We’re less than a month away from Opening Day, 29 days to be exact. I don’t want to get anyone overly excited, but that’s just four weeks and a day.
As far as seasons go, 2013 was an unmitigated disaster. About the only thing better in 2013 than in 2012 though was the performance of the bullpen. That bullpen was anchored briefly by John Axford (now of the Cleveland Indians by way of St. Louis), but the 9th inning was quickly handed to today’s focus…
A veteran of professional baseball, James Duffy Henderson made his MLB debut finally in 2012 at the age of 29. He had an okay first season in Milwaukee, albeit a truncated one, and broke camp in 2013 as the “8th inning guy” for manager Ron Roenicke. After a brief run of struggles for the incumbent closer — Axford, as mentioned earlier — Henderson took over the 9th inning duties as closer and posted a solid campaign.
With a 2.70 ERA in 60.0 innings pitched over 61 appearances and 28 Saves in 32 chances, Henderson was effective in his new role. The well-documented problem, however, was that Henderson was much less effective against left-handed hitter than he was against their counterparts.
The splits, if it pleases the court:
- vs RHH: .165/.232/.243, 125 PA, 19 H, 35/8 K/BB, 2 HR
- vs LHH: .238/.339/.448, 122 PA, 25 H, 40/16 K/BB, 6 HR
Henderson is primarily a fastball/slider pitcher, and his slider began failing him as the year went on. He couldn’t throw it for strikes much of the time and as has been true forever, if a big league hitter knows a straight fastball is coming, it doesn’t matter how hard it’s thrown.
All is not lost, though, Brewers fans. Henderson is aware of his problem and is working on fixing it. He and Roenicke have hinted that Roenicke could be working on adding a new pitch to his repertoire that will increase his effectiveness against left-handers.
But what pitch is it? Two pitches make some sense. Henderson might be working on a changeup which could play nicely off of his big fastball. An effective change can take time to perfect, so perhaps Henderson is working on the current pitch du jour in MLB — a cut fastball.
A cutter would keep hitters guessing and keep the fat part of the bat off the baseball often enough to be worth the effort in learning it. Cutters can be effective against lefties because as they cut into the hitter it can induce weak contact, swings and misses, and perhaps a few broken bats.
With or without a new pitch, Henderson will be counted on to lead the 2014 edition of the bullpen. He won’t be alone out there as guys like Francisco Rodriguez, Will Smith and Brandon Kintzler all have proven late-inning ability, but for the Brewers ‘pen to truly thrive, it will need to maintain its structure and depth for the most part.
Once Henderson gets into a Cactus League game, we’ll see how his new pitch is received. He’ll keep it or scrap it, but when the lights come on at the end of March he’ll simply need to get outs one way or another.
He’s got 28 more days after today to get ready, but he’s had 12 professional years to be prepared.
You can follow Jim Henderson on Twitter: @JimHenderson29
Miss anyone along the way? Catch up on the Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers profiles to this point:
- #30 Tyler Thornburg
- #32 Tom Gorzelanny
- #38 Wily Peralta
- #40 Johnny Hellweg
- #41 Marco Estrada
- #45 Alfredo Figaro
- #46 Hiram Burgos
- #47 Rob Wooten
- #49 Yovani Gallardo
- #50 José De La Torre
- #51 Wei-Chung Wang
- #52 Jimmy Nelson
- #53 Brandon Kintzler
- #54 Michael Blazek
- #58 Ariel Peña
- #59 Zach Duke
- #60 Kevin Shackelford
- #61 Jason Rogers
- #63 Brooks Hall
- #64 Mike Fiers
- #65 Irving Falu
- #66 Robinzon Diaz
- BONUS COLUMN: #77 David Goforth, #76 Kevin Mattison, #75 Mitch Haniger, #74 Michael Olmstead, #73 Kentrail Davis, #72 Cameron Garfield, #71 Adam Weisenburger, #70 Dustin Molleken, #67 Eugenio Velez