s most groundball-oriented corps (46.6% rate) helps in that department.

Rogers is making $7.3 million this year, his final one before free agency. He didn’t spend long with San Diego. After making the All-Star team for the first time last year but missing most of the second half due to a left middle finger sprain, he was traded to the Padres on April 7 in a deal headlined by Chris Paddack. He’s been pitching better than his ERA indicates; his 2.01 differential between his ERA and FIP ranks fifth among all relievers, and he’s allowed just one homer all season. A .333 BABIP has been the bane of his existence, but also nothing new, as he was at .358 last year and .400 the year before. His Statcast numbers (88.8 mph average exit velocity, 7.3% barrel rate, 40.4% hard-hit rate) are mediocre, ranging from the 29th to the 52nd percentile.

Rogers has been beaten lately by a proliferation of singles and doubles against his sinker-slider combo; in July, his sinker was hit for a .389 AVG/.556 SLG, and his slider .370 AVG/.556 SLG. For the season as a whole, his sinker has been only a bit less effective on contact than last year, and his slider actually more effective. Both are getting more whiffs per swing than last year.

Taylor Rogers Pitch Results
Pitch Year % Vel AVG OBP SLG Whiff%
Sinker 2019 49.8% 94.8 .250 .382 .282 15.2%
Sinker 2020 53.4% 94.6 .366 .561 .415 14.8%
Sinker 2021 46.0% 95.7 .237 .395 .288 15.5%
Sinker 2022 45.1% 94.5 .308 .415 .353 18.7%
Slider 2019 35.4% 82.8 .217 .337 .251 35.7%
Slider 2020 43.3% 81.2 .262 .405 .302 32.2%
Slider 2021 54.0% 84.0 .256 .346 .263 38.8%
Slider 2022 54.8% 81.2 .189 .300 .245 38.1%
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

Where Rogers has struggled is in pitching from the stretch. With men on base he’s yielded a .282/.369/.437 line, up from .240/.280/.413 last year and .275/.321/.446 over the past three seasons. That’s a lot of extra non-outs with men on base, producing more traffic and more trouble. His recent struggles — blowing four out of 10 save opportunities dating back to June 28 — led manager Bob Melvin to remove him from the closer role over the weekend. Assuming he arrests this slide, he may yet return to the role, possibly in tandem with Williams if manager Craig Counsell wants to go by matchups.

As for Lamet, who’s making $4.775 million this year and has one more year of club control remaining, he’s bounced between the Padres and Triple-A El Paso this season, pitching erratically in a full-time relief role for San Diego. In 12.1 major league innings, he’s been rocked for a 9.49 ERA and 5.07 FIP, walking 14.5% of hitters and striking out 28.5%; those are his worst numbers in parts of five major league seasons, though this year’s sample is small enough to dismiss. Last year, he made just nine starts and 22 appearances totaling 47 innings due to recurrent inflammation in his forearm, raising fear he might need a second Tommy John surgery.

That’s all far less than anyone hoped for from Lamet, who from 2017 to ’20 — a span interrupted by Tommy John surgery in ’18 — pitched to a 3.76 ERA and 3.72 FIP in 256.1 innings as a starter. On the strength of his high-90s fastball/slider combo, he struck out 31.6% of hitters in that span, the majors’ sixth-highest rate behind only Chris Sale, Max Scherzer, Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander, and Jacob deGrom among pitchers with at least 250 innings. Even with his 9.8% walk rate, his 21.9% strikeout-walk differential ranked 14th in that span, between Clayton Kershaw and Yu Darvish. In 2020, he placed fourth in the NL Cy Young voting on the strength of a 2.09 ERA, 2.48 FIP, and 34.8% strikeout rate, but his season ended with a bout of biceps tightness in late September.

Aside from the health woes, Lamet has never come up with an effective third pitch, and so he doesn’t have much of an answer for lefties, who have hit him at a .240/.328/.423 clip for his career, compared to .191/.281/.340 for righties. Since the start of last year, the split is much wider: .330/.393/.528 versus lefties, .228/.340/.378 versus righties. Perhaps the Brewers can help him find another weapon; for now, he’s something of a project, but has the stuff to become a late-inning option.

