As pitchers and catchers start to report around Major League Baseball, the Milwaukee Brewers have a big decision to make. Who will be their closer?
The Milwaukee Brewers should have four options for a closer to start the season. Corey Knebel, Josh Hader, Jeremy Jeffress, and Alex Claudio. Spring Training will provide a nice opportunity for someone to emerge as the leader for that role.
Knebel started last season as the unquestioned closer of the team, but things got off to a rocky start from day one. In his first appearance of 2018 he blew a save against San Diego. From the beginning of the season until August, Knebel seemed to follow a pattern of a few clean saves followed by a blown save or loss. Then in August he suffered two loses in three appearances and lost his job as closer. He did have a couple of random saves in September, and one save in nine postseason appearances, but it was clear that the Milwaukee Brewers had lost some confidence in him in that role.
Hader started the year as the extremely effective one or two inning bridge to Jeffress and Knebel. Because of Craig Counsell‘s somewhat random use of pitchers and because of Knebel’s struggles, Hader ended up with 12 saves and 4 blown saves sprinkled throughout the 2018 season. He did not have one save in the postseason. Hader just never looked completely comfortable in the closer’s role, and seems to be a better fit as the guy who can dominate for an inning or two in the mid to late innings.
Jeffress started the 2018 season as the Milwaukee Brewers primary setup man, and by late August became the team’s primary closer. From August 20th until the end of the season Jeffress had 11 saves and only one blown save. This included 7 straight saves in the month of September. Things fell apart for Jeffress during the postseason and he was only able to convert one of three save opportunities. In addition to blowing two saves, he gave up six earned runs in nine post-season innings. His postseason struggles may have the Milwaukee Brewers thinking that he is much more effective in his earlier eighth inning set-up role.
Since Claudio joined the Milwaukee Brewers this off-season, there has been very little talk about him as a possible closer. In 2018 Claudio had the worst season of his career and only had one save in 66 games, but in 2017 he converted 11 saves for the Rangers. He was also named the Texas Rangers Pitcher of the Year in 2017. When looking at the late game pitching assignments for most of last season, the Brewers liked and found success with the late inning pitching lineup of Hader, Jeffress and then the closer. Knebel’s struggles seemed to take them out of that preferred lineup. If Claudio pitches well in Spring Training and to start the season, he could be a possible fit in the closer’s role.
The Milwaukee Brewers have several relievers who have closing experience and because of that the team has a lot of options to choose from this spring. If fans are looking for storylines and competition during Spring Training, who gets the closer job to start the season could be a good one.