Milwaukee Brewers: Knebel, Yelich, and lackluster defense

MILWAUKEE, WI - APRIL 05: Corey Knebel
MILWAUKEE, WI - APRIL 05: Corey Knebel /

It’s only a week. Let’s remember that. There’s absolutely no reason to react to anything that’s happened these first nine games, barring injury. But, here you are, so addicted to baseball you currently have an IV in at a rehab center. So fear no more, let’s make rash assumptions on a few of the early performances. Here is the recap for the first week and few days of the 2018 season:

1. Corey Knebel’s Injury

Having a closer that finished in the top five in saves last year go down is never a good thing. Especially when he’s not named Fernando Rodney and put up an exceptional year.

A 40% strikeout rate, along with an ERA of 1.78, is impossible to replace, so the Milwaukee Brewers shouldn’t try to. But, looking deeper into his numbers, Corey Knebel was due to regress. His 12.9% walk rate was ninth-highest in the majors among relievers, and his FIP and xFIP were nearly a run greater than his ERA. While his final numbers should sit more near a 2.50 ERA, that’s still a large loss for  the Milwaukee Brewers.

There is a bright side, though. Injuries happen to every team, and of any key position to lose, closer is near the top. Elite relievers don’t grow on trees, mind you. But, the best managers have a knack for mixing and matching to get elite production in the ninth inning. Also, Knebel’s injury is not as detrimental as first thought. The timetable is at least six weeks, a gift considering the way he went down.

Craig Counsell will need to manage his way through this injury. With cavalry on the way in the form of Taylor Williams, he’s in luck. A two-pitch arsenal with strikeout stuff, the young reliever shows how deep this bullpen is. Along with Williams, Milwaukee still flashes a video game-esque Josh Hader and some decent arms behind him. The bullpen should be the least of the Brewers’ concerns.

2. Christian Yelich

It’s a smart move long-term to put Christian Yelich on the disabled list. Oblique injuries are always tough to figure out and now is not the time to push such an issue. But, let’s take a look at the outfielder’s production thus far.

There was a lot of talk going into the season of Yelich having a breakout year. Many thought the combination of changing home parks, along with his age, would push the 26-year old’s home run totals into the high 20s or low 30s. For a hitter that has reached the 20-homer plateau once in his career, this would be an important development.

Yet the concern with the young outfielder wasn’t always the stadium. Yelich had a lucky HR:FB rate over the last two seasons. That generous rate fostered his power surge to 21 and 18 home runs in 2016 and 2017, respectively. So, obviously, Miami’s park can’t be blamed for Yelich’s lack of power knowing that more of his fly balls turned into home runs than league average. His batted ball tendencies are the major concern. He’s shown a strong leaning towards ground balls. Fortunately, that may be changing this year.

Yelich is sitting at a ground ball rate of 45%, after finishing above 55% the past two years, in his minimal sample size thus far. To put it into perspective, Yelich ranked 6th in ground ball rate last year. If he continued his transition, he would’ve tied for 48th in 2017.

Yelich has traded in groundballs for line drives. That’s a sign of a better approach. Not only that, its fostered a ridiculous 55% hard hit rate. Obviously, the hard contact will regress. Yet if Yelich can continue this change in his swing, he may join the 30-homer club.

3. Errors, errors, and more errors

This defense has looked awful. We’re talking little league defense terrible. At this rate, the Milwaukee Brewers might be better off with a team of little leaguers out in the field instead. At least then the performance would match expectations.

The Brewers currently have ten total players with an error, and four of them with two. The infield has looked particularly disappointing. Three infielders have recorded a fielding percentage below .929.

Defense is tough to measure in general. A lot of what the best fielders provide isn’t quantifiable. The best way to truly measure a defender’s impact is through the eye test. And, let me tell you, don’t try this method unless you enjoy pain. It doesn’t get any better watching these games.

Next: How important are Matt Albers & Dan Jennings?

The Milwaukee Brewers need to shore up their defense if they wants to make a serious run. With a lackluster pitching staff, the guys behind the mound can’t consistently give up free bases. They will figure it out, especially with the kind of talent that it possesses. However, the second base position is the worrisome area of this team. And, with Jonathan Villar’s walk counter still at zero, Brewers fans may be seeing a fresh face up the middle soon.