As for the prospects, Ruiz is a speedster who hit an eye-opening .333/.467/.560 with 13 homers and a minors-leading 60 steals (in 69 attempts) in 77 games split between San Antonio and El Paso before being recalled by San Diego just before the All-Star break. In 27 PA so far, he’s hit just .222/.222/.333 and gone 1-for-3 in stolen base attempts; notably, he was caught stealing third base in his major league debut while the go-ahead run was at the plate.

As I noted a couple of weeks ago in the context of the team’s recent spate of injuries, Ruiz was rated as a 35+ Future Value prospect as of May, when he was ranked 25th on our Padres prospect list. His combination of 70-grade speed and average raw power drew Alfonso Soriano comparisons at one point, in part because he was a bad second baseman before moving to the outfield. All of his other tools are at least a grade below average, with his hit tool graded at 30/35 (though it’s worth noting he struck out at just a 17.4% rate in the minors this year, down from 20.7% last year). From Eric Longenhagen’s report:

There are still swing-and-miss issues lurking beneath the surface here, especially against high fastballs. Ruiz is still likely to have a well-below-average hit tool, but he has enough power to be dangerous and is especially adept at hooking breaking balls that don’t finish down the left field line. Ruiz’s impact speed has helped him transition from second base to left field, and now to center field, where he began to see time in 2021. He has barely played 50 career games in center, and he often shows the discomfort and tentative body language of someone new to the position while circling fly balls, but he definitely has the long speed to play there with time, and that speed plays on the bases as well; Ruiz stole 23 bases during the first month of play in 2022. His speed is so disruptive that it alone should give him big league utility as a top-shelf pinch runner, with the chance that he might run into one off the bench the cherry on top of an up/down outfielder sundae.

Ruiz could get a look in center field, where the Brewers made the Replacement Level Killers list due to the struggles of the since-retired Lorenzo Cain, Tyrone Taylor, and Jonathan Davis. More likely, he’s a fourth or fifth outfielder who makes a lot of late-inning appearances.

As for Gasser, the 6-foot-1, 185-pound lefty was a 2021 second-round pick out of the University of Houston, signing for an $884,000 bonus. As of May, he was 14th on the Padres list as a 40 FV prospect, when Eric described him as “an athletic, low-slot lefty with an ultra-short arm action and command of three pitches… [who] projects as a quick-moving backend starter.”

Via Eric’s notes, Gasser’s fastball sits 90–92 mph; he can elevate it and miss bats at the letters due to the shallow angle created by his arm slot or sink it lower in the zone or off the plate. His slider generates swings and misses in the zone, with a great back-foot angle against righty batters, and he’s developing a changeup. “Pitchers with a lower arm slot and loose, athletic deliveries tend to develop good changeups as well, and Gasser already has some feel for locating his, though it has below-average movement,” Eric wrote. Gasser also has a curve, a cutter, and a changeup.

In all, while this looks like something of challenge trade, there’s a significantly lower chance that Rogers ends up working the ninth in Milwaukee than Hader does in San Diego. For Milwaukee, replacing Hader won’t be easy, but if the coaching staff can right Rogers, the difference won’t be huge. Lamet offers tantalizing upside as well, and in a separate trade on Monday night, the Brewers added Matt Bush from the Rangers, further bolstering the bullpen.

As for the Padres, they actually shaved about $1 million off this year’s payroll, as Rogers and Lamet are making a combined $12.075 million to Hader’s $11 million, leaving them about $9.4 million under the $230 million Competitive Balance Tax threshold. By trading Ruiz and Lamet, they also cleared a couple of spots on their 40-man roster in advance of what’s likely to be more trades, and the prospects they dealt, while they may turn into useful major leaguers, are hardly blue-chip ones. And they were able to steer clear of moving the players whom the Nationals are rumored to be interested in via a Soto trade — such as C.J. Abrams, Robert Hassell III, and Adrian Morejon — in landing an All-Star closer. We’ll see what they have in store on Tuesday.

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky

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1 year ago

Love this move for Milwaukee. The closers’ peripherals are similar, and Mil gets additional players and 2023 salary relief on top of it all. Their fans may look at Rogers’ unlucky ERA and freak out, but this is the type of move only a smart, confident front office can make. Reminds me of Tampa.

1 year ago
Reply to  marinmccoveys

Brewer fan here. The shallow fans that don’t understand are complaining. Those that follow a lot of baseball get it.

Regardless of who is traded at this point, Stearns has earned the benefit of the doubt.