Originally posted on The Outside Corner  |  Last updated 3/6/13
The 2012 Brewers scored more runs than anyone in baseball other than the Rangers and Yankees. They also led the NL in home runs and slugging. Despite the surprisingly prolific post-Prince Fielder offense, the Brewers only managed 83 wins last season, and pitching was mostly to blame. While things stabilized by the end of the season, for much of the year the bullpen was an absolute disaster. Milwaukee had 73 save opportunities in 2012. They blew the lead 29 times. That’s a save percentage of just 60%, at which point you should probably just start saying they had a blown save percentage of 40%. John Axford led the bunch (and all of baseball) with 9 blown saves. And as much as I dislike giving this distinction to a relief pitcher, that’s why he’s my Brewers X-Factor for 2013. There was a stretch where Axford was one of the hottest closers in the majors. After blowing two of his first five save chances of the 2011 season, Axford went on to convert the next 49 straight spanning into the 2012 season. Yeah, it was a largely meaningless streak that served more as a media talking point than anything, but it launched Axford into Proven Closer (TM) territory, and the Brewers’ bullpen was considered a strong point. The streak came to an end on May 11 against the Cubs, but things didn’t get bad for Axford -- and really, everyone else in the bullpen -- until June. In his last seven appearances that month, he had three blown saves and a walkoff loss (after entering to a tie game in the 9th on the road) to his name. By mid-July, he lost the closer job to Francisco Rodriguez, who was actually worse, and after a couple weeks of trying Kameron Loe and Jim Henderson in the 9th, Ron Roenicke gave the job back to Axford out of necessity. To his credit, he finished the year strong, converting 17 of 18 opportunities, but the damage was already done to his season. Baseball-Reference’s version of WAR had Axford at -1.2 for the year. FanGraphs had him barely above replacement level, at 0.2 WAR. WAR’s not great for relievers, though, so if you want to get a better picture of what Axford did, you could probably look at his -1.59 Win Probability Added. The only Brewers pitcher who did worse in WPA was Randy Wolf (-1.98), and he was cut loose mid-season. For more perspective, in 2011, when the Brewers won the NL Central and took the Cardinals to 6 games in the NLCS, Axford had a WPA of 4.29. It’d be unfair for the Brewers to ask him to be that dominant again, but a little more stability would be nice. Milwaukee finished 5 GB of the NL’s second wildcard last year with the bullpen blowing 2 of every 5 saves, and spent most of the winter wondering what would’ve happened if Axford & Co. had just managed to be plain old average at holding leads. If Axford can get right again -- let’s set the bar relatively low at 5 or so blown saves -- the Brewers have a shot at being a legitimate wildcard contender. Brewers on TOC End of Season Postmortem 2013 Season Preview You May Say I'm a Dreamer 2013 Burning Question This Is My Nightmare 2013 X-Factor [follow]

This article first appeared on The Outside Corner and was syndicated with permission.

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