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Josh Hader winning NL Reliever of the Year is surprising in more ways than one

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By: Johnny Flores, Jr.

LOS ANGELES — Before Game 4 of the 2018 World Series, MLB presented the AL and NL reliever of the year awards. In 2014, the awards were renamed in honor elite relievers Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman. This year’s winners are Edwin Diaz of the Seattle Mariners and Josh Hader of the Milwaukee Brewers.

The award has been traditionally presented to the game’s most elite relievers, which up until this point have been historically closers. The 24-year-old Diaz fits right into that category. This year, Diaz notched 57 saves with a 1.96 ERA and 124 strikeouts. His 57 saves are the second-most saves in a season in Major League history.

Meanwhile, as a member of the Brewers, Hader did not fill a traditional closer role. Rather, he was used in a variety of settings. Sometimes very early and sometimes very late. Still, there’s no denying that Hader had elite stuff. This season, Hader pitched to a 2.43 ERA across 55 games and 81.1 innings pitched. He reached a career high in strikeouts with 143. His number of saves? 12.

Ahead of Hader? Wade Davis, Kenley Jansen and Felipe Vazquez among others. Hader did not rank in the top-10 of saves leaders in the NL.

Why this is surprising?

National League Reliever of the Year Josh Hader of the Milwaukee Brewers and MLB commissioner Rob Manfred prior to Game 4 of the World Series. (Getty Images)
National League Reliever of the Year Josh Hader of the Milwaukee Brewers and MLB commissioner Rob Manfred prior to Game 4 of the World Series. (Getty Images)

Hader winning the award is surprising for two very different reasons. The first is the fact that racist, sexist and homophobic tweets of his surfaced during the 2018 All-Star Game.

The controversy was the first of many for MLB players throughout the league, who all had old tweets resurface.

Hader would later apologize during post-game interviews and received a standing ovation in his return to Milwaukee.

The award is equally as surprising because Hader does not fit the traditional mold that the award honors. Previous winners include: Jansen, Craig Kimbrel and Rivera himself. All at one point, saves leaders for their respective league.

In 2016, Zach Britton won the award, however, many believed it should have been Andrew Miller. Miller, who spent several years in the traditional closer role had morphed into an elite reliever, who could pitch whenever called on as a member of the Cleveland Indians.

At the time Rivera said, “To do the job that he had done in the playoffs, I love it. I enjoy seeing pitchers do that kind of job. He’s great.”

Miller did win the award in 2015, however, served a more traditional ninth inning closer award as a member of the Yankees.

The new-age reliever

Hader represents the changing role of relievers in the MLB. With an increased focus on the bullpen, it isn’t unusual for a relief pitcher to open the game in lieu of a starting pitcher or come out at the earliest sign of trouble.

On the trend newly minted Hall-of-Famer Trevor Hoffman said, “I think
we’re seeing a microcosm of what baseball is turning into, with the bullpenning and things like that.”

Hoffman later said that despite the lack of saves, what Hader was doing was too good to look past. “… It was that dominant from a reliever’s standpoint, it was taken into consideration the number of saves, but I think his year stood out amongst everybody else’s.”

While receiving the award, Hader discussed the evolving role of relievers like himself.
“I think that whenever your time is up and you can get on the mound and help the team out in any way … I think that’s really where the game is going now,” said Hader.

As the role of the reliever continues to shift, expect more players like Hader to get recognized.

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