Corey Knebel: 2021 Dodger

After resigning let-handed reliever Scott Alexander, the Dodgers wasted no time going out and traded a player to be named for former right-handed closer, Corey Knebel. So what did the Dodgers trade for in the 29 year old, once all-star closer?

Highlights

  • Knebel Career

Corey was a first round pick by the Tigers in the 2013 draft. He was always viewed as a future closer, compiling 21 minor league saves before debuting in the September of 2014.

The Tigers traded him to the Rangers where his debut year was rough posting a 6.23 ERA in 8 appearances. The Rangers then flipped him to the Brewers where Knebel has been basically his entire career.

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In his 5 years with Milwaukee, some of Knebel’s highlights were a 3.20 ERA, 57 saves, an ERA+ of 128, and 336 SO in 236.1 IP. His best year was also during the Brewer’s best recent year. In 2017 he had an astounding 1.78 ERA with 39 saves in 76 innings. He got his only all star nod, set career bests, and lead a pen with Hader to game 7 of the NLCS. (Losing ultimately to the Dodgers)

However, the 29 year old missed all of 2019 due to Tommy John surgery. When he returned last season, it was far from graceful. In 2020, his ERA shot up to 6.08 in 13.1 IP. Basically identical to his rookie year at 6.23 and 8.2 IP.

So now Knebel is 3 seasons removed from that career high. He hasn’t proven that he can still be as useful since TJ. But he’s also in his last contract year for about $5.1 million meaning very little risk if he doesn’t pan out. Clearly, the Dodgers think they can bounce him back.

  • Knebel Arsenal

Knebel attacks hitters mostly with his fastball, curveball combo. He throws his fastball at about a 60% rate to his curveball’s 35%. He does have a changeup and a sinker, but he almost never uses them.

His fastball still sits around 94 MPH and ranks in the 75th percentile in spin rate. His curve drops down to about 78 and also ranks highly at the 76th percentile in spin. And what’s interesting is that his movement has actually improved almost every year on his pitches.

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His curve is his elite pitch and it throws hitters off of his slowing fastball. His biggest issue as far as we can see, was a huge increase in hitters making contact in the zone against him. There was also a decent drop in chase rate.

It seems that hitters began to be more patient with him. They force him to throw fastballs in the zone and take their chances. He’ll need to be able to throw that curve for a strike in 3-2 situations for a rebound.

  • 2021 Hopes

If Knebel can do that and mix up his pitch repertoire or add more movement onto his fastball, there’s a good chance the 29 year old can still have a very successful career. It seems the Dodgers have finally settled on a hopeful replacement for Treinen.

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At his best, Knebel can pitch 65+ innings for the Dodgers and even save around 20 games. If he performs well in spring training, he could be the opening day starter and no one would be that surprised.

Overall, we’re absolutely stoked on this deal. The Dodgers found a replacement at a bargain price. His $5 million is most likely better than any other option of this caliber. For comparison, Treinen was supposed to cost $10 million after his own terrible season. It’s not a given, but contract years are generally good motivators for player bounce-backs.

The Dodgers have leverage over any other reliever or team in negotiations now. If they want, they can be mostly done and trust the young guys currently coming up. If that’s the case, they freed up more money to sign the right handed bat they’ve been searching for. This could be another huge win for Friedman and Co. Not only for 2021, but for 2022 and beyond as well.

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