The Milwaukee Brewers bullpen has been a strength for the past few seasons, but the cast of characters seems to change year-to-year. Last year it was Tyler Thornburg and Jeremy Jeffress working as a formidable one-two punch. Before that, K-Rod was racking up saves for the Brew Crew. The names have changed, but the current group has played a large role in the current success the team is enjoying.
One question remains: Is the Milwaukee Brewers bullpen good or just lucky?
Neftali Feliz has the ninth inning role locked down for the foreseeable future in Milwaukee. He has eight saves in nine chances, but that comes with a 5.68 ERA. Now, he hasn’t been that bad, in fact, his 4.96 xFIP indicates his ERA should be over half a run lower than it is. His 8.53 K/9 is what you want to see from a league average closer, and his 3.55 BB/9 is nothing to be too alarmed about. Feliz is a perfectly serviceable Major League closer.
The Eighth Inning Guys
This is where the Milwaukee bullpen starts to get interesting and scary at the same time. Right-handers Corey Knebel and Carlos Torres have worked their way into the set up roles for the Brewers, and are most likely to throw the eighth inning, depending on usage. Knebel has been fantastic and appears to be putting together a breakout season. Carlos Torres remains…Carlos Torres.
Knebel has 19 Ks in 14 1/3 innings of work with a 1.26 ERA. His fastball/curveball combination has been absolutely devastating, and he seems poised to be next in line for saves should Feliz require a trip to the DL or moves on in a deadline deal.
If Knebel inspires confidence, Carlos Torres is the polar opposite. Torres had shown an ability to handle hitters on both sides of the plate in years past, but this year he’s been the one getting handled. He owns a .370 OPS against lefties, and a .359 OPS against righties. Oh, and his strikeout totals are about half of what they used to be, while his walk rate has increased. The fact that he has a 3.71 is a miracle given how he’s thrown.
The Other Guys
Oliver Drake has been a most welcome surprise. He really has one pitch, but it’s fantastic, and he’s used it almost exclusively to rack up impressive numbers in his first few weeks with the Brewers. He’s already made eight appearances in a Milwaukee uniform, and he has a 15:6 K:BB in 11 innings. His ERA with the Brewers sits at 1.64 and it’s clear that he’s working his way into a larger role. As long as his splitter continues to tumble, he’ll find success.
We’ve spent a lot of time on this site writing about Jacob Barnes. He’s come back to Earth, and his ERA currently sits at 3.14. What’s troubling here is that he’s starting to walk batters more often. He’s allowed at least one walk in each of his last four appearances. Calling him a ‘closer-in-waiting’ was a bit premature, but the skills are clearly there.
Jhan Marinez and Jared Hughes also occupy space in the Brewers bullpen. Marinez has the fastball/slider combo that late inning relievers typically come with, but it’s obvious that not even he knows where some of his pitches will end up. Hughes relies almost exclusively on his fastball to generate ground balls. He lacks the secondary stuff to generate strikeouts, but he’s really good at keeping the ball on the ground.
Rob Scahill was recently added to the roster, and his current function is to work as a LOOGY. He did get very positive results in his short time at Colorado Springs, but he’s yet to make an appearance with the Brewers.
All in all, the Milwaukee Brewers have an intriguing bunch, but Knebel appears to be the only true breakout at this point. Barnes has flashed quality, and Feliz is averaging over 96 MPH on his fastball in his age 29 season. Drake has been a lot of fun to watch, but it will be interesting to see how he fares in his second go around the league. So are they good or lucky? It’s fair to say that anyone not named Knebel has been a bit of both, while Knebel has been fantastic.