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Milwaukee Brewers: Five Major Storylines for 2017

stevenjewell
Feb 22, 2017; Maryvale, AZ, USA; Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Keon Broxton (23) poses for a photo during spring training photo day at Maryvale Baseball Park. Mandatory Credit: Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 22, 2017; Maryvale, AZ, USA; Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Keon Broxton (23) poses for a photo during spring training photo day at Maryvale Baseball Park. Mandatory Credit: Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports /
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May 25, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Milwaukee Brewers relief pitcher Carlos Torres (59) delivers a pitch to an Atlanta Braves batter in the 13th inning at Turner Field. The Brewers won 3-2 in 13 innings. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
May 25, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Milwaukee Brewers relief pitcher Carlos Torres (59) delivers a pitch to an Atlanta Braves batter in the 13th inning at Turner Field. The Brewers won 3-2 in 13 innings. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports /

4. What if the bullpen is actually good?

The Milwaukee Brewers lost three outstanding relievers last year. They traded Will Smith, Jeremy Jeffress, and Tyler Thornburg, all of whom carry reputations as excellent late-inning relievers.

Enter Neftali Feliz, Corey Knebel, Jacob Barnes, and Carlos Torres. Not the most household batch of names, but bear with me.

Feliz, after years of dipping velocity, jumped his fastball back up to almost 97 MPH on average in 2016. This is near the velocity he was pumping out when he snagged AL Rookie of the Year honors in 2010, after a 2.73 ERA, 40 save season.

Meanwhile, Feliz’s slider velocity jumped to its highest ever, over 85 MPH on average. As a result, he struck out 10.2 batters per 9 innings, the highest rate of his career since a shortened 2009 campaign.

FIP still didn’t like him (4.52), but his career ERA sits 60 points below his FIP (career .243 BABIP allowed), so he clearly induces weak contact. As long as Feliz’s velocity has returned for good, he could easily match his ERA from a year ago (3.52). He has 99 career saves, with a 3.31 ERA in save situations.

Feliz, after years of dipping velocity, jumped his fastball back up to almost 97 MPH on average in 2016.

FIP likes Knebel’s solid 107:36 career K:BB ratio (91 2/3 innings pitched).

Unfortunately, the big righty has a .322 BABIP against him over his career, which hopefully regresses toward .300 as he gets more innings under his belt.

While Knebel’s curveball isn’t dominant (11.53 whiff rate is just below league average), his fastball earns almost 30% more swings and misses than the average four-seamer. Above-average play may not be enough to lock down a closer’s role long-term, but Knebel could carve out a career as a setup man. To maximize his value, his walk rate will have to drop closer to his 2015 rate (3.0 BB per 9 IP) than 2016 (4.41).

Jacob Barnes throws two pitches, and both blew past batters in 2016. He owns a fastball that touches the high-90s and sits comfortably at 95. His slider averages over 89 MPH, well over the Major League average. Barnes’ slider caused opponents to swing and miss nearly 30% of the time, roughly equal to former Brewer Will Smith’s career mark, who was known in Milwaukee for his #SliderOfDeath.

Barnes posted a 2.70 ERA (2.36 FIP) in 26 2/3 innings in 2016, while fanning 26 and walking just six. If his power/command combination continues, he’s a very real candidate to close out games, potentially even this season.

Carlos Torres had a career year with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2016 at age 33. The journeyman leaned heavily on his cutter last year, allowing just a .226 opponent average with the pitch. And while his FIP (3.75) was less sterling than his ERA (2.73), he was an anchor in the ‘pen. Torres’ cutter gives him the effectiveness against lefties (.364 career SLG allowed) that many righty pitchers strive for.

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