Milwaukee Brewers: Reasons behind Matt Albers’ resurgence

MILWAUKEE, WI - APRIL 06: Matt Albers #43 of the Milwaukee Brewers throws a pitch during the eighth inning against the Chicago Cubs at Miller Park on April 6, 2018 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WI - APRIL 06: Matt Albers #43 of the Milwaukee Brewers throws a pitch during the eighth inning against the Chicago Cubs at Miller Park on April 6, 2018 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /

After a rocky 2018 for Milwaukee Brewers relief pitcher Matt Albers, he has bounced back this season and here is why.

When Milwaukee Brewers fans think of Matt Albers’ 2018 season, the first thing that comes to mind was his struggles on the mound, and rightfully so.

On the season, Albers would have issues staying healthy with multiple IL stints and in his 34.1 innings pitched, he would post a 7.34 ERA, with a WHIP of 1.660.

But what is lost in his overall performance from 2018 was a very good 2017 season that he would have with the Washington Nationals and the solid start he put together to begin the 2018 season.

Through the first two months, Albers would cover 25 innings allowing only three earned runs and record a 0.72 ERA, along with just two home runs, five walks, and 21 strikeouts. He was one of the Milwaukee Brewers most reliable options out of the pen at that point in the season.

However, after suffering a shoulder strain Albers was never the same and he would later end up on the IL a second time with a hamstring injury. That coupled with his issues on the mound would consume Albers and he would only pitch in 5.2 innings during the second half of the season.

Even with last year’s struggles still fresh in everyone’s minds, the Milwaukee Brewers essentially guaranteed Albers a spot in the bullpen during Spring Training. And with the absence of Corey Knebel this season, the Brewers have really needed Albers and others to step up in the bullpen, and so far he has done just that.

In 2019, Albers has appeared in 26 innings allowing 11 earned runs, with 28 strikeouts, a WHIP of 1.154 and of his 25 outings, 18 have been scoreless. As Dan Plesac said, “look at Matt Albers! Just stepped in a big ole’ bucket of sassy!”

Outside of being healthy which has been a big factor in Albers’ resurgence, it’s his location of the baseball down in the zone and on the corners that has greatly improved.

Albers has never really been one to utilize the upper portion of the strike zone, but in 2018 he was catching far more of the middle lower portion (seen here) which is right in many hitters’ sweet spot.

Yet, if we take a look at the location of Albers’ pitches up to this point in the 2019 season (seen here), in comparison to what we saw in 2018, Albers is really hitting the corners of the strike zone much better, along with pitches just outside the zone that will entice hitters, but will result in weak contact if any at all.

As a result, Albers’ hard-hit rate has dropped over eight percent this season and his home runs given up per nine innings has fallen from 2.62 in 2018 to 1.04 this season. And with Albers creating more soft contact, his opponents BAbip has fallen from .347 all the way down to .273.

By working the lower corners more effectively, hitters are swinging at only 57.5 percent of pitches in the strike zone compared to the 72.6 percent that we saw last year. This once again has led to fewer balls in play, less hard hit balls, and more strikeouts per nine.

Another aspect of Albers’ recent success has been his pitch usage. Last season Albers’ fastball was hit hard, to say the least. Opposing hitters were batting .344 against that specific pitch. But now with him using the fastball less frequently in 2019, his slider usage has increased by over 11 percent and hitters have an average of .269 with a slugging percentage of only .308 against the slider.

The overall location of his pitches along with the combo of his slider and sinker have kept hitters off-balance so far this season.

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Milwaukee’s bullpen had some up and down outings at the start of the season but over the last month or so as a whole, things have steadied. If the Brewers hope to make another playoff push and maximize their potential this season, they will need Albers to continue pitching like he has and to give them another reliable option out of the pen.