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MVBrewers #7: Tyler Thornburg

Tyler Thornburg’s future was uncertain entering the year, but a strong 2016 should have him in the driver’s seat for the closer role in 2017.

MLB: San Diego Padres at Milwaukee Brewers Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Entering the 2016 season, we didn’t know what to think about Tyler Thornburg. He did have a strong end to the 2015 season, but early-season struggles in 2015 along with an injury in 2014 left us wondering about his future. He made the team out of Spring Training and figured to be part of the setup team to Jeremy Jeffress. Not only did he take advantage of his role, he was strong enough to be voted the best reliever in the MVBrewers series.

Early in the season, Kyle noted that Tyler Thornburg’s fastball had jumped back up to where it was before his PRP injection in 2014. While it was uncertain if he could keep it up, he definitely did this season. Throwing his fastball 66.3% of the time, it averaged around 94 MPH all season. That was key to his success, along with a curveball and changeup that he also had in his arsenal.

All of that translated to better on the field success. His strikeout rate jumped to 12.09 K/9, and he had at least one strike in 58 of his 67 appearances this season. Not only that, his walk rate remained stable at 3.36 BB/9. That translated to a 2.15 ERA and 2.83 FIP, which was the top ERA on the team and 2nd best FIP (only behind Jacob Barnes).

Thornburg’s strong season also earned him the closer’s role after Jeremy Jeffress was traded to Texas. He recorded 11 saves in 15 chances in the last two months of the season. Say what you will about the save statistic, but having a pitcher that can shut down the game in the staff is always a welcome addition. There is a little to be concerned about after he allowed runs in his last four outings, but that could easily be explained by the fatigue of a long season.

Entering 2017, Thornburg should have a clear path to the closer’s role, barring any offseason acquisitions. He will be arbitration eligible for the first time and the Brewers will have three more seasons of control with him. What’s in the future plans for him is still up in the air, but it’s looking a lot brighter than it did to start the year.