Milwaukee Brewers closer Corey Knebel has had a rough go of it lately. Should Craig Counsell continue to trust him in the ninth inning?
Since going down with an injury in the first week of April, Corey Knebel hasn’t looked the same. He was gone for a month with that hamstring injury, which robbed him of the ability to get in an early groove on the mound. Even though he’s been back for two full months now, Knebel still doesn’t appear to be the same.
Last year, he was one of the most dominant relievers in baseball, posting a 1.78 ERA while locking down 39 saves. Now, after the two runs he was charged with on Sunday, Knebel’s ERA has more than doubled from last year, up to a 3.91.
Even in 2017, the Milwaukee Brewers knew Knebel needed to pitch fairly often in order for him to perform well. If he ever went an extended period of time without pitching, he would struggle his next time out. But those struggles back then was only allowing one walk or maybe a hit. This year, these struggles have been amplified.
Knebel is known as a strikeout pitcher, and he generally works quickly to get the save. He normally comes in, faces only three hitters, slams the door, and everyone goes home happy. Knebel hasn’t had a clean, three up-three down inning in his last five appearances.
In those last five appearances, Knebel has given up runs in three of them. Sunday’s performance helped lead to a loss. His game on July 9th directly lead to a loss, giving up the walk-off hit. And on the Fourth of July, he would’ve blown the save and allowed back-to-back homers if it weren’t for Keon Broxton making the catch of his life.
Knebel has a ridiculous home run-fly ball rate this year. 23.8% of all fly balls off Knebel have left the yard this season. Last year, only 9% of fly balls went for homers.
He has similar Balls In Play percentage numbers to last year, and his line drive percentage has actually decreased. So his high home run numbers statistically appear to be an anomaly. But in looking at Knebel with the eye test, he’s struggled to find consistency with his curveball and has left a few more hanging down the middle than he did last year.
Should Counsell remove him?
When Knebel was hurt, the Milwaukee Brewers were able to get pretty good production late in games with Jeremy Jeffress, Josh Hader, and Matt Albers in a committee covering the ninth inning role. It worked extremely well, but when Knebel came back, the role was his once again.
Knebel should be given the benefit of the doubt in the closer’s role, however. Sure, he’s struggling right now and a lot of the Brewers players are, but that’s no reason to make drastic changes to this current configuration. The All Star Break will give Knebel and the rest of the bullpen a chance to rest up and refocus.
Despite the recent losing streak, there is no cause for reactionary moves such as demoting Knebel from his role.
While Josh Hader and Jeremy Jeffress have proven to be capable late inning weapons this year, Knebel has proven that in the past as well. Knebel needs to find that feel for that curveball and throw it consistently where he wants to. When he does, he’ll be just as dominant as ever.
He could try to find his curveball in the ninth inning or the seventh inning, but considering the job is his, removing him from that role won’t help him overcome his struggles.