Corey Knebel was riding high coming into 2018. Fresh off an all-star appearance and a truly dominant season that saw him sport a 1.78 ERA over 76 appearances, he looked poised to continue his ascension towards being one of the elite relievers in the game today.
However, the baseball gods had other plans. Knebel was hampered by a knee injury in spring training, and did not look to have the same effectiveness. Then, on April 5th, he suffered a hamstring injury while pitching against the Cubs. He did not return until early May, and from then on he struggled to a 5.08 ERA in 39 innings pitched before being demoted to the minors on August 24th.
With the September roster expansion, the Brewers recalled Knebel hoping he could rediscover his 2017 dominance and help anchor the bullpen down the stretch. In 10 and 1/3 innings since his recall, Knebel has been nearly perfect. He has allowed no earned runs, held opponents to a .065 batting average, and has struck out 18 batters while walking only 2. He looks to have harnessed the command of his curveball, a pitch that is utterly dominant when it’s “on”. In addition, his confidence looks to be back, which is potentially the most important component of any relief pitcher.
Knebel’s revived success isn’t the result of luck either – advanced stats back up his improved performance. Based on QOPBaseball’s “Quality of Pitch” statistics, Knebel’s fastball and curveball quality have improved significantly since his September recall. His fastball’s quality rose from 4.56 to 5.30 (from MLB-average to Good/Great quality), and his curveball rose from 5.05 to 5.58 (from Good to Great quality).
Knebel’s addition to the bullpen could prove to be invaluable down the stretch. Given Craig Counsell’s careful bullpen management, the Brewers have been in a bit of a bind when those two are unavailable, having to use less reliable options like Dan Jennings and Taylor Williams in high leverage situations. Knebel changes that. His addition provides an elite option for Counsell to utilize when his other two “stoppers” can’t be used. Given a starter can go five or six innings, the Brewers should generally be in good hands if they have a Jeffress/Hader or Knebel/Burnes combo ready and available.
With October baseball looming, a Brewers bullpen with an effective Knebel could prove to be a huge advantage in the postseason. If Knebel is truly back, the Brewers have three all-star caliber relievers in himself, Josh Hader, and Jeremy Jeffress that can shut down an opposing lineup in the final innings on any given night.