Ah, the vagaries of bullpen performance. Brewers relievers finished with a 4.66 ERA and 33 losses in 2012, worst in the majors on both accounts. Yet this season Milwaukee general manager Doug Melvin has found that his club’s individual bullpen arms are quite marketable now that the Brewers relief corps ranks fifth in the majors with a 3.00 ERA.
Melvin traded his second reliever this summer in the deal that sends 30-year-old middle man John Axford to the Cardinals for a player to be named. Previously, he acquired high Class A third base prospect Nick Delmonico in the July trade that sent closer Francisco Rodriguez to the Orioles.
UPDATE: As rumored, the Brewers received righthanded reliever Michael Blazek from the Cardinals on Aug. 1 after he cleared waivers.
Michael Blazek, rhp
Career Transactions: Selected by Cardinals in 35th round of 2007 draft; signed June 15, 2007
A 35th-round pick six years ago out of high school in Las Vegas, Blazek really began to put his career on track when shifted to the bullpen in 2012. He took a giant step forward this season in terms of missing bats and limiting hard-hit balls, though his walk rate also spiked. In 36 relief appearances in the high minors, Blazek struck out 52 batters in 45 2/3 innings while allowing 28 hits (only one homer) but an untenable 26 walks. Two plus pitches support his case as a future late-game reliever. Blazek fires fastballs at 94-96 mph in one-innings stints and throws a tight, mid-80s slider. He really dominated lefty batters in the minors this season, holding them to 8-for-71 (.113) with four extra-base hits and a 3.6 K-BB ratio.
John Axford, rhp
Remaining Commitment: Prorated portion of $5 million salary for 2013, then arbitration-eligible for three more seasons, 2014-16.
If not for a susceptibility to home runs (10 in 62 appearances), Axford’s ERA would look much better than it does (4.45). The Cardinals are betting that moving from a homer haven in Milwaukee to a pitcher-friendly park in St. Louis will aid in that regard because Axford still sits 94-96 mph and throws a high-70s, power curveball. However, his velocity has diminished slightly across the board since his career year in 2011, and so too have his pitching percentages. That includes 44 percent groundballs (down six points from 2011), 22 percent strikeouts (down six points) and nine percent walks (up one point).