by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
Corey Knebel is going to hit the DL after sustaining what appeared to be a significant hamstring injury last night, in a game that the Brewers were trailing 6-0 before he even entered. Now the question is going to be who is primed to step into the role and try to fill his shoes? The speculation is going to be Josh Hader, but is he the locked in next up? We wouldn’t be so quick in reaching that conclusion:
3.0 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.67 WHIP, 21.00 K/9, 3.00 BB/9
He’s clearly thrived in his first two appearances of 2018 and has taken to pitching out of the bullpen. In 50.2 IP in the Majors he’s shown significant swing and miss stuff, with a career 17.6% SwStr%, using primarily a four-seam fastball (80.9%) to do the job. It’s a small sample, but this season he appears to have ditched his changeup (he threw it 7.2% of the time in ’17) and is going with just a fastball/slider combination:
- Fastball – 72.0%
- Slider – 28.0%
There’s nothing wrong with that, especially for an inning at a time (and his .153 BAA on his fourseam fastball and .100 BAA on his slider), and it’s easy to buy into the allure of the strikeout. However we can’t ignore his history of control issues (4.09 BB/9 in the Majors) and potential to be burned by home runs (51.1% fly ball rate). That’s a risky combination for any closer, and it would be magnified for a pitcher who was only recently converted to the bullpen and has 14 career holds.
None of that mentioned the extreme luck he had last season (.233 BABIP, 88.1% strand rate), which could easily go the other way without notice. Does it mean that he can’t thrive in the role? Absolutely not, but there are questions and he lacks experience. It’s more likely that they shift him to a primary setup role first, as opposed to sticking him right into the closer role.
6.0 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.67 WHIP, 7.50 K/9, 3.00 BB/9
Barnes operated as the primary setup man last season, with 24 HLD, and while he struggled with his control overall the makeup showed tremendous upside:
- Strikeouts – 10.00 K/9 (15.4% SwStr%)
- Control – 4.13 BB/9
- Groundballs – 53.3%
He was better with his control in the first half (3.86 BB/9) and while he spent a lot of time as a starter in the minor leagues, he owned a 3.3 BB/9 while working his way to the Majors. Obviously there’s concern with his control, but he has upside and other skills to offset it.
Strikeout potential, groundballs and solid control? That’s the package we look for, and he also has more experience in the late innings (he picked up a save earlier in the year, when Knebel was unavailable).
3.0 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.67 WHIP, 3.00 K/9, 0.00 BB/9
The veteran is coming off a tremendous year with the Nationals, having posted a 1.62 ERA courtesy of a 9.30 K/9, 2.51 BB/9 and 51.0% groundball rate. He did benefit from significant luck, with a .203 BABIP and 92.4% strand rate, though even with a regression there the skills would play well.
However he also doesn’t bring the same swinging strike rate that other options in the bullpen do (8.7% SwStr% last season) and he also doesn’t generate many swings outside the strike zone (26.0% O-Swing% last season). Last season he was throwing his slider significantly more (27.9%), though in his first three outings he appears to have cut down in that regard (18.9%).
Time will tell, and maybe the team does go with the veteran initially, but it’s hard to envision him running with the role.
You can argue that Hader has the highest upside, and he’s well worth stashing to see what happens, but if you are searching for saves we’d speculate on Barnes as being the best option. It’s possible that Albers gets the first opportunity, but the risk far outweighs the potential reward and it shouldn’t be long before he cedes the role to Barnes (if he’s even given an opportunity).
Sources – Fangraphs, Baseball Reference, Brooks Baseball
Missed our Top 100 prospect rankings? Make sure to check it out by clicking here.