The Brewers originally had nine players eligible for arbitration this winter, up from eight a year ago, but the Brewers already took care of a couple of those cases by signing Chase Anderson to a multi-year contract and outrighting Carlos Torres off the roster.
As we get closer to the deadline, we'll take a look at the cases for each of the seven remaining players to see whether the Brewers should go forward in the arbitration process with them, or cut them loose now. Today we wrap up the series with the team’s new star closer.
RP Corey Knebel
2017 Salary: $538k
2018 Projection (via MLB Trade Rumors): $4.1 million
Difference: +$3.562 million
Knebel took the leap from solid reliever to All-Star closer this year, stranding 92% of baserunners, striking out 40.8% of the batters he faced, and closing out 39 games while putting up an ERA of 1.78. He wasn't perfect in save opportunities, but considering he led the league with 76 appearances, it's pretty incredible he was able to stay that effective through the course of the year.
The Case for Tendering
Knebel's 2017 was -- and it's not hyperbolic to say -- one of the best seasons by a Brewers reliever we've ever seen. He may not have sniffed John Axford's 46 saves in 2011, but his 4.3 Win Probability Added tied for 4th all-time among Brewers pitchers, behind only Mike Caldwell's 6.1 in 1978 and Teddy Higuera's 1986-1988 run.
Knebel struck out 126 batters in 76 innings, equating to an insane 14.9 K/9. Not only is that the highest in the league in 2017, only 5 pitchers with at least 70 innings have had a higher K/9 in the 2000s: 2004 Brad Lidge, 2003 Eric Gagne, 2012 Aroldis Chapman, 2016 Dellin Betances and 2010 Carlos Marmol.
Even when he worked with runners on, he didn't flinch -- Knebel stranded an unbelievable 91.9% of baserunners in 2017. It was one of the most dominating seasons you could imagine for a closer.
The Case for Non-Tendering
Yeah, we're not even going to try to cook up an excuse here. Even if you worry about the year-to-year volatility of relievers, or have concerns about him ever reaching that 2017 level again, Knebel was so good this past season that even if he took a significant step back in 2018, he's likely still a valuable bullpen arm. The Brewers simply aren't going to cut loose a guy who was one of the best relievers in baseball.
What Should Happen?
You tender him a contract, stupid. Knebel is another case where a multi-year deal might make a lot of sense from the Brewers' side, too, as Saves get expensive in a hurry in arbitration. If Knebel has another year like he just had, he could easily double his salary and make north of $8 million in his second year of arbitration -- and as a Super Two player, he'd have two more swings at arbitration after that.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs