Weekend Recap: Knebel and Thames

After a promising start to the week, the Brewers ended it on a down note. Milwaukee won the last two games of their series against the Cubs, shutting out one of the best offenses in baseball according to TAv in both victories. After a huge Brewers victory on Friday night, Philadelphia won the last two games of the series, and the Brewers were forced to settle for a 3-3 record on the week. However, the Brewers will take a half game lead over the second place Cubs into this week’s games.


Phillies Brewers
Friday June 15 2 13
Saturday June 16 4 1
Sunday June 17 10 9



Corey Knebel gave up what turned out to be the Phillies’ winning run in Sunday’s loss. He started the inning throwing three fastballs to Odubel Herrera and the last one caught too much of the plate. That was the fourth home run Knebel has allowed this season. His home runs per nine innings have more than doubled when compared with last year, which has fueled his DRA spike from 2.91 to 4.05. However, Knebel’s walk rate remains virtually unchanged and he’s giving up one less hit per nine innings this season.


The season long numbers paint a contradictory picture where it’s not clear whether Knebel has been the same pitcher as his dominant 2017. Looking only at Knebel since his injury return, he looks to be almost at the same level. Ignoring his three appearances to start the season reduces an already limited sample size for a late inning reliever, but it’s fair to assume he was not fully healthy, so those numbers aren’t indicative of his true performance level.


By 2017, Knebel had whittled his pitches down to a fourseam fastball and curveball. He used the fastball on 72 percent of his pitches and threw the curveball the rest of the time.  The fastball had an average velocity of 97.8 mph with a maximum speed of 100.4 mph. His curveball was slightly slower with an average of 81.0 mph and a maximum velocity of 84.4. Since Knebel returned from the disabled list, his average and maximum velocity readings are right in line with his numbers from last year.


There has been a noticeable difference on his fastball movement. The pitch is too frequently in the strike zone, which helps to explain why his zone rate is at a career high (51.3 percent). The ball isn’t moving horizontally as much as it did in 2017. Whereas last year, the fastball was generally higher in the zone and stayed more towards his arm side, the pitch hasn’t found the same locations since Knebel returned from the disabled list. There’s also less vertical movement on the pitch, which is affecting his whiff rate.


2017 2018 (5/9 though 6/16)
Fastball 17.1% 11.9%
Curveball 9.9% 7.4%


Knebel gets more of his whiffs on those high fastballs, both this year and last, but as mentioned above, he’s not getting the fastball in the same spots as last year. One potential cause is his release. Both horizontally and vertically the ball is leaving his hand at a different point, which is enough to effect pitch location, even if his velocity is the same.


Last year, Corey Knebel was one of the best pitchers in baseball according to DRA. He hasn’t quite reached those heights this year, with his fastball as the most likely culprit. If he could slightly raise his release point, he may get back to the same level. However, there’s likely something fluky about his increased home runs. He’s never given them up at this rate, and simple regression over the next three months should bring that more in line with his career numbers, which would also lower his DRA. With the performance of the bullpen, the team doesn’t need peak Knebel to make it through the season, but if he can return to that performance, there’s even more margin of error for the starters.



Eric Thames had a huge game on Sunday, hitting two home runs, his first extra base hits since returning to the team on Tuesday. His first home run came off an Aaron Nola two seam fastball which was right over the plate. Thames hit his second home run off a Hector Neris fastball in the bottom of the ninth inning, That pitch was at around the same height, but even more over the plate.


One can hope that the home runs showed that Thames is over his thumb injury and ready to tap into his prodigious power, because he struggled in his first few games since his activation from the disabled list. Over the last week, Thames has swung at almost every pitch that wasn’t outside and away, whiffing on everything low. Before he got hurt, Thames had a more balanced plan of attack, with a willingness to cover the whole strike zone. With that approach, he could get a hit anywhere in the zone, even if most of his power came from pitches on the inner half of the plate.


Thames still has one more hurdle to overcome before he’s truly back to form: he needs to stop whiffing on so many non-fastballs. This has been a recurring issue for Thames. When he can get his bat on those pitches or lay off, he has success; otherwise, pitchers can eat him up. Last week, pitchers ate him up as he swung and missed at 32 percent of the breaking pitches he faced and 60 percent of the offspeed pitches. Each of those are unsustainable rate for any kind of success and well off his April numbers. On Sunday, Thames saw six non-fastballs. He swung at three of the pitches and didn’t miss any of them. That counts as progress.




Milwaukee will play within the division all week. They open a three-game series tonight in Pittsburgh. The Pirates have fallen off after a fast start. They’re 9-19 over the last thirty-one days, falling to fourth place in the division. Milwaukee then returns home for four games with the Cardinals, who beat the Cubs on Sunday night to salvage a dismal week which saw them lose home series to both the Cubs and the Padres.


Brewers Pirates
Monday June 18 Jhoulys Chacin (4.67 DRA) Trevor Williams (5.38 DRA)
Tuesday June 19 Freddy Peralta (2.46 DRA) Jameson Taillon (3.15 DRA)
Wednesday June 20 Brent Suter (4.78 DRA) Chad Kuhl (4.48 DRA)






Photo Credit: Benny Sieu, USA Today Sports Images



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