Why is Josh Hader’s trade value low?
The emergence of Devin Williams as the likely closer out of the Brewers’ bullpen has prompted a lot of speculation about Josh Hader’s availability in trades — which is why he’s popular in proposals here on BTV. Since Milwaukee has other roster holes to fill, they might be smart to trade Hader to help fill those holes.
So what is he worth in trade? At the moment, we have Hader’s surplus value at 15.5
At first glance, that seems low, right? So let’s dive into why.
Through 2019, Hader was absolutely dominant. But in the weird, shortened season of 2020, he was less so. After putting up back-to-back fWAR seasons of 2.6 and 2.3, he slipped to 0.3. Extrapolated for a normal-length season, it’s the equivalent of 0.8.
Meanwhile, his FIP (a key stat in measuring fWAR for pitchers) has risen from 2.23 in 2018, to 3.10 in 2019, to 4.03 in 2020. The numbers themselves are less concerning than the trend, which is clearly going in the wrong direction.
Another key stat which influences our model for bullpen arms is WPA (Win Probability Added), which we find especially resonant for relievers because their whole job is to come in during the second half of a game (usually) and either hold a lead or keep their team in it. WPA is a proxy for that higher-leverage aspect. Relievers may not pitch as many innings as starters, but the ones they do pitch tend to mean more. So the higher the WPA, the better the reliever typically is at keeping the opposing offense at bay during critical times.
And indeed, Hader was fantastic at this in his two best years, accumulating 3.30 in WPA in 2018 and 3.15 in 2019. But something changed in 2020 by this measure as well: he finished at 0.33. Again, extrapolating that to a normal season (which we don’t recommend, as it’s volatile) would give us 0.89 — still good, but far from elite.
Meanwhile, Hader’s average fastball velocity dipped in 2020, from 95.6 to 94.6. Perhaps more significantly, he threw it less: in 2018 and 2019, his fastball accounted for roughly 80% of his pitches, with his slider comprising the other 20%; in 2020, his fastball/slider mix changed to roughly 67/33. So instead of slinging his heater four out of every five times in his best years, he backed off to throwing it two out of every three in 2020.
It’s quite possible that’s just a statistical blip. But it’s another data point going in the wrong direction. And it correlates with his reduced effectiveness.
Looking ahead to 2021, projection systems see a pitcher who’s lost a tick off of his fastball, is throwing it less, and is not getting outs in high leverage as much as he used to. Steamer projects him for only 1 WAR.
Using our method, which incorporates WAR, WPA, Statcast data, and injury risk (which is also a potential issue with Hader’s frame and unorthodox delivery), we project Hader to have a field value of $13.6M in 2021, and if normal patterns hold, $13.3M in 2022 and $12.9M in 2023, for a total of $39.8M.
Meanwhile, Hader is getting expensive. He qualified for Super Two status last year, which started his arbitration clock early. This year, based on MLBTR’s estimates, he figures to earn $6.8M. If normal patterns hold, he’ll be in line to earn $10.2M in 2022 and $15.3M in 2023.
That comes to $32.3M. Subtracting that from our projected field value above gives us a surplus of $7.5M.
But wait. We have to adjust a few things. First, notice that his projected field value of $12.9M in 2023 is less than his projected salary of $15.3M. Given that he’d be approaching his last arbitration year at that point, there’s a good chance he’d be non-tendered, since that’s a very high price to pay for a reliever. So instead of the Brewers eating that negative value, our model assumes that wouldn’t happen.
So let’s erase 2023 entirely from the books. Over the next two years, Hader would be worth $26.9M and be earning $17M. That’s a surplus of $9.9M. That’s better.
In addition, our model adds a small 5% premium to left-handed relievers because there’s a supply-and-demand market benefit for them. Further, since Hader is a star and figures to generate more market demand, we’ll add another 10% to his field value. Both of those adjustments together get us to a two-year field value of $31.1M, which, against his projected $17M salary, gives us a surplus of 14.1.
Still not high enough? Let’s go a step further still, and skew his range to the high side, figuring there could be a bidding war, on top of the market demand we’ve already factored in. We’ll put his minimum at 90% of that 14.1 number (which is 12.7) and his high side at 130% of it (which is 18.3). The median between those two is 15.5 — which is the number you see on the site today.
