Results tagged ‘ John Axford ’

Report: Brewers Complete Axford Deal, Name Player

image

Per a tweet from Tom Haudricourt, the Brewers have indeed identified the player they will be receiving from the St. Louis Cardinals to complete the trade for veteran reliever John Axford.

So let’s learn a little bit about the newest Brewers relief prospect.

Michael Robert Blazek is a 6’0″, 200 lbs right-handed power relief pitcher who was originally drafted by the Cardinals back in the 35th round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft. He turned 24 years old earlier this season and made his big league debut on June 22nd of this year.

Blazek struggled early in his minor league career and sports a career 4.13 ERA as a result. Being able to throw in the mid-90s usually gets you some time to develop, especially since he was signed out of high school in Nevada. This year has been a revelation for the player who was ranked as the Cardinals’ 5th-best prospect prior to the trade by MLBPipeline.com.

Here is the write-up on Blazek from MLB.com:

Just two years ago, Blazek was a starter who had reached Triple-A. With a four-pitch mix, it seemed his ceiling was that of a No. 4 or 5 starter. After seven ineffective starts in 2012, however, the Cardinals moved the right-hander into the bullpen, and he posted a 2.59 ERA and .182 batting average against in 33 Double-A outings. Blazek pitched with an average fastball as a starter, but he was up to 95 mph out of the bullpen, and it might be plus more consistently if he stays with shorter stints. He still has three secondary pitches in his curve, slider and changeup that have the chance to be Major League average. It seems like the Cardinals will stick with Blazek as a reliever, giving his stuff a chance to play up and get him to the big leagues faster.

That was written prior the start of the 2013 season. Stay tuned for where he’ll be ranked on the Brewers’ list after the trade is officially completed.

***UPDATE: Blazek was initially slotted into the Brewers Top 20 at #11 but then changed to #10. See it here: http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/prospects/watch/y2013/#list=mil ***

So far in 2013, Blazek pitched at both Double-A and Triple-A in the Cardinals organization before making his MLB debut. Combined in the minors he threw 45.2 IP over 36 appearances. He compiled nine Saves and a 1.97 ERA. His WHIP was 1.182 as he allowed just 28 hits and 26 walks. And his K/9 and K/BB were 10.2 and 2.0 respectively with his 52 total strikeouts. Those are certainly numbers that are encouraging.

However, once Blazek reached the major leagues his command struggles became more pronounced. He walked 10 in 10.1 IP to go along with 10 hits allowed, including two home runs. He did strikeout 10 as well, so the potential to “miss bats” at the big league level has certainly manifested itself early. But a WHIP near 2.00 as a relief pitcher won’t get it done. Nor will his ERA which sits at a robust 6.97 right now.

Some of that is small sample size fun, and Milwaukee’s pitching coaches will help him refine his mechanics and whatever else needs some help to get him to realize a bit more consistency.

He’s certainly a name that you’ll need to know about heading into next year’s Spring Training…that is, assuming he doesn’t come to Milwaukee for the balance of the 2013 season.

***UPDATE: The Brewers officially announced (about 20 minutes after this first posted) that Blazek will indeed be joining the big league bullpen tomorrow.***

Brewers Trade Axford

image

Milwaukee Brewers have acquired a player to be named from the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for right-handed reliever John Axford.

The announcement was made by President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Doug Melvin. Axford, 30, is 6-7 with a 4.45 ERA in 62 relief appearances this season.  Though he did not produce a save for the Brewers in 2013, he ranks second on the all-time franchise list in that category (106), trailing only Dan Plesac (133).  Axford went 21-19 with a 3.35 ERA and 106 saves in 268 relief appearances with the Brewers from 2009-13.  His 46 saves in 2011 set a franchise record.  He is eligible for arbitration. “John has been a big contributor to the Brewers, and we do not go to the playoffs in 2011 without his outstanding performance,” said Melvin. “He and his wife, Nicole, will also be missed as contributors to the Milwaukee community.”

In a corresponding roster move, the Brewers have recalled right-handed pitcher Alfredo Figaro from Triple-A Nashville. Figaro is 2-3 with a 4.25 ERA in 26 games (5 starts) with Milwaukee this season.

Has the Real John Axford Stood Back Up?

AxfordGoldAlternate

John Axford began the 2013 season as the Milwaukee Brewers closer and, more telling, as the longest tenured member of the Milwaukee Brewers bullpen. Gone were holdovers and friends, colleagues and mentors, teammates and Brew-Tang Clan members.

After struggling through much of 2012, the playoff push that the Brewers put together in August and September last season was fueled in no small part by the resurgence of Axford as closer. He was good again.

He entered 2013 coming off of an okay run with Team Canada and a handful of lukewarm outings in Cactus League play, but he was the closer. There was no doubt that he would start the season firing on all cylinders.

Except that then he didn’t.

I take some guff on Twitter for when I support Axford in Save opportunities. I tweet a simple hashtag when he’s entering the game in a Save opp. “#JohnAxfordSaves” is all it reads. It was a play off of his follicle situation in 2011 when he got on his incredible consecutive Saves streak. He had long hair, great facial hair, and was saving games. It worked. No one complained in 2011. People would wait for the tweet, expect the tweet, and retweet the hell out of it. We had fun. Then 2012 happened and Axford blew a whopping. astronomical, unbelievable, unfathomable, ridiculous, asinine… nine Saves. He saved 35. But those nine failures in a game of failure led a handful of people to whine about the use of the hashtag. I kept it going this year in the lone opportunity that he had. I’ll use it again in his next opportunity.

I make mention of the hashtag situation because the next opportunity Axford gets certainly seems like it’ll be coming sooner rather than later.

In comments to the media this past week, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said that it might not take much to give Axford the closer’s job back in Milwaukee. I won’t break down bullpen roles and personnel utilization here, but let’s focus on why Roenicke felt it was okay to make that statement.

John Axford appears to be back.

In his first four appearances of 2013, Axford’s results were pretty bad. Ironically, his best outing of the group was the one in which he blew his only Save chance this year when Dexter Fowler (who has since shown a much more powerful approach this season) jumped a first-pitch fastball in a bad location for a solo home run. Ax struck out the side around that pitch, including walking no one. Then, over the next three games Axford allowed a combined eight earned runs on eight hits and two walks over just 2.1 innings pitched. His ERA sat at 24.30 and some fans who only remembered the number nine instead of 35 and 46 were calling for his role, job, spot on the roster, and anything else within (and a couple completely outside of) reason.

I said it during last season, but Axford was so good in 2011 that he was set up to disappoint casual fans in 2012. He simply couldn’t be expected to maintain that level of success. There’s something called “sustainability” when looking at trends and averages and the like in statistical analysis of this great game. Guys hit well over .400 for stretches during the season, as an example, but there’s a reason nobody has hit .400 over an entire season in such a long time. In short, Axford shouldn’t have been expected to go 46-for-48 again, but some people did expect it and wildly jeered him when he didn’t deliver.

When Axford is “right”, he’s got upper-90s velocity, he keeps his fastball down in the zone as the norm, and can throw both of his off-speed pitches for strikes. His fastball has always been a bit straight, but location helps and being able to keep hitters off of it with the curveball and slider is important as well. When Axford was struggling to start the season, his velo was down and despite having relatively good command, he was getting hit pretty hard.

Axford has put together a run of six scoreless outings since that early-season blowup. He’s thrown 5.1 innings and allowed exactly two hits and zero walks. Over that same span he’s also struck out six batters. The first couple of games in this mini-run were certainly encouraging, but Axford would still give up some hard hit balls and his fastball would sit 93 and touch 95. Then the appearance in San Diego really started to puts some doubters — though somehow not most — at ease.

Coming out of the visitor’s bullpen to work an ultimately clean inning, Axford had the velo back. He was hitting 97 MPH on the radar gun and kept the ball down in the zone. It was a truly vintage Axford performance.

Following Roenicke’s comments about the closer’s job though, Axford was talked to by the media to get his thoughts about the job. He told reporters that, “(Current closer) Jim (Henderson) has my vote of support. If that’s what’s working now, it’s definitely the best thing. You don’t want to fix anything that’s not broken, that’s for sure.”

Those are words that fans would definitely prefer to hear right now as Henderson has been perfect in Save opportunities so far in 2013, but given Axford’s disposition and attitude, you have to think he isn’t just blowing the proverbial smoke.

Reporters then asked Axford about the rediscovery of his lost velocity. Axford admitted that there was “a very subtle change” in his mechanics that both pitching coach Rick Kranitz and bullpen coach Lee Tunnell helped identify and fix.

“It was a small adjustment of literally being more athletic, the way Lee told me to do it in the first place in 2009,” said Axford. “I was getting too upright on the mound, and now I’m making sure I’m more athletic and over my body. It was just a matter of being more comfortable with it.”

With the big fastball back and still commanding all of his pitches, Axford certainly has the look of someone who has returned to the form that netted him both Cy Young and MVP votes after the 2011 season.

Will there be hiccups along the way? Yes. Expect some, don’t freak out every time something goes wrong, and you’ll enjoy these games a lot more.

As for the hashtag, it’ll be there in all its superstitious glory just as soon as it’s accurate to do so.

Happy 43rd Birthday To…All Of Us!

birthdaybanner

On all of the social media accounts for the Brewer Nation…

…the birthday is listed as April 1st. Some people think that I set it up that way because Opening Day happens to be on April 1st this season or because my personal birthday is April 1st.

I didn’t realize how many people actually didn’t get why I have it listed at April 1 though. If you look more closely, the year on the birthday is always listed as 1970. Why?

Glad you asked…

ON THIS DATE IN MLB HISTORY: April 1 – The Milwaukee Brewers organization, headed by Bud Selig, purchases the Seattle Pilots franchise for $10,800,000. Although negotiations were conducted over a period of months, it was not until March 13 when a federal bankruptcy referee declared the Pilots bankrupt. Brewers tickets go on sale the next day. Team equipment is shipped to Milwaukee County Stadium, where the Pilots insignia is ripped off of the uniforms, since there is no time for new uniforms to be made.

The year of that even was 1970. The Seattle Pilots were an expansion franchise who played in Seattle in 1969 but then were sold with less than a week to go before the start of the 1970 season. Opening Day for the new Brewers was April 7, 1970 but the team officially became Milwaukee’s on April 1st.

As this community is a centralized representation of all of the fans of the Milwaukee Brewers, the birthday of being a fan of the Brewers is the appropriate birthday for The Brewer Nation. I may write everything that gets posted on the blog these days, but this is still about all of us. It’s about getting information and opinions out to us fans so that we can collectively apply our fanaticism.

So today, if you’re so inclined to think about firing off a Facebook wall post or a tweet or what have you…thanks! But please realize that you’re also wishing happy birthday to yourself because as a fan of the Milwaukee Brewers and therefore a member of the Brewer Nation, it’s your birthday too!

So like the title says, Happy 43rd Birthday to us! (Also, since it really is, Happy 30th Birthday to John Axford too!)

Oh, and since there is the coincidence of Opening Day being on our birthday, let’s hope the team picks something nice up for us at Miller Park today and gift wraps our first Opening Day victory in five seasons!

OpeningDayOnDeckCircles

Brewers Announce Opening Day Roster

Milwaukee Brewers

Following today’s final exhibition game (a victory over the Chicago White Sox), the Milwaukee Brewers announced their 25-man roster for Opening Day.

Here is the breakdown by position.

Pitchers (13)

  • John Axford
  • Burke Badenhop
  • Marco Estrada
  • Mike Fiers
  • Alfredo Figaro
  • Yovani Gallardo
  • Michael Gonzalez
  • Tom Gorzelanny
  • Jim Henderson
  • Brandon Kintzler
  • Kyle Lohse
  • Chris Narveson
  • Wily Peralta

Catchers (2)

  • Jonathan Lucroy
  • Martin Maldonado

Infielders (5)

  • Alex Gonzalez
  • Yuniesky Betancourt
  • Aramis Ramirez
  • Jean Segura
  • Rickie Weeks

Outfielders (5)

  • Norichika Aoki
  • Ryan Braun
  • Khris Davis
  • Carlos Gomez
  • Logan Schafer

The Brewers will also be carrying four (4) players on the big league 15-day disabled list to begin the season (Jeff Bianchi, Taylor Green, Corey Hart, Mark Rogers) and one (1) on the 60-day DL (Mat Gamel).

Special congratulations go out to Alfredo Figaro, Mike Fiers, Jim Henderson, Jean Segura, Khris Davis, Wily Peralta, Martin Maldonado, and Logan Schafer who are all making their first Opening Day MLB roster!

Latest Brewer Nation Podcast Available for Download!

Recorded last night over dinner and during a fantasy baseball draft, my podcast partner Cary Kostka and I get you ready for Opening Day!

