Braves Way Too Early Free Agent Targets: Corey Knebel

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The Atlanta Braves have some holes to fill once 2021 is over

The surging Braves look more and more like they are going to make the playoffs again. The Mets are falling apart, per usual, and the Phillies have been ice cold. Meanwhile, the Braves are playing their best baseball of the season, even if they just lost two in a row to the New York Yankees.

Regardless of how the team does this year, however, if they want to continue their competitive window and take a step closer to a World Series, they will have to add some pieces.

What is a positional need of the 2022 Atlanta Braves?

The future offense got a lot better by extending Travis d’Arnaud, and the rotation seems to be, at a minimum, very solid going forward.

With Mike Soroka potentially coming back, Max Fried, Huascar Ynoa, Ian Anderson, Touki Toussaint, Kyle Muller and Tucker Davidson in the fold, the rotation is deeper than it has been in years. The bullpen, on the other hand, needs some work. They are in dire need of some more high-leverage arms.

A.J. Minter has nasty stuff but seems to fold under pressure; Will Smith profiles more as an 8th inning guy and Tyler Matzek can be streaky if he is overused (although he has been elite as of late).

Adding another high leverage arm could go a long way in helping the 2022 Braves find success. It should also be noted that the current bullpen mix is very left-handed heavy. That prevents Brian Snitker from taking advantage of favorable matchups, especially with the three batter minimum rule.

Enter former Brewers Closer Corey Knebel  

Right-hander Corey Knebel will be a free agent in 2022, finishing up a one-year deal with the Dodgers. Mentioning him as a candidate may come as a shock because he had an absolutely terrible 2020 with a 6.08 ERA and FIP of 6.64. However, the sample size was minuscule, just 13.1 innings. For reference, Luke Jackson had a stretch in 2019 of 13.2 innings pitched where he posted a 5.27 ERA but ended the season with a 3.84 ERA and excellent 3.24 FIP.

In his career, Knebel has an excellent career ERA of 3.28 in 252 games, which equates to an ERA+ of 129. In comparison, Tyler Matzek has a career 126 ERA+ in 97 games. If you like Fangraphs’ expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP), which you should, Knebel has a career xFIP of 3.14.

What have you done for me lately?

Well, Knebel had terrible numbers in limited work in 2020. But in 2021, he has elite numbers over 10.1 innings. He currently owns a 2.16 ERA and 2.14 xFIP. He has yet to surrender a run since coming back from a right lat strain on August 10th.

If we look at his Baseball Savant numbers, it is equally impressive. You have to take the last two seasons with a grain of salt when looking at peripherals due to limited action, but he currently owns an expected ERA (xERA) of 3.08. Outside of 2020, Knebel has never had an xERA north of 3.63. He has also never had an expected batting average against him higher than .221.

With Knebel having not pitched many innings over the past two years, there are always injuries to worry about. However, with the Braves probably only losing Jesse Chavez to free agency, they are deep enough to take the risk.

These injuries could also work in the Braves’ favor, as it may result in a low-cost deal financially. If Knebel and Alex Anthopoulos can see eye to eye in contract negotiations, he would be an excellent addition to a bullpen at a reasonable price.

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