Just as Greg Wellemeyer did in looking at two catching prospects, second basemen, and shortstops, I'm back to offer an in-depth look at a pair of outfielders as a companion to Bret Sayre's dynasty-focused look at the position, in the same format as I did in looking at our first-base matchup of Trey Mancini vs. Bobby Bradley, third-base matchup of Rafael Devers vs. Ryan McMahon and our outfield pairing of Gregory Polanco vs. Christian Yelich. We hope that you've enjoyed the series, as it's aimed at helping dynasty league owners in the decision making process that quite often occurs when trying to differentiate between two players, whether it be during draft time or trade talks.
For me, one of the worst parts of owning a dynasty league team is that at some point (if you’re actually planning on contending that is) you’ll actually have to start rostering and paying attention to relief pitchers– even a few minor league ones. I’m of the opinion that normally the biggest waste of a roster spot in a dynasty league is one used on a minor league reliever, but sometimes it has to be done. In fact, if you Google “I Hate Relief Pitchers” right now, my name will probably be included in the first few results. I’m truly honored, but just know how I feel about the topic before investing heavily in either of the two pitchers profiled today.
Today, we’ll be looking at two current non-closers that could step in over the next few seasons (or 2016 given the nature of relievers) and achieve Proven Closer ™ status in Corey Knebel of the Brewers, who is entering his age-24 season, and Mychal Givens of the Orioles, whose 2016 campaign will be his age-26 season.
Givens 2015: 15 saves at Double-A Bowie, Zero in 22 MLB appearances
Knebel 2015: 6 saves at Triple-A Colorado Springs, Zero in 48 MLB appearances
Givens was drafted in the second round in 2009 out of Plant HS in Tampa as a shortstop. From the 2010 Baseball Prospectus Annual: “Mychal Givens is one of those toolsy high school shortstops who will either rocket up prospect lists over the next few years, or never get out of A-ball.” Givens never did make it out of A-ball and was converted to the mound in time for the 2013 season, where he saved three games in each of his first two seasons in the minors, immediately being thrown into late-inning duty. He saved 15 games at Bowie prior to his callup to Baltimore in late June. He’s currently behind Zach Britton and Darren O’Day (who was given a new four-year, $31 million deal this winter) on the O’s depth chart, and outside of injuries to both, it’s hard to see a path to saves for Givens in 2016.
Knebel was drafted 39th overall by the Tigers in 2013 after starting all of three games at the University of Texas. Knebel saved 37 games over this three seasons in Austin and was almost immediately installed as the team’s closer for its (Low-A) Midwest League affiliate upon signing. He saved 15 games in 2013, and reached the majors with Detroit in 2014, making eight appearances before being shipped to Texas (along with Jake Thompson) for Joakim Soria. Texas proceeded to keep him in Triple-A for the rest of the 2014 season before dealing him to Milwaukee as part of the Yovani Gallardo deal in January of 2015. Knebel is slated to open the year in the Brewer bullpen behind lefty Will Smith and righty Jeremy Jeffress, but both could be on their way out of town prior to the trade deadline if new GM David Stearns receives an offer of his liking as the Brewers rebuild/retool/tank. I think it’s extremely likely that a team in need of relief will come calling for both Smith, who has three years of team control after 2016, and Jeffress, who is under team control for the same amount of time as the non-Fresh Prince. Of course, the possibility exists that Knebel could find his way out of town, but with his contractual control (not eligible for arbitration until 2018), I feel it’s more likely that he stays in Milwaukee for at least another couple of seasons. Advantage: Knebel
Givens 2015: 34.8 percent rate at Double-A Bowie, 32.5 percent rate with Baltimore
Knebel 2015: 33.9 percent rate at Triple-A Colorado Springs, 27.8 percent rate with Milwaukee
Givens achieved his gaudy strikeout rates over 57 appearances between Double-A and the majors, but he wasn’t just a situational reliever, or even a one inning guy–he threw a massive 87.1 innings in total. Givens’ 32.5 percent strikeout rate with the Orioles was the 14th best among relievers (min. 20 IP) and was higher than Britton or O’Day, both of whom fanned more than 31 percent. Knebel has been no slouch in the strikeout department either, striking out 113 hitters in 87 1/3 career minor league innings and posting a rate of just under 28 percent in the majors over his 56 appearances. Advantage: Givens
Givens 2015: 1.73 ERA at Double-A Bowie, 1.80 ERA with Baltimore
Knebel 2015: 4.70 ERA at Triple-A Colorado Springs, 3.22 ERA with Milwaukee
Knebel’s 2.95 FIP while at Colorado Springs of the Pacific Coast League–where seemingly nobody is capable of compiling a decent ERA–is evidence of his effectiveness while donning a Sky Sox uniform. Knebel’s cFIP of 91 while with the Brewers indicates that things could have actually been a tad worse, as he was bitten severely by the home-run ball, allowing eight home runs in his 50 1/3 innings. Knebel’s 1.43 HR/9 mark was ninth worst among qualified relievers in 2015–certainly something he’ll have to get corrected in the future in order to fulfill his closing aspirations. Givens was dynamite pretty much any way that you slice it; his FIP at Double-A Bowie matched his ERA at 1.73, and his cFIP of 71 with Baltimore equaled that of Craig Kimbrel. Advantage: Givens
Givens 2015: 0.94 WHIP at Double-A Bowie, 0.87 WHIP with Baltimore
Knebel 2015: 1.37 WHIP at Triple-A Colorado Springs, 1.21 WHIP with Milwaukee
Knebel was once again was not helped by pitching in the Pacific Coast League, as his ugly 1.37 WHIP mark was not helped by his .371 BABIP and by walking seven batters in his 15 1/3 innings. Knebel shaved his walk rate down to just over eight percent with the Brewers, but allowed 44 hits in his 50 1/3 innings. Givens showed exceptionally control in 2015, particularly for a conversion project in his third full season on the mound, walking just over seven percent of Double-A hitters and just above five percent with Baltimore. Advantage: Givens
Job Security/Injury Risk
Givens and Knebel are assured of 2016 bullpen roles, and both will likely start the season pitching in the latter third of their team’s games. I would presume that a sidewinding reliever, as Givens is, would have less of a chance of being injured, but as you may already know, I’m not a doctor. Advantage: Push
One of the biggest mistakes that I often see in dynasty leagues is projecting relievers too far into the future, and I prefer to view relievers through a two-year window. In viewing Givens and Knebel through this prism, it’s clear to me that while Givens is more likely to produce the better overall numbers, Knebel has the clearer path to saves in the future. That’s why despite slightly inferior numbers to Givens, I’d be investing in Knebel if I’m hunting for future closers–always a dangerous proposition in dynasty leagues.
And the winner is….Corey Knebel
Thank you for reading
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