The Milwaukee Brewers are a baseball team stuck in baseball purgatory. They can be a fun watch (hiya, Eric Thames), there’s some fantasy juice here. The park is pleasant enough; weather never gets in the way. Every once in a while, they trot out the glorious M/B glove logo — I can’t imagine what wayward mind eased that logo out in the first place.
And yet, the 2017 Brewers probably aren’t going anywhere. The team has two playoff appearances in 34 years, and it won just 73 and 68 games the last two seasons. They’ll need time to rebuild this thing. An 18-17 start is encouraging, but this isn’t a likely playoff contender.
All this is a roundabout way of saying Milwaukee’s ninth-inning motive might not directly correlate with what’s best for the team today. The Brewers might be thinking about dollars and cents as much as how to best win ballgames.
But any way you cut up Milwaukee’s bullpen, you want relief pitcher Corey Knebel on your fantasy club. He’s worth the price of admission, be it at the park or through the MLB extra-innings package.
Knebel’s numbers jump off the page, speak for themselves. He’s allowed just two runs over 18 innings, with a silly 29 strikeouts. His fastball is around 96 mph.
Walks are occasionally an issue, but the league bats a scant .164 against the 25-year-old flamethrower. He recorded four key outs in Thursday’s game against Boston, trimming his ERA to 1.00 (matching his WHIP). Evil Knebel.
Ultimately, the Brewers lost Thursday at the hand of closer Neftali Feliz. It wasn’t a blown save, but a tie game at home is standard work for any closer. The surging Mookie Betts (coming alive in the leadoff spot) settled things, cranking a three-run homer.
Feliz can make the radar gun pop, too, but he hasn’t done much right in the opening quarter of the year. He’s sitting on a 6.19 ERA and 1.31 WHIP, with five homers allowed. He’s walked nine (one intentional) against 13 strikeouts, an unacceptable ratio. Eight saves look nice, but he’s already collected four losses.
If Milwaukee were a no-doubt contender, Knebel would probably be in the closing chair already. The team’s long-term plan could get in the way of a ninth-inning switch. But given how dominant Knebel is throwing, his numbers carry value in most fantasy formats. His modest 23-percent ownership tag in Yahoo doesn’t make a lot of sense. (Andy Behrens, in particular, has been pounding the table for Knebel all spring.)
If you want lockdown innings, Knebel is for you. If you want to massage the ratios and improve the K/9, Knebel is here to help. And while there’s no guarantee a closing change is imminent in Milwaukee, there’s a reasonable chance we see a changing of the guard sometime soon.
We can’t do the point-and-click for you. Do what you need to do. Buy the skills and the stats, and don’t worry about the specific roles.
• If you’d prefer a midwest starting pitcher for your Friday plans, let’s catch up with Jose Berrios, Minnesota phenom.
Berrios couldn’t get anyone out during a messy 14-start trial last year (8.02 ERA, 1.87 WHIP), but the development curve is different for everybody. Berrios showed flashes of dominance in the World Baseball Classic, and he’s been untouchable through six Triple-A turns (1.13 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, 30.2 IP, 8 BB, 39 K).
The first assignment is daunting — he draws the Indians on Saturday. But perhaps the lights are coming on Berrios, who turns 23 in two weeks. If you have some upside dancing in your head, the young righty is available in 84 percent of Yahoo leagues.
• I like an out-of-nowhere breakout as much as the next guy, so I’m having fun with Kansas City lefty Jason Vargas. The 34-year-old journeyman has been one of baseball’s best pitchers, despite an average fastball of 86.1 mph and an ordinary resume. He mowed down the Rays on Thursday, allowing just four baserunners over seven scoreless innings.
Whatever the doctors did to Vargas during his Tommy John surgery, I’d like that cut, too.
Some mechanical changes to Vargas’s change-up have made it one of the best pitches in baseball. And while opposing hitters are surely going to study and make adjustments, perhaps Vargas can maintain a playable level of production all year.
No one is taking his 1.01 ERA and 0.92 WHIP at face value, we know that. But he’s raised his swinging-strike rate significantly, his K/BB ratio is in a good place, and the Royals have a roomy, pitcher-cushioning park. I see nothing wrong with holding Vargas; the idea being that your opponents aren’t going to take a leap of faith, and maybe you shouldn’t sell him short.
• Gene McCaffrey told us a long time ago — the high-strikeout, high-fly ball hitters are going to be the streakiest players. With that in mind, maybe it’s time to add Mike Napoli.
Napoli homered twice in Thursday’s win, including the game-winning clout at the end, and now has four homers and a .590 slugging percentage in May. He’s a much better hitter than the overall numbers; an overall profile that pushed him down to 40-percent owned in Yahoo. Heck, I’ll admit I was too harsh on him in the corner infield Shuffle Up. See if you can scoop Napoli back up in the shallower and medium formats, or perhaps try him (at a discount rate) in DFS.