Slingin’ David Stearns and the Milwaukee Brewers were fairly conservative when it came to building the pitching staff for this year. The biggest “gamble” that the club made was shelling out $5.35 mil in guaranteed money to bring aboard veteran righty Neftali Feliz in mid-January. Feliz was best known for his run as closer in Texas while the Rangers appeared in back-to-back World Series during 2010-11, but injuries and ineffectiveness marred most of the years in between 2012-15.
After regaining his health and posting a nifty 3.52 ERA in 62 appearances (53.2 innings) for the Pirates last season, Stearns and company were enticed enough to sign Feliz as their presumptive closer. The solid earned run average hid some very serious home run issues, though, as he served up dingers at a rate of 1.68 per nine innings while with the Pirates. After the Feliz signing became official, Stearns wrote off the long ball issues “a little bit of an anomaly” citing Feliz’s usage of his fastball in the upper portion of the strike zone.
Unfortunately for the 2017 Brewers, however, the home run issues have plagued Feliz even worse this season. In 18 appearances covering an even 16.0 innings, Feliz has already coughed up five homers, including the three-run shot to Mookie Betts yesterday that propelled the Red Sox to a 4-1 over the Brewers. He certainly hasn’t been doing himself any favors with a 13:9 K/BB ratio, either, and Feliz’s ERA has climbed all the way up to 6.19 in the early going.
Given those struggles, manager Craig Counsell to MLB Network Radio today that he was removing Feliz from the closer’s role, at least for the time being:
Counsell on closer situation, "We're going to give Neftali Feliz a break back there and get him right. Corey Knebel has been outstanding"— MLB Network Radio (@MLBNetworkRadio) May 12, 2017
As Counsell mentioned, Corey Knebel seems like an immediate candidate to start working the 9th inning for the Brewers going forward. Knebel has been nails this year, working 18.0 innings during 19 appearances while limiting opponents to a 1.00 ERA/1.30 FIP/1.35 DRA. He’s already struck out a whopping 29 batters while allowing just 8 walks and 10 base hits for an even 1.000 WHIP. Needless to say, his fastball/curveball combination have been quite formidable out of the bullpen for the Milwaukee Nine.
If not Knebel, Jacob Barnes also stands out as someone who could get some save opportunities. Barnes started off the season on a 12-appearance scoreless streak, but a couple of rough outings have his ERA currently sitting at 3.12 through 17.1 innings. FIP (3.31) feels as though that’s about right, but DRA views Barnes as similarly dominant to Knebel this season (1.75 DRA). He’s currently sporting a 19:10 K/BB ratio and generating ground balls at a rate of 64.3%.
The Brewers begin a series tonight at home against the Mets, so we’ll have to keep an eye on who is given the ball in the 9th inning if a save opportunity indeed presents itself.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus