Last night was a rough one for the Brewers. They got shut out by the Cubs at home. They made two ugly errors in a three-run inning. And they lost closer Corey Knebel, who took the mound for the ninth in a game where he wasn’t really needed and went down with a hamstring injury that’ll keep him out for 10 days or possibly longer.
It’s especially shitty given just how good Knebel has become. After two pretty undistinguished years as a middle reliever—with his most notable feat probably being something that didn’t even happen on the field, the fact that he was selected with the first MLB draft pick ever included in a trade—the 26-year-old broke out in 2017 and took over the closer role midseason. Here’s a little leaderboard from last season:
That’s a pretty good set of guys to be grouped in with! Knebel’s strikeout rate translates to more than 40 percent of the batters that he faced, and it came with a record-setting streak: the most consecutive appearances in one season with at least one strikeout, with 45 games from April through July. Part of that breakout was a little velocity bump—Knebel went from sitting 95 mph with his fastball to about 98 mph—but he also had much better results from his secondary offering, a knuckle-curve. In 2015 and 2016, he saw 26 percent of swings on the pitch whiff; in 2017, that number shot up to 43 percent.
In the course of a year, Knebel went from an average middle-innings guy to one of the 10 best closers in the game. His likely replacements, Josh Hader and Jacob Barnes, are each kind of exciting in their own way—Hader posted a pretty flashy strikeout rate of his own during his rookie season last year, and Barnes has a ridiculous slider. But for now, Milwaukee just has to hope last night’s injury wasn’t quite as bad as it looked.