In terms of throwing the baseball, Josh Hader of the Milwaukee Brewers is quite different from former Brewers great Rollie Fingers as a relief pitcher.
Hader is a lefty and he throws primarily fastballs in the mid-to-high 90s. The right handed Fingers used an assortment of pitches, but the slider was his number one pitch, as his fastball topped off in the low 90s.
Fingers also threw the change up effectively, plus later in his career utilized the forkball as a very useful pitch, especially when I was covering the Brewers during his time in Milwaukee.
Hader, on the other hand, relies almost exclusively on bringing the gas. His pitching motion to the plate also hides the ball really well to hitters. In one of his five saves thus far in 2019, Hader pitched a perfect inning, when he threw nine pitches and recorded three strikeouts. Only one of those nine pitches hit a bat, while the other eight were swing and misses.
But there is definitely one area in which Hader does resemble how Fingers used to finish ball games when he was considered one of the top closers in MLB. That is going multiple innings in getting a save. Like going two-plus innings to record one.
Just to illustrate at how good Fingers was at getting saves over multiple innings, just check out how many times No. 34 did that in his career. Fingers had 114 wins and 341 saves over his career with the Oakland A’s, San Diego Padres and Milwaukee Brewers on his way to Cooperstown. Fingers also posted a career ERA of 2.90.
But of those 341 saves, Fingers posted 74 of them by getting at least seven outs. That mark is second all-time in MLB history, only behind Hoyt Wilhelm, who recorded that feat 76 times.
Hader has done that a number of times already over his short time in the big leagues. This past Sunday, Hader went 2.2 innings to get his fifth save of the season against the Chicago Cubs, as the Brewers upped their season record to 8-2, which is tops in the NL Central.
Besides going multiple innings at times to record saves, Hader and Fingers have a couple of other similarities. Both were acquired by the Brewers in trades and both were originally starting pitchers.
Fingers was acquired in a blockbuster 1980 offseason trade with the St. Louis Cardinals which also brought catcher Ted Simmons and starting pitcher Pete Vuckovich to Milwaukee. GM Harry Dalton had to give up starting pitcher Lary Sorenson, outfielder Sixto Lezcano, pitcher Dave LaPoint and outfielder David Green to get the talented trio.
The trade was well worth it, as the Brewers made to to the postseason for two consecutive years, plus Fingers was named the MVP of the American League in 1981, plus won the Cy Young Award that year.
Vuckovich won that same award in 1982 when Harvey’s Wallbangers went to the World Series. Unfortunately, Fingers was not able to pitch in the 1982 postseason. More on that later.
Fingers was also an All-Star in 1981 and 1982, while Simmons had the honor in 1981 and 1983.
Hader was also brought to Milwaukee in a blockbuster trade. Midway through the 2015 season, the Brewers sent outfielder Carlos Gómez and pitcher Mike Fiers to the Houston Astros for Hader, outfielder Domingo Santana, pitcher Adrian Houser and outfielder Brett Phillips.
In terms of being starting pitchers early in their careers, Fingers actually made 37 starts for the A’s before becoming a full-time relief pitcher. Hader was also a starter in the minors, including his time in the Milwaukee system, before he got the call up to the big club. At that point, manager Craig Counsell decided it was best to utilize Hader in the pen.
And that is where he has excelled, although this season is the first time that Hader is considered the closer.
In 2017, Hader did not have any saves, but had a sparkling ERA of 2.08, while compiling a 2-3 record. No. 71 also had 68 strikeouts in 47.2 innings.
But it was in 2018 when Hader really broke out on the MLB scene. Hader was 6-1 with an ERA of 2.43, plus struck out an amazing 143 hitters in just 81.1 innings. Hader also had 12 saves, as he split closer duties with Jeremy Jeffress and Corey Knebel.
Besides that, Hader was named as an All-Star, plus won the 2018 National League Trevor Hoffman Reliever award.
This year, with Knebel out for the season due to Tommy John surgery and with Jeffress currently out with shoulder woes, Hader has been almost unhittable. In five appearances in which he has five saves, Hader has given up just one hit in 7.2 innings. No. 71 also has 13 strikeouts and has just one walk, plus has a perfect ERA of 0.00.
Hader has also shown a similarity to Fingers in terms of being clutch in leading up to the playoffs, as well as the postseason itself, although he has just been in the big spotlight just one year.
No one will ever forget Fingers pitching the Brewers into the 1981 postseason by beating the Detroit Tigers at County Stadium in early October, nor will anyone ever forget Hader saving Game No. 163 for the Brewers at Wrigley Field against the Chicago Cubs and winning the NL Central last season.
Besides being a seven-time All-Star and a four-time Rolaids Reliever of the Year, Fingers was also a World Series MVP, plus was a three-time World Series champion. In my opinion, he would have made that four times in 1982 when the Brewers played the Cardinals had he been able to pitch.
Fingers suffered an elbow injury in September of 1982 which caused him to miss the rest of the regular season and postseason. The Brewers lost the World Series to the Cards by a 4-3 margin, but had Fingers been available, they probably don’t blow late leads like they did in both Game 2 and Game 7 of that series.
But when he was healthy, Fingers was about as good as it gets in the postseason. From 1971 through 1975, Fingers was 4-4 with an ERA of 2.35, plus had nine saves. In the three World Series matchups that he pitched in, Fingers had a combined ERA of 1.35.
Hader was incredible last postseason for the Brewers, as he posted a perfect 0.00 ERA in 10 innings, plus had 16 strikeouts compared to just one walk.
That bodes well for the future.
The thing that separates Hader from other closers in today’s MLB, is his ability to go multiple innings. Yes, sometimes a closer will be put in the game in the eighth inning once in a while, but it almost never happens that a manager will put a closer in during the seventh inning like Counsell does with Hader.
Fingers knew how to close games out that way too.