There was an interesting segment on MLB Tonight, following the Dodgers’ win over the Cardinals in the wild card game, and it had a lot to do with Corey Knebel, what his acquisition meant from the front office’s standpoint, the current structure of the bullpen and so on and so forth.
For many a time the big problem for the Dodgers, apparent in multiple postseason collapses, was the bridge between the starter and closer Kenley Jansen. While other contenders relied with confidence in arms such as David Robertson, Andrew Miller and Josh Hader. That remained an issue for LA and forced a heavy usage of its closer.
When Max Scherzer exited the wild card game earlier than expected — in the fifth inning — the confidence level around the Dodger Stadium didn’t take a hit, at least not as big as it might have been a few years ago. A big part of that was stacking elite relievers with a proven track record in a manner that only a big-market team can consistently.
No player better represents that than Corey Knebel. For the Brewers, despite his talents and the belief from the organization that he was still a valuable arm, he ultimately became a casualty of the financial restraints that David Stearns deals with.
Milwaukee traded Knebel to the Dodgers last December 2, the contract tender deadline.
For a team like the Dodgers, his pending salary arbitration and eventual $5.25 million salary in 2021 was welcomed, given his potential. But for a small-market team with an elite pitching staff that didn’t really depend or need him, it’s a different conversation.
In a different reality Knebel remains with the Brewers despite his salary, but coming off two lost years there was plenty of risk involved for the team bringing him in. Knebel missed all of 2019 and only pitched 13 Innings in 2020 with horrific results. These caveats were probably the only reason why LA got him.
Knebel started the year off on fire, but suffered a lat strain in April and ended up missing the majority of the season. However, the overall grade of his acquisition is still very positive, because in 25⅔ Innings the former Brewers closer showed us what he can do on the mound,
Knebel only gave up seven earned runs in the regular season, pitching to a 20.8 strikeout-minus-walk rate (the upper 15 percent of MLB pitchers with at least 20 innings) and opponents batted .174 against him.
Stats: 25⅔ IP, 2.45 ERA, 29.7-percent K, 8.9-percent BB, .174 AVG, 0.974 WHIP, 2.90 FIP, 0.6 fWAR, 0,7 bWAR
Salary: $5.25 million
Game of the year
With the freedom to use Knebel in any way they wanted, Dave Roberts had him as the opener a few times during the regular season. That’s important because it was a big shock when they announced Knebel as the opener for the decisive Game 5 of the NLDS against the Giants knowing that Julio Urías was on full rest.
That one scoreless inning included a strikeout of Brandon Crawford with a runner in scoring position played a huge role in the Dodgers advancing to the NLCS. Who knows what the ripple effect is if the Giants score that inning.
Knebel is a free agent.