We discuss the 25-man roster projection, lineup for Opening Day, rotation, Kyle Lohse, Yuniesky Betancourt and more!

Click here to download the podcast: Brewer Nation Podcast – 2013 Opening Day Preparedness

Preview of Brewer Nation T-Shirts...

World Baseball Classic Moves Forward, Six More Brewers Return to Camp

2013wbc

The Brewers had 12 total participants on six teams in this year’s World Baseball Classic, down from the projected 15 on eight teams just before the tournament started.

As the second half of the tournament moves into its double-elimination second round, three teams containing players from the Brewers organization have now been eliminated. As a result, the seven players on those three teams will be returning to Brewers camp, if they haven’t already.

Mike Walker, who rejoined the Brewers earlier this week, led Team Australia in hitting, going 5-for-11 (.455), but didn’t score nor did he drive a run in. Australia had a thin lineup overall and was simply outmatched by the strong teams in their Pool. Australia’s early departure actually allowed Walker to report to Brewers minor league camp right on time and with a worthwhile experience in tow.

Next up to be eliminated with Brewers implications was Team Mexico. They were officially eliminated Saturday night once Team USA defeated Team Italy in Pool play. That set up the winner of Sunday’s Team USA vs Team Canada game joining Team Italy in Florida for the start of Pool 2. Returning to the Brewers already today were starting pitchers Yovani Gallardo and Marco Estrada. They each made one start in the World Baseball Classic.

Gallardo defeated the powerful Americans in his start, despite being limited to just 49 pitches per request of the Milwaukee Brewers. Yo was sharp and stymied the USA bats throughout his 3.1 official innings pitched. Gallardo called the experience of defeating Team USA something he’ll always remember. After there being some doubt about whether he would even pitch in the Classic — after developing some tightness in his groin before joining Team Mexico — that he was able to perform well must feel good.

In quotes to Jose Romero of MLB.com, when Gallardo was asked about the atmosphere and intensity of the WBC he had this to say: “That’s the way baseball should be. The fans locked into the game just as much as the players, rooting for their country. There were a lot of fans of Mexico from all over the place who might have come in for it, and we wanted to have a good game. Show them what they came for.”

Also to Romero, Marco Estrada commented on his WBC experience which was less fortuitous than that of his rotation-mate. Said Estrada, “It was awesome. I got to meet a lot of guys, a lot of people I never knew before. There’s a lot of good players on our team, and just getting a chance to meet some of those guys … I only played with them for a week, but you become friends with a lot of them. That’s the one thing I’m going to take from this, that I got to meet a lot of nice people.”

As for the relatively early hook? “The thing about the Classic is that you get one opportunity to show what you’ve got, and like in my case, it didn’t go so well. So that was it for me,” Estrada said. “The first thing, honestly I felt pretty good. I thought I was locating well. Wasn’t getting a couple of calls and then I started elevating. I think I started trying way too hard and that’s when I got knocked around. Once I got out of that first inning, I settled in and it was fine after that. But it was too late by that time.”

For his part, Roenicke is understandably happy to get his pitchers back to Maryvale. He was talking about getting Gallardo and Estrada back in line for their eventual turns in the Brewers rotation once the regular season begins.

Finally then, we come to the losing team in Sunday afternoon’s Pool D tilt, Team Canada.

The Canadians had the highest number of Brewers players involved (shocking, I know) as four players were participating on their behalf. Pitchers Jim Henderson and John Axford both saw action today, with Henderson bearing the brunt of the late USA rally to assume the lead.

All told, the numbers may end up being forgettable for Henderson and even Axford, but the chance to represent your country simply cannot be quantified in numbers alone.

Someone who will be pleased with the opportunity to represent country along with pretty good results on the field is Brewers infielder Taylor Green who ended up starting at third base in all three games for Canada after Brett Lawrie was injured. Green ended up at .286 after an 0-for-5 final game, but he hit very well in the two other games, going 4-for-9 between the two. It was a rough finish, sure, with the goose egg at the dish and a couple of defensive miscues (neither of which were really his fault), but overall the experience should be viewed positively. Now Green returns to camp in a battle to win the starting first baseman’s job entering the 2013 regular season.

As for Rene Tosoni, he never got an official at-bat, though his one plate appearance was certainly memorable as it was his being plunked by Mexico that incited the brawl which will be replayed for years to come.

