Bullpen Banter: Is Corey Knebel A Top 5 Closer Or Regression Risk?

by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

Entering 2017 we all knew there was the potential for someone to rise up in the Brewers’ bullpen, but most weren’t necessarily looking towards Corey Knebel as the man to seize the opportunity.  That’s exactly what happened, however, as he emerged as one of the elite closers in the game en route to these impressive numbers:

76.0 IP
1 Wins
39 Saves
1.78 ERA
1.16 WHIP
126 Strikeouts (14.92 K/9)
40 Walks (4.74 BB/9)
38.3% Groundball Rate
.311 BABIP

Obviously the number that looms large is his control, as well as his 91.9% strand rate.  Can he correct the control, which will help to offset the inevitable regression in his luck?  Let’s take a look:

We’d love to say that he showed signs of improvement as the season progressed, considering a 3.74 BB/9 in the second half.  However that number is a little bit deceiving, as it was buoyed by one strong month:

Month
BB/9
April4.38
May4.26
June6.14
July7.27
August2.93
September4.38

Just a low 4s BB/9 would be more than enough for him to have success.  Or would it?  That leads to another question, as you have to start to wonder if he can maintain his elite level strikeout rate.  Sure he posted a 13.9% SwStr%, but he’s a two-pitch pitcher who you can argue lacked a true wipeout pitch (Whiff%):

  • Fourseam Fastball – 17.25%
  • Curveball – 9.92%

It’s an electric fastball (97.85 mph), but if he can’t continue to generate swings and misses at this rate?  The regression would be significant, and considering that he wasn’t getting opponents to chase outside the strike zone very much (28.8% O-Swing%) it is a very real possibility.  That’s not to say that his strikeout rate is going to completely disappear, but let’s just say it drops closer to a 12.50 K/9.  With his control questions and the regression in luck the numbers are going to regress.

None of this is to say we are expecting him to lose his job.  With his stuff we wouldn’t expect the ERA to suddenly balloon to 4.50 or the WHIP to 1.40.  Instead we are likely talking about a 3.50 ERA and 1.20 WHIP, both solid numbers that should allow him to rack up 30+ saves over the course of the season.  They aren’t elite, though, more putting him towards the back of the Top 10 as opposed to a locked in Top 5 option.

Keep in mind the risk before making the selection, because if the luck falls further than expected it’s not unfathomable that he loses his role.

Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball

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Make sure to check out all of our 2018 Projections:

Player
Date Published
Cano, Robinson10/09/17
Castillo, Luis10/03/17
Gerrit Cole10/30/17
Didi Gregorius11/20/17
Wil Myers10/24/17
Quintana, Jose11/13/17
Sanchez, Aaron12/05/17
Schoop, Jonathan11/27/17
Stroman, Marcus10/16/17
Walker, Taijuan 11/06/17

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