Milwaukee Brewers: How Bad Is The Bullpen Right Now?
By David Gasper
The Milwaukee Brewers have suffered from the losses of Corey Knebel and Jeremy Jeffress to start the season. How bad of shape is this bullpen in?
If you read anything Milwaukee Brewers related on Twitter, you’ve likely seen opinions that the sky is falling on this Brewers bullpen and that this group needs some serious help. If you’ve been watching the games, you probably don’t think those takes are that ridiculous either.
In Tuesday night’s game, the Brewers offense gave the bullpen an 8-7 lead, and they couldn’t hold it, allowing the Angels to re-take the lead, and eventually win 11-8. Pitchers like Alex Wilson and Jake Petricka were pitching in meaningful innings when we would normally see someone like Knebel or Josh Hader. Hader was down on Tuesday, but that’s beside the point.
The Brewers have employed a “next man up” mentality in their bullpen, and with two injuries to their top relievers, everyone else has to pick up the slack. That works when you’re replacing someone like Jacob Barnes or Matt Albers. But when its Knebel and Jeffress, the other guys just simply don’t have the talent to replace them.
The Bullpen By The Numbers
Through 12 games, the Brewers bullpen has a 5.40 ERA, which is 9th best in the National League. They’ve allowed 27 runs in 45 innings of work, and have given up eight home runs.
The bullpen has also thrown four wild pitches already this season, the second most in the NL.
Josh Hader has been his usual dominant self, with a 0.00 ERA and a perfect 5-for-5 in save opportunities. Junior Guerra has also pitched well, with a smooth transition from a starter to a reliever this year, posting a 3.00 ERA in six innings. Alex Claudio is probably the Crew’s second best bullpen arm at the moment, posting a 3.18 ERA and being effective against lefties when Hader isn’t being used.
Other than that, it hasn’t been good numbers for the bullpen. The next best ERA belongs to Matt Albers with a 5.06 ERA. Chase Anderson has a 6.00 ERA, then Jacob Barnes, Alex Wilson, Taylor Williams, and Jake Petricka are all at 9.00+ ERAs.
This isn’t the worst bullpen in the league, even though it’s early in the season and the sample size is small. But it definitely could be worse. The bullpen is just middle of the road right now.
Why Does This Group Seem So Bad?
Perhaps us Milwaukee Brewers fans are spoiled. Last year, the team had the 2nd best bullpen by ERA in all of baseball. The trio of Hader, Knebel, and Jeffress locked down the final 3-4 innings and posting very low ERAs. Now it’s just Hader that’s currently healthy.
Pitchers like Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff have now graduated to the starting rotation, and while that makes the starters a stronger group, the bullpen is weakened by it.
There just simply aren’t as many dominant arms in that bullpen as there were last year. That was a ridiculous group in 2018 that doesn’t get put together often. And relief pitchers are the most volatile position year-to-year in the game of baseball. It’s hard to know exactly what you’ll get from guys.
Losing Knebel for the whole season was a big blow and there isn’t anyone currently in the organization that can step up and do the job like he did.
But there might be someone currently outside the organization.
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Would Craig Kimbrel Solve This Problem?
As simple as it may be to say “Just sign Craig Kimbrel“, the actual pursuit of him is not that simple. The Brewers don’t appear to be in negotiations with Kimbrel at the moment, although they’ve checked in in recent weeks.
Given the fact that Knebel is done for the season and there’s no one in-house that can fill his role, a match with Kimbrel makes sense. But it hasn’t gotten done, most likely because Kimbrel still has a ridiculously high asking price. He’s no longer searching for $100 million, but the price is still way higher than any team is willing to pay him. Once his price drops into a palatable range for owners and GMs, he’ll get snapped up.
By adding Kimbrel, the whole dynamic of the bullpen would change, as he would take the ninth inning while Hader and Jeffress would move to the 7th and 8th innings. Alex Claudio, Junior Guerra, and Matt Albers would all move to earlier roles as well. The “A Group” would be able to cover more innings and it’d be a quicker bridge to that group from the starting pitchers.
There’s no question a healthy and ready to go Craig Kimbrel would drastically improve the bullpen situation. However, there’s a cautionary tale about signing closers who haven’t been in camp this late. Last year, the Cardinals signed Greg Holland late for a large salary, and they rushed him up to the team and Holland struggled mightily.
Even if the Brewers signed Kimbrel right now, he wouldn’t be ready for the big leagues until at least May, since he missed all of spring training.
We’ll see how the bullpen changes when Jeremy Jeffress returns. Once he’s back, this bullpen should be looking a lot better. If Kimbrel is added to that group, all the better.
The Milwaukee Brewers don’t have a dominant bullpen at the moment, but it’s not even close to being the worst bullpen in the league. But for a World Series contender, they need something better than “middle of the pack”.