So for the Brewers now back at Maryvale Baseball Park, the experience was a good one despite a lack of overall team success. Kudos to them for participating, for wanting to participate. Kudos to the Brewers organization for understanding what it means to represent country and countrymen and allowing them all the opportunity to make their own decisions regarding the tournament.

There will be five Brewers players whose teams play in the second round. Ryan Braun and Jonathan Lucroy are with Team USA of course. Martin Maldonado and Hiram Burgos will move on with Team Puerto Rico. And with Team Netherlands, infielder Hainley Statia has only gotten two ABs coming into today, but his team has enjoyed some success advancing into the second round and having an opportunity to advance again to the Semifinal Round in San Francisco if they can beat Team Cuba, something they’ve already done once in this year’s tournament.

Milwaukee Brewers

Brewers Saturday World Baseball Classic Recap

Milwaukee Brewers

Brewers participants and their teams were in action again all over the World Baseball Classic tournament on Saturday.

Here is a recap of the performances by those who saw action Saturday:

canadaTaylor Green – Canada

Green had a great day at the plate for Canada on Saturday. Starting at 3B and once again hitting second, Green finished the day 3-for-4 with a walk and three runs scored. That included two head-to-head match ups against Marco Estrada. Green singled in the first inning and grounded back to Estrada in the third. Green’s other two base hits and his walk all came against left-handed pitching.

Green also had one outstanding defensive pick at third when a ball short-hopped him on a ground ball. Otherwise, solid play in the field again from Green. Team Canada is missing nothing defensively with Brett Lawrie out. In fact, they’re probably better off.

John Axford – Canada - @JohnAxford

Axford worked the ninth inning for the Canadian contingent, shutting the door on Team Mexico and helping to keep his team alive in WBC for at least another night. That work came after the fireworks on the field which were ignited when Brewers farmhand Rene Tosoni was hit by a pitch late in the game. More on this in Tosoni’s section.

Axford’s line: 1.0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 1 K, 0.00 ERA.

Rene Tosoni – Canada – @Tosoni08

Tosoni entered the game late as a pinch-runner and was stranded right away. He stayed in the game defensively in left field and would come to the plate again before the day was done. Tosoni was the target of some anger by Team Mexico. Already up pretty big late in the game, Canadian catcher Chris Robinson bunted for a base hit. This breaks an unwritten rule in regular baseball, but in the WBC one of the tie-breakers is based on run differential. After Canada was mercy ruled by Italy earlier in the tournament, Canada realized that they needed every run they could get. Tosoni was up next, got hit, and took offense to it. The catcher for Mexico kind of suggested physically that Tosoni should just go to first base and when Tosoni pushed back the benches cleared and a handful of individual skirmishes broke out. Luckily no Brewers were hurt and even though Tosoni’s plunking incited the brawl (where actual punches were thrown by more than one player) and Tosoni was ejected, none of the Brewers on either team did anything over the top.

puertorico

Martin Maldonado – Puerto Rico - @Machete1224

Maldonado started this ballgame for Puerto Rico at first base, hitting seventh. Defensively, his night was uneventful. At the plate, Maldonado got two plate appearances before being pinch-hit for. In his first AB against Carlos Zambrano and Team Venezuela, Maldonado struck out. His second trip to the plate was against a relief pitcher and he worked a walked. Maldy would come around to score after being bunted to second base. He was driven home on a single by Angel Pagan.

Puerto Rico would defeat Venezuela and advance to the second round of the tournament with play in Florida. Also already moving to that Pool for sure are the Dominican Republic and Italy. Hiram Burgos will be eligible to pitch for Puerto Rico again in Florida.

usaRyan Braun – USA

Started in left field and hit third in the batting order once again. Braun came up in the first inning with Jimmy Rollins and Brandon Phillips on base ahead of him but grounded into a double play. Braun led off the fourth inning with a single to left field. He then scored from first base on cleanup hitter Joe Mauer’s double to the wall. It was Team USA’s first run of the night and at the time cut the deficit in half.

Braun came up in the 5th inning with runners on first and third and only one out. He hammered a ball that just pulled foul past the left field foul pole, and then struck out a couple of pitches later. Braun singled in his fourth at-bat and flew out in his final plate appearance of the day. He finished 2-for-5 with 1 R scored.

 

Jonathan Lucroy – USA - @JLucroy20

Lucroy started the game on Saturday night for Team USA behind the plate and was ninth in the batting order for Joe Torre. In the bottom of the first inning, starting pitcher Ryan Vogelsong threw a wild pitch past Lucroy which led to Italy’s first run of the night.

