By Nathan Petrashek
John Axford is the only Brewers player I’ve booed. I don’t remember when exactly it was, but I suspect it was some time in June or July of 2012, when his every other outing seemed to end in a (BS). I’ve felt kind of guilty about that for a while now, because I’m usually a guy that likes to back up good players during their struggles. Thanks for letting me get that off my chest.
Axford was traded to the Cardinals today, so his time as a Brewer appears about over. The trade for a player to be named later was really more about finances than anything else. Axford was pretty good trending to okay, but he was making $5M this year and has three years of arbitration eligibility left.
The money would have been easy to swallow if Axford was still pitching like it was 2011. In the year that brought the Brewers to the brink of another World Series, Axford delivered a microscopic 1.95 ERA over 73 innings, all while striking out better than a batter per inning. He placed 17th in the MVP vote, a showing that I didn’t (and still don’t) think truly represented just how absolutely crucial he was to winning the division that year. It was one of the most memorable season-long pitching performances I’ve seen. To say Axford was a lockdown closer that year doesn’t give him half the credit he deserves.
But Axford has his share of fleas too, and that’s why I’m fully on board with jettisoning him. We kind of suspected it at the time, but 2011 looks increasingly like a well-timed aberration. Where Axford once had three brilliant pitches, only his slider ranks as above average this year (and just barely). And though he hasn’t really lost much velocity on his fastball, Axford’s biggest bugaboo is the same today as it was when he took over for Trevor Hoffman in 2010: command. 2011 aside, Axford has always allowed too many batters to reach via the walk, which is a real problem when you have a propensity for giving up the long ball.
And then there were the character issues. Much of the time, Axford was fun, easygoing, and entertaining, and he usually owned it after he blew a save. But man, when that guy took to Twitter, he could troll with the best of them, often responding in kind to neanderthal tweets. To his credit, he’s scaled back on that a lot this year.
For me, John Axford does not leave a complicated legacy. I’m going to carry those memories of 2011 fondly, one of the greatest relief seasons I’ve had the pleasure of watching in person. But today, Axford is just a guy who makes too much money. That (and the lack of a long-term contract) makes him expendable. Though I wish Axford well with the evil empire, the Brewers made the right move.