Fantasy Baseball: Corey Knebel out, add Josh Hader

Charles LeClaire - USA TODAY Sport

Fantasy Baseball players took a loss last night with the hamstring injury to Corey Knebel; I suggest they add Josh Hader to their team. The injury was summarized on Rotoworld and they also state Corey Knebel has a MRI scheduled today. I believe the results should be today or tomorrow. Guessing at “the next man up” is both a science and an art. I will outline how I think with the goal of helping fellow fantasy baseball players.

Step one for me is gauging what the open closer spot is worth, relative to other relief options. A closer for a bad team or with a hitter friendly home stadium is worth less than the same pitcher on a good team or in a pitcher friendly park.

The Milwaukee Brewers are a good team, especially if Christian Yelich’s oblique injury is minor. Their Projected Win total – PECOTA – currently projects 81 wins for the Milwaukee Brewers this season, PECOTA Projections. Last year the Brewers had 86 wins and Corey Knebel had 39 saves in 2017 – over basically four months. So that would be an average 10 saves per month. If he is out two months → roughly 20 saves although slightly less expected per PECOTA.

Translating that to this open closer spot we can pencil in a ceiling basically of ten saves per month. This is an optimistic number and would mean the new closer would have to perform at the same high level that Corey Knebel was able to produce in the 2017 season. In the most likely scenario Knebel gets the job back when healthy. That caps the long term potential, leaving out keeper leagues. In those leagues, Josh Hader is likely already unavailable.

After covering the team’s expectations we turn to the Park Factor. This term accounts for how hitters perform in this stadium (Miller Park) verus a neutral stadium. As most fans already know, Miller Park is a hitters park and specifically home-run hitters’  park. The Brewers’ home stadium has ballpark factors of HR 108, basic (5 yr) 102 as per www.fangraphs.com . So the new closer will be pitching in a hitters park which could impact his ratios and performance overall. Meshing this with the pitching for a good team part, and I believe the new Brewers’ closer would be an average closing option.

Brewers Josh Hader

Jeff Hanisch – USA TODAY Sports

Now fantasy baseball players must look at the current options the Brewers have and compare them as possible closers. What is closer type of stuff? In my opinion the list of factors listed below with Brewers’ relievers not named Corey Knebel slotted in where they match (stats from www.MLB.com ):

  • Fastball 93+mph JOSH HADER
  • K:BB of 3:1 JOSH HADER
  • “Misses Bats” Swinging Strikes (2018) JOSH HADER / OLIVER DRAKE
  • Experience in high leverage situations (subjective)
    • Previously in a Closer role JEREMY JEFFRESS
    • Set-up Role (7th or 8th inning) in a save situation OLIVER DRAKE
    • Innings pitched MATT ALBERS / JEREMY JEFFRESS

All of that being said, you can’t give up a lot of home runs or hits even and stay THE closer for very long. Josh Hader matches most of these closer profile tendencies but he only has pitched 50 innings in the Majors.

During the course of a season, I usually look to the 8th inning reliever as the best guess for the next closer on a team. However, this early in the season we only have one Brewers’ game that fit that mold. Oliver Drake was the 8th inning guy, but it is hard to say what one game in that role is worth. Oliver Drake also does not really profile as closer. Matt Albers and Jeremy Jeffress have the most MLB experience and certainly Jeffress has closed for the Brewers before.

Josh Hader is the clear favorite based on his stuff alone. Throwing a 95 mph four seam fastball does that for you. Add in his control (K:BB) and his ability to miss bats (Swinging Strike %) and he looks to be a real fantasy asset even in a non closing role.

His downsides are twofold. He doesn’t have the experience and he has a probable maximum innings limit. Honestly I would expect the Brewers to go with a hot hand approach or even name Jeremy Jeffress the interim closer. I still think Josh Hader is the better add because of his ability. Even if Josh Hader is not named the closer I expect him to get save chances because they need to him to get that high leverage experience under his belt. We could be looking at the dreaded closer by committee here with Albers, Jeffress, Hader, and even Drake mixing in. Still I bet on talent, and that is Josh Hader for fantasy baseball players.

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