Lucroy’s first trip to the plate was a simple fly ball out to the center fielder. He would single past a diving shortstop in his second AB and eventually score on a David Wright grand slam. His third AB was a fly out to deep center and he finished his night with a walk. All told, Lucroy was 1-for-3 with a walk and a run scored.

mexicoMarco Estrada – Mexico

Estrada started the game for Team Mexico a day after his Brewers teammate Yovani Gallardo effectively shut down Team USA over 3+ innings. Estrada was not as sharp out of the gate and he surrendered four runs in his first inning of work. He faced Brewers teammate Taylor Green twice, allowing a first inning single and a inducing a groundball comebacker to himself.

After the first inning, Estrada pitched well. He only allowed two more hits the rest of his day which ended after three innings and at 53 pitches thrown.

Estrada’s final line: 3.0 IP, 7 H, 4 R (all earned), 2 K, 0 BB, 12.00 ERA

2013wbc

Brewers Now Sending Fifteen to World Baseball Classic

teamcanada

In news he broke himself on Twitter yesterday, Brewers starting pitching prospect Nick Bucci told the world that he had been asked to join Team Canada after one of their originally selected pitchers had to bow out due to injury.

This presented a bit of a quandary last night because I thought I recalled there being a maximum of 14 players from any one franchise who could be used by teams in the World Baseball Classic. As I reported back in January, the Brewers were at 14.

I was then reminded that the limit is a soft one in that every player beyond 14 who is asked to participate in the WBC may do so with the blessing of their ballclub.

Here then is the updated list of Brewers’ employees who will be representing for their countries during the 2013 World Baseball Classic.

Team USA (2)

  • Ryan Braun*
  • Jonathan Lucroy* (Twitter: @JLucroy20)

Team Mexico (2)

  • Yovani Gallardo*
  • Marco Estrada*

Team Canada (5)

Team Puerto Rico (2)

Team Dominican Republic (1)

Team Italy (1)

  • Jeff Bianchi*

Team Netherlands (1)

Team Australia (1)

*-active MLB player as of 8/31/2012

2013wbc

Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers – #59 John Axford

BBtJN Logo

It. Is. February.

Yes, “Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers” is a countdown to Brewers Opening Day. We use the numbers worn on Spring Training jerseys though and that starts in February.

It’s February.

We’re 11 days from Pitchers and Catchers officially reporting for the Milwaukee Brewers. Some are already there. Some will be there this week/weekend. The latter sounds like it includes today’s profile subject…

axfordJohn Axford.

Axford, who you can follow on Twitter (@JohnAxford), tweeted out that he was in the midst of his annual rite of passage. Unfortunately those of us who have followed from the beginning know that the Axford family seemingly has an issue every year in getting into the country. Axford is Canadian and lives in Canada in the off-season. He has his passport and everything is in order for his travelling to the good ol’ U.S. of A. His wife has no problems either. The issue in the past has been that Axford’s son (now two kids) were born in America and are therefore American citizens and shouldn’t need paperwork other than their birth certificates…

It’s unnecessarily messy, but I digress.

Let’s get to why you’re really here, talking about Axford’s 2012 and looking ahead to 2013. (If you need a reminder about how we acquired Axford and what his 2011 was like, check out last year’s article here.)

Allow me to put the obvious out there: Axford wasn’t as good in 2012 as he was in 2011. I know it, you know it, he knows it. But you want to be clued in on something else?

Axford wasn’t as bad in 2012 as some would have you believe.

Now to dive into those statements a bit and explain them on the chance that you’re in the group I just described.

Coming off a great 2011 as a group — and an absolutely stellar 2011 by John Axford — there was one thing that everybody was certain of heading into 2012: “The back end of the bullpen is shutdown, awesome, and a legitimate strength of this team.” But a funny thing happened on the way to bullpen door.

Everybody was off at different times throughout the season and, unfortunately, often times bullpen mates were off simultaneously. It didn’t matter if you were a long-time veteran or inexperienced, a specialist or a long man, left-handed or right-handed. If you were in that Brewers bullpen in 2012, you struggled at some point.

I’ll touch on other individuals (if they’re even still in the organization) as their days come up on the schedule but to break down Axford’s season we’ll take it a couple of different directions.