Another way of thinking about this is that, if Hader were a free agent, these numbers imply a three-year deal worth about $52M. That’s more than a $17M AAV, and would tie the Wade Davis contract for the largest ever given to a reliever.
We had to do some squinting just to get to that number, so going much higher than that seems excessive — especially when you consider the downward trends in the stats against the sharply rising arbitration salaries. Further, not a single team claimed Brad Hand at the $10M price point, which suggests the market for relievers is soft — it’s one area teams will look to shave salary, since there’s often an abundance of cheaper relief options on the market. It’s possible the demand for Hader’s expensive years may not be robust.
So what we’re looking at is a reliever who has gone from great to merely good, and from cheap to (getting) expensive, in a cold market. And as it is, the valuation is already about as high as it can go.
Given that, if the Brewers shop Hader, there will be some demand. But it’s unlikely they’ll get a huge haul for his services in return.
The thing that should concern people the most about Josh Hader is that his 2020 performance also accompanied a career-low .161 BABIP against. If that number regresses to the mean, and everything else goes along the same trend, you’re looking at a guy who wouldn’t even be tendered a contract.
However, there were a number of players that were negatively affected by the shutdown. Getting ready in March, only to then not play ANY baseball until late July probably doesn’t help.
Also, Hader is traditionally worse in the second half than he is the first half. Weather could be a factor in that. Who knows?
All we know is what you said: his value just isn’t there.
When coming up with values, something is still missing. Would the Brewers take Harrison Bader for Josh Hader? The system says that’s a minor overpay by the Cardinals.
The answer is an easy one. The Brewers would hang up laughing.
I do enjoy the website as a whole, but there are some bugs that need to be worked out.
Thanks for the feedback. We have plans for a future release of the site that will include more complex considerations, to your point. However, I respectfully disagree with your example case. Bader is an elite CF with three years of cheap control, coming off a strong year where he had a 113 WRC+. He’s projected to be a 2-WAR player in a position that is often hard to fill. That has considerable value — so why would you assume the answer is an easy one? Is it based solely on your subjective opinion?
It’s very important to follow the money as well. Bader is estimated to make only $10M over the next three years — for his level of production, that’s a real bargain. Hader is estimated to make $17M over the next TWO years, and likely $32M over three. That’s a much more expensive player, who is a reliever coming off a down year. Given that, I don’t think it’s an easy answer at all.
Hader is an elite closer. I don’t think it’s fair to judge Hader on 19 innings in 2020. His previous years puts him at the top of the class.
Bader is a glove first, part time outfielder. Yes, he put up 113 wRC in 2020, but last season was a very small sample size. 2019 his wRC was 81. I will agree, he is an elite defender, but his role is limited.
If you notice the majority of the Cardinal trade proposals have Bader in them. Why do you think that is? Is he worth more than Austin Meadows, Luke Voit, or Dominic Smith? All three of those have four years of control left, while Bader only has three, yet this site values Bader more. In reality, I don’t think Bader comes close to any of the players mentioned.
I’m not here to bash. I think there are a few anomalies, but the site is fantastic. I would love to see a forum so it would be easier for discussions such as this. I visit this site on a daily basis, so keep up the good work!
Thanks again for the feedback. I guess we’re going to have to agree to disagree on Bader. For the record, he is not a part-time outfielder. He played 138 games in 2018, 128 in 2019, and 50 out of 60 in 2021. That’s a starter. And again, the money is important. As we explain on the site, the values you see here are based on surplus. This is the amount of capital over and above salary commitments that front offices have to pay to acquire a player. It’s not: who’s the better player? It’s: who has the most value, which is their field value relative to their salary over their control period. Sometimes that means a lesser player in field value terms has more surplus.
And yes, a future enhancement of the site will make it easier for users to discuss valuations and fits. Thanks for the kind words, and glad you enjoy it.
If you look at the at bats, 379 in 2018, 347 in 2019 and 106 in 2020. That looks like platoon/late inning defensive replacement to me. He played in 50 games in 2020 but only had 125 plate appearances. That figures out to 2.5 plate appearances per game. For comparison, JBJ played in 55 games and had 217 plate appearances. That figures out to be 3.95 plate appearances per game. Joc Pederson even averages more plate appearances per game in 2020 at 3.2 plate appearances per game and he is strictly a platoon player.
So yes, we will have to agree to disagree. I really appreciate the feedback.