Bullpen Report: June 21, 2017

It’s no news flash that Corey Knebel is really good.  But is he Aroldis Chapman-good?

On Wednesday night, Knebel tied Chapman’s record for most appearances with at least one strikeout to begin a season. In his 37th game of 2017, not only did Knebel notch his 64th strikeout of the year, but he also earned his 11th save in a 4-3 win over the Pirates. He leads all relievers in strikeouts, even though he ranked 39th in swinging strike rate prior to Wednesday’s games. While there was nothing wrong with his 13.8 percent whiff rate, Knebel has been unparalleled in getting strikeouts because he had coaxed swings on only 41.3 percent of his pitches. To put that in perspective, only 36 out of 719 qualified relievers have had a rate at least that low since 2013.

While Knebel has matched Chapman’s impressive streak, the path that the Brewers’ closer has taken has been distinctly different. Whereas Chapman is known for being among the elites at getting swings and misses, Knebel has been freezing batters. He has much more in common with the 2016 version of Kyle Barraclough than he does with the record-setting 2014 version of Chapman. Like Barraclough last season, Knebel has boosted his K-rate with a high rate of called strikes, but he has also not gotten many swings on pitches outside the strike zone. In addition to a 15.7 K/9 ratio, Knebel has a 4.2 BB/9.

Corey Knebel 2017 vs. Kyle Barraclough 2016
Pitcher Year O-Swing% Swing% Zone% SwStr% K% BB%
Corey Knebel 2017 27.7% 41.3% 44.9% 13.8% 45.0% 12.1%
Kyle Barraclough 2016 26.6% 40.9% 44.1% 13.8% 36.9% 14.4%
Note: Knebel’s stats current through Tuesday, June 20.

Despite having similar plate discipline stats, Knebel has been notably better than Barraclough was in getting strikeouts and avoiding walks. However, his walk rate has still been higher than one would like to see from a closer, and it has been masked to some degree by a 96.5 percent strand rate. Then again, Knebel has a believable .283 BABIP, so his 0.98 WHIP is sustainable. His 0.98 ERA is not, and he runs the risk of approaching Barraclough’s 2.85 mark from 2016 going forward.

If you can get another owner to buy Knebel as an elite closer, it could make sense to sell. If not, regression would still render him as a must-start, if slightly flawed, fantasy reliever.

Wednesday’s blown saves belonged to Hector Neris and Jim Johnson. While Neris will surely draw a larger share of fantasy owners’ ire, Johnson’s fifth blown save ties him for second in the majors, as he trails only Francisco Rodriguez. Nonetheless, Neris, who has blown back-to-back save chances and three of nine this season, is in a more precarious situation than Johnson. Yet the game-tying home run he allowed to Tommy Pham was the first Neris has yielded since he gave up homers to three straight batters on April 29 against the Dodgers. Sandwiched between the two outings, Neris allowed opponents to compile a .239/.329/.284 slash line over 17 2/3 innings, while he posted a 2.55 ERA.

In short, Neris has not been all that bad, and for all of his concerns, Pete Mackanin has been loathe to pull the plug on him. Until Mackanin announces a change, I would just as soon avoid this situation in my search for saves.

It appears that Terry Francona‘s efforts to preserve Andrew Miller‘s innings have come to a halt. Francona swapped Miller’s and Cody Allen’s roles over the weekend, using Miller in the ninth inning in consecutive games (including one save situation), but on Wednesday, he brought him in for the seventh inning after Carlos Carrasco began the frame by giving up three straight singles. Miller stranded all three runners and returned for a perfect eighth inning.

The Indians entered the ninth inning with a five-run lead, so we did not see Allen, though Francona called on Bryan Shaw for a one-out, two-pitch save after Dan Otero allowed a run and left two runners on base with two outs. It’s hard to know what Francona might do when the next save situation arises, but it would appear that Allen’s sabbatical from the closer’s role is probably over. For now, I’ll leave Miller in the closer’s spot in the grid.

Closer Grid:

Closer First Second DL/Minors
ARI Fernando Rodney Archie Bradley JJ Hoover
ATL Jim Johnson Arodys Vizcaino Jose Ramirez
BAL Brad Brach Mychal Givens Richard Bleier Zach Britton
BOS Craig Kimbrel Matt Barnes Heath Hembree Carson Smith
CHC Wade Davis Koji Uehara Carl Edwards Jr.
CWS David Robertson Tommy Kahnle Anthony Swarzak Nate Jones
CIN Raisel Iglesias Michael Lorenzen Drew Storen
CLE Andrew Miller Cody Allen Bryan Shaw
COL Greg Holland Adam Ottavino Jake McGee
DET Justin Wilson Alex Wilson Shane Greene
HOU Ken Giles Will Harris Michael Feliz
KC Kelvin Herrera Joakim Soria Mike Minor
LAA Cam Bedrosian David Hernandez Blake Parker Bud Norris
LAD Kenley Jansen Pedro Baez Luis Avilan Josh Fields
MIA A.J. Ramos David Phelps Kyle Barraclough
MIL Corey Knebel Jacob Barnes Carlos Torres
MIN Brandon Kintzler Matt Belisle Taylor Rogers Glen Perkins
NYM Addison Reed Jerry Blevins Paul Sewald Jeurys Familia
NYY Aroldis Chapman Dellin Betances Tyler Clippard
OAK Santiago Casilla Sean Doolittle Ryan Madson
PHI Hector Neris Pat Neshek Joaquin Benoit
PIT Felipe Rivero Juan Nicasio Daniel Hudson
STL Seung Hwan Oh Trevor Rosenthal Matt Bowman
SD Brandon Maurer Brad Hand Ryan Buchter Carter Capps
SF Mark Melancon Hunter Strickland George Kontos
SEA Edwin Diaz James Pazos Nick Vincent
TB Alex Colome Danny Farquhar Tommy Hunter Brad Boxberger
TEX Matt Bush Keone Kela Jose Leclerc
TOR Roberto Osuna Ryan Tepera Danny Barnes Joe Smith
WSH Matt Albers Enny Romero Blake Treinen Koda Glover

[Green light, yellow light, red light: the colors represent the volatility of the bullpen order.]

Al Melchior has been writing about Fantasy baseball and sim games since 2000, and his work has appeared at CBSSports.com, BaseballHQ, Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster and FanRagSports. He has also participated in Tout Wars' mixed auction league since 2013. You can follow Al on Twitter @almelchiorbb and find more of his work at almelchior.com.

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5 years ago

How can CLE be green given all the confusion there?

5 years ago
Reply to  LieutKaffee

And you have Chapman yellow?

5 years ago
Reply to  LieutKaffee

I think it is SOP to keep guys coming off the DL as yellow until they have a couple of appearances under their belts.