Doug Melvin has stated this winter on more than one occasion that, by month, Axford only really struggled in one month having more than one blown Save where Axford took the loss.  While that is technically true — it was June — Axford also blew multiple Saves in July and all three of those games resulted in team losses even though Axford’s record was only directly dinged once.

So let’s look by month.

  • April: 9 G, 7.2 IP, 0 W, 1 L, 5 SV, 0 BS (blown saves), 4 ER, 13 K, 6 BB, 4.70 ERA for the month
  • May: 12 G, 11.2 IP, 0 W, 1 L, 5 SV, 1 BS (unearned runs cost him, but team still won), 3 ER, 18 K, 5 BB,  2.31 ERA
  • June: 10 G, 10.0 IP, 1 W, 3 L, 3 SV, 3 BS (all team losses), 10 ER, 10 K, 7 BB, 9.00 ERA
  • July: 15 G, 15.1 IP, 2 W, 1 L, 4 SV, 3 BS (all team losses), 8 ER, 17 K, 5 BB, 4.70 ERA
  • August: 12 G, 9.1 IP, 1 W, 1 L, 5 SV, 1 BS (team loss), 6 ER, 13 K, 7 BB, 5.79 ERA
  • September/Oct: 17 G, 15.1 IP, 1 W, 1 L, 13 SV, 1 BS (team loss), 5 ER, 22 K, 9 BB, 2.93 ERA

The struggles are not as simple to encapsulate on a month-by-month snapshot, but it gives a bit of a picture to work off of.  There is more to the struggles than is easily seen above too.

Axford lost his job in mid-July and said at the time that he literally felt like he was “pitching with new mechanics and never threw a curveball before.” This was a problem. When Axford can’t get his curveball over for strikes, hitters are able to sit on his fastball. Axford’s fastball doesn’t have a ton of movement on its own and is set up beautifully when he can mix in the curveball. It’s what makes the high strike so effective for him; hitters think the bottom is dropping out but it stays high and they can’t catch up. Add in Axford’s easy upper-90s heat, and they don’t even come close. But again, that’s only when the breaking stuff is working.

It’s not completely that simple, but you also didn’t click on this link to read 2000 words about a situation that most of us would like to forget.

When asked about the move at the time, Roenicke was blunt. He knew it was the best way to get Axford right. It would allow the reliever to work on his mechanics and confidence in them. Axford was given the full-time closer’s role back after a couple of weeks and was okay in August before getting his groove back in September.

When the Brewers went on their mad dash into playoff contention, it was the offense scoring runs, it was the rotation pitching well with its new pieces, but it was also John Berton Axford harnessing a bit of that 2011 form.

Heading into 2013, Axford is one of possibly only three carry-over bullpen arms. He is entrenched firmly back into the closer’s role entering the year. Getting the ball to him will be an entirely different cast of characters from Opening Day 2012 but between the veteran imports and rookie holdover who didn’t debut until late in the year, the bullpen is once again looking like a strength on paper.

But if recent history has taught us anything at all it’s that “on paper” doesn’t exactly mean a whole heck of a lot.

Statistics are also on paper though and Axford did post the highest K/9 rate of his career (12.07) but also the highest full-season BB/9 in his career. As for hitters being able to sit on his fastball because of the curveball control issues? Axford posted a 1.30 HR/9 rate as well, nearly triple his previous career worst. Another telltale sign that opposing batters were squaring him up was the spike in line drive percentage in 2012 all the way up to 24.0% of batted balls were categorized as liners. That’s a bunch.

One final look at Axford’s pitch selection underscores the problems he was having. Axford threw his fastball 72.9% of the time because he just didn’t have the other pitches the whole season. He’d never gone over 70% before.

Finally and again though the end of the season left this Brewers fan with a renewed sense of optimism in Axford as the man for the closer’s job. As for confidence? Never wavered. Despite what some casual fans would have you believe, Axford is so much  more talented than some flamed out predecessors who have done this job in short bursts for Milwaukee.

Heading in 2013, the back end of the bullpen is covered. As a group, we can be cautiously optimistic together that it’ll stay that way. Should you expect a perfect season? Never. Can you reasonably hope for quality on any given day? Definitely.

We’re 11 days away from P&C when they officially begin to prepare, but 59 days from Opening Day when it all matters.

Miss anyone along the way? Catch up on the Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers profiles to this point:

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 22,109 other followers