Milwaukee Brewers: Bullpen key to team’s success

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JULY 27: Manager Craig Counsell
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JULY 27: Manager Craig Counsell /

Going into 2018 the Milwaukee Brewers have some question marks in their starting rotation so the key to the team’s success will be their bullpen.

After the acquisitions of Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain, many thought the Milwaukee Brewers would sign a big named free agent starting pitcher to bolster their rotation. As of today, that has not happened. Because of that, the team is going to have to rely on the bullpen to give them a lot of quality innings throughout the year. Lucky for the Brewers, they do have a good bullpen.

Set-up and Closing

When discussing bullpens, the first two pitchers you look at are the set-up man and the closer. The Brewers have two really good ones in Josh Hader and Corey Knebel. Hader is a relief pitcher who can go multiple innings and is extremely difficult on hitters. In 2017 he struck out 68 batters in 47 innings. He had an ERA just over two and a WHIP just under one. His control could be better, but he is essentially the Brewers’ version of Cleveland’s Andrew Miller.

Knebel really came into his own last year in the closer’s role for the Brewers. He had 39 saves with an ERA under 2.00 and a WHIP just over 1.1. This was not the role the team figured he would have at the start of 2017. The initial plan was to have Neftali Feliz take on the closer’s role.  Feliz failed and Knebel came in and never looked back. His continued dominance will be important if the Brewers’ bullpen is going to be successful.

The Rest of the Bullpen

After Knebel and Hader, the Brewers have a solid group of relief pitchers. Matt Albers, Boone Logan, Jeremy Jeffress and Jacob Barnes all bring experience and various levels of success at the major league level. Taylor Williams, a surprise last September and again during Spring Training may be a nice addition to a deep bullpen. He may start the season on the team or may contribute later this year.

Except for a select few, relief pitchers are tough to predict from one year to the next. This group on paper looks like a group that could help the Milwaukee Brewers win quite a few games this year and they may need to in order for this team to be successful. The biggest potential issue this group may face is getting worn down as the year goes on.

Managing the Workload

The starting rotation has some question marks and because of this, there may be a lot of games where the bullpen will need to get through 3 or 4 innings. In fact, in 2017 the Brewers’ bullpen logged the fifth most innings in Major League Baseball. Managing the number of innings the bullpen is used could be one of Craig Counsell’s bigger challenges this year.

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Finally, one of the two things will have to happen if the Brewers go to the playoffs. Either the starting rotation will have to be much better than anticipated or the bullpen will have to be one of best in the league. I would anticipate that a successful bullpen is a much more plausible option.