Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell announced that closer Neftali Feliz would be removed from ninth inning duties until he gets straightened out. Counsell also praised reliever Corey Knebel, but stressed he wanted flexibility at the end of games. Is it time for Knebel to take on the closer’s role, or are we stuck with a committee?
Corey Knebel has been fantastic this season. He’s appeared in 19 games so far this season, and he’s the only Major League reliever to have at least one strikeout in every appearance. His ERA sits at 1.00, and he owns a 29:8 K:BB ratio. He’s dominated in every sense of the word. Shouldn’t he be the relief ace the Milwaukee Brewers count on for the ninth inning?
Yes and no.
Labeling Knebel the closer means he is unlikely to appear in the seventh or eighth innings during high leverage situations. The Brewers need Corey Knebel to get them out of jams in close games once the starter has tired. Whether he comes in to nail down the game in the ninth, or get a few strikeouts with men on base in the seventh, doesn’t really matter, but he needs to be available to do both.
While the Brewers bullpen has been solid this season, there really isn’t a dominant reliever to call on outside of Knebel. Oliver Drake has been a pleasant surprise, but he relies so heavily on one pitch that it’s tough to rely on him day after day. If Drake’s splitter is missing the zone, he’s in for a rough ride.
Jacob Barnes was absolutely dominant in April. In May? Not quite as effective. He owns a 5.79 ERA in only 4 2/3 shaky innings in May. This comes after a 2.13 ERA with 15 K’s in 12 2/3 innings in April. The league has caught up to Barnes, and he needs to make an adjustment.
Right-hander Jared Hughes has rediscovered himself in the first two months of the 2017 season. He owns a 2.63 ERA with a WHIP around 1.00 in 14 games this season. Hughes even earned the save on Friday night when Knebel was unavailable after working 1 1/3 innings on Thursday.
Hughes is a great option…if the Brewers need a ground ball or two to get out of a jam. He lacks the secondary pitches to generate whiffs that lead to strikeouts. His K/9 this season is only 3.29, but he does have a GB:FB ratio near 5.00, meaning he gets five ground balls for every one fly ball allowed.
If Neftali Feliz is truly out of the ninth inning mix, manager Craig Counsell clearly has options that he can go to. Locking himself into a set closer now will limit his options in the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings, but he simply can’t afford to do that at this point. Having Knebel working in high leverage situations has helped the Brewers get off to a very good start. The closer by committee isn’t an option that the Milwaukee Brewers have employed, but it may be the right move for the next few weeks.