The Philadelphia Phillies were somewhat close to making the playoffs in 2021, but they couldn’t defeat the Atlanta Braves in the final sprint.
Honestly, the Phillies were a mediocre team (82-80 record) carried by the MVP, Bryce Harper.
Among the many weaknesses on the Phillies’ roster was the bullpen.
Philadelphia had the sixth-worst bullpen in MLB last season, with a 4.60 ERA.
The closing situation was unstable virtually all year, and while it improved a bit with the acquisition of Ian Kennedy at the deadline, it wasn’t ideal at any point.
The Phillies led the league with 34 blown saves, tied with the Washington Nationals.
A Solution For The Ninth Inning?
They need setup men and middle relievers, but at least they appear to have solved their issues in the ninth inning with the signing of Corey Knebel.
On December 1, right before the MLB lockout, the Phillies reached an agreement with right-handed reliever Corey Knebel on a one-year, $10 million pact.
Right-handed reliever Corey Knebel is in agreement on a contract with the Philadelphia Phillies, a source familiar with the deal tells ESPN.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) December 1, 2021
Knebel is talented enough to be an elite closer, a status he reached in 2017 back when he was with the Milwaukee Brewers.
That season, he closed 39 games and threw 76 innings of a 1.78 ERA, notching an incredible 126 strikeouts in the process.
Injuries started to catch up to him in subsequent years.
He had a great 2018, with a 3.58 ERA, but wasn’t elite like the year before.
In late March of 2019, it was announced that he would undergo Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery, missing the whole season.
He returned in 2020 but was still rusty (6.08 ERA in 13.1 innings).
The Los Angeles Dodgers, knowing his incredible strikeout upside, took a chance on him in 2021.
In late April, however, he suffered a right lat injury that took a couple of months of his season.
However, he returned in the second half and was strong on the year as a whole: he finished with a 2.45 ERA (2.90 Fielding Independent Pitching, or FIP) in 25.2 frames.
He was used in a variety of roles, including late-inning situations (he had three saves) and even as an “opener” (he started four games in the regular season and he also took the ball from the beginning in the postseason).
He Is More Than Good Enough For The Challenge
The 2022 campaign will be crucial for Knebel to see if he can recover his pre-injury strikeout form.
He struck out 40.8 and 39.5 percent of the hitters he faced in 2017 and 2018, respectively, but was at 29.7 percent last year.
Either way, Knebel can become an elite closer again even if he settles in the low-30s when it comes to strikeout rate.
He proved last season with the Dodgers that he can get major league hitters out after a couple of rough seasons with injuries.
He hasn’t been officially announced as the Phillies’ closer yet, but that’s the likeliest scenario given his experience, his good 2021, and the price range attached to him.
He will be tasked with bringing some stability and bat-missing ability to one of the worst bullpens in MLB last season.
— Devin Valentine (@DevinValentine3) December 2, 2021
Knebel is more than ready for the challenge and will be a crucial piece for the Phils as they try to reach the postseason again.