Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Return of John Axford

After a rough start to the season, Brewers fans had reasons to be concerned about John Axford. He seemed to struggle with his location and simply wasn't getting batters to chase the pitches that made him successful in 2010. Sure, it was only 6.1 innings, but some signs for regression were there.

I wrote an article depicting the struggles from Axford and blaming most of it on location. The velocity was still there, but Axford wasn't placing his pitches where he wanted them. Looking back, Axford has seemed to solve this issue and return to his 2010 form of a dominant arm at the back end of the Brewers bullpen.

Since those problematic 6.1 innings, Axford has been unhittable. Looking at his numbers before and after are a pretty good representation of Axford's turnaround.

Before April 19th

6.1 IP, 6 ER, 8 Hits, 6 BB, 6 K, 3 Saves, 2 Blown Saves

Since April 19th

15 IP, 4 ER, 15 Hits, 2 BB, 21 K, 9 Saves, 0 Blown Saves

The outcome looks even more promising for Axford. Thus far, batters who put the ball in play have had that ball land for a hit 38.6% of the time. While Axford has done a very good job of limiting the amount of contact being made against him (11.5 K/9), his has been unlucky thus far. If those numbers dip to the league average of 29-31%, Axford's late inning effectiveness will only increase.

He has also improved his ability to throw strikes during this span. Through those first seven outings, Axford was throwing strikes at a 60.4% clip. As that number has increased, so has his productivity. Since April 19th, Axford's pitches have gone for strikes 68% of the time. This obviously leads to the increased strikeout and reduced walk totals. Also leading to that positive turn has been Axford's ability to get hitters to swing and miss when he is throwing those strikes. Right now, Axford's getting swings and misses at 21.3% of the pitches inside the strike zone. For a reference, Axford recorded just 15.8 in that category last year.

However it's looked at, John Axford's production is on the rise. For a closer who is controlled very cheaply, this is great news for the Brewers. As long as Axford continues to throw strikes and use his plus arm, the Brewers have a very nice asset at the back end of their bullpen.

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