Sunday Notes: Corey Knebel is Still an Adrenaline Junkie

Corey Knebel has come a long way since I first talked to him four years ago. At the time, the hard-throwing right-hander was wrapping up an Arizona Fall League season, five months after the Detroit Tigers had drafted him 39th overall out of the University of Texas.

Knebel is now 25 years old and coming off a season where he logged 39 saves and a 1.78 ERA for the Milwaukee Brewers. In January 2015, the NL Central club acquired him from the Texas Rangers, who’d earlier procured his services from the perpetually-bullpen-deficient Tigers.

According to Knebel. while some things have changed since our 2013 conversation, overs haven’t. By and large, he’s the same guy on the mound.

“I guess I’ve kind of grown into this new role,” the 6’4″ 220-lb. fastball-curveball specialist told me in September. “Other than that, I’ve just tried to perfect two pitches. I like to focus on what I know I can do. My delivery is the exact same — I’m still herky-jerky — although I don’t go from the windup anymore; I’m just straight stretch.”

There has been a velocity jump. Knebel’s heater averaged 97.8 MPH this season, up a few ticks from previous seasons. He didn’t have an explanation for why that is, but he does know one thing — it’s not because of a weighted-ball program.

“I don’t agree with that at all,” Knebel said when asked about the practice. “I hate weighted-ball training. I’ll never do that. For me, it’s the same training I’ve always done. I’m doing band work, keeping my shoulder strong, keeping in shape. I’ll long toss when I can. Doing what we do here, with the Brewers, is working out well.”

His fastball has certainly been working well, and in the righty’s mind, movement isn’t one of the reasons. Despite an above-average spin rate (2,442), he sees his success as a matter of power and location (with maybe a little deception tossed in for good measure).

“It’s just a four-seam, and from what I see it looks straight,” said Knebel. “No hitters have told me it cuts, or it sinks, or it runs. It doesn’t do any of that. So I throw it with conviction and if I miss spots I try to make sure they’re good misses. Essentially, I just grab my four-seam and try to throw it straight through the ground, right below me, as hard I can.”

The former Longhorn called himself “an adrenaline guy” when we talked in his draft year. That hasn’t changed.

“I’m still an adrenaline junkie,” affirmed Knebel. “That’s the way I am. Coming into a game in a save situation, you’re going have a lot of adrenaline. Same thing. It’s a fun game.”

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Thursday night’s Cubs-Nationals game was wildly entertaining from the first pitch to the last. Unfortunately, countless baseball fans across the country weren’t able to watch it in its entirety. And I’m not just talking about people on the East Coast. By the time the final out was recorded, a number of school-age kids and early-shift adults on the West Coast were in slumberland, as well.

Earlier start times would help alleviate the issue, and I don’t buy the argument that West Coast fans would be irreparably inconvenienced. Sure, they may miss the first couple of innings because of work obligations, but isn’t it worse to miss the last couple of innings because of work obligations? That’s essentially what’s happening to fans on the East Coast. Not just roosters rise early.

A harder problem to fix is the length of games. The aforementioned contest ended at 12:45 a.m. EST, in part because it took over four-and-a-half hours to play nine innings. And while it may have been an outlier, it wasn’t an outlier by much. Of the 20 postseason games that had been played, 13 had taken over three-and-a-half hours to complete. Seven had gone 3:45 or longer, including four that were 4:00-plus. The lone extra-inning affair of the bunch ran a pour-me-another-coffee 5:08.

A problem is clearly brewing. Hardcore fans may watch long games that last well into the night — sleep deprivation be damned — but not everyone fits that description. Casual fans are tuning out, and can you blame them?

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Meanwhile, if you’re a fan who doesn’t care how long the games last, or when they end, there is one thing you probably would expect to know: When the game is going to be played. The start time for ALDS Game 4 was announced approximately 14 hours before the first pitch was thrown. It wasn’t until a game involving two other teams was completed at 11 p.m. that fans — and the players involved (!) — could plan for the following day.

Is MLB truly so beholden to TV-contract money that fans and players are secondary considerations?

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Justin Verlander had a number of pitching coaches when he was in Detroit. Now that he’s in Houston, he’s under the watchful eye of Brent Strom. What does tutorial turnover tend to mean for the Tiger-turned-Astro?

“I don’t think it changes anything in particular,” Verlander told me during the ALDS. “It’s more that you’re getting different information. I don’t know how else to say it. We only know so much, and it’s from what we’ve experienced. You get new information from everybody. I have a bunch of new pitchers to talk to on this team and I pick their brains. Same with Strommy. I pick his brain on things he’s good at.”

Verlander didn’t want to compare to Strom to his former pitching coaches — “that wouldn’t be fair” — outside of admitting that he’s different. And regardless of who he’s working with, “It’s not going to change me.”

But while he hasn’t changed fundamentally, he has grown more receptive to analytics.

“(That happened) a few years ago,” informed Verlander. “I wouldn’t say I was stubborn before then, it was more sticking with what works. The time when I wasn’t healthy kind of opened my vision and my landscape a little bit.”

———

The Astros are known for making data-driven decisions. During the ALDS, I asked Houston manager A.J. Hinch how often he allows his instincts to overrule data.

“I love that our organization is known as analytically driven,” answered Hinch. “We try to make smart decisions. Whether you believe in analytics or not, you’re trying to make smart decisions. But that’s not the only thing we are. We’re a pretty good blend of instincts, intellect, and information — and then player feedback. So much encompasses the decisions that I make, or that our organization makes. We do have emotions, we do have people, we do have instincts. What we try to be better at than anybody in the league is the blend that it takes to make smart decisions.”

———

Drew Dosch has quietly emerged as a prospect of note in the Baltimore Orioles organization. A seventh-round pick in 2013 out of Youngstown State, the 25-year-old third baseman banged out 50 extra-base hits — 39 of them doubles — while putting up a .763 OPS between Bowie and Norfolk. The vast majority of his damage was done at the Triple-A level.

When I caught up with him late in the season, Dosch called the veteran players on the Norfolk roster “a great resource to help learn the intricacies of hitting.” Several of his teammates were north of 30, and some augmented their experience with a progressive approach.

“We’re in kind of a new generation of hitting, and I think it’s more individual than generational,” opined Dosch. “You have some older guys who are fully on board with the idea of getting balls in the air and there are some younger guys where maybe that’s not their game. From what I’ve seen, it’s more about individual skill sets than it is young versus old.”

Dosch told me that he’s “somewhere in the middle,” as he possesses neither plus power or plus speed. He wants to stay in the middle of the field and hit balls into gaps as opposed to trying to leg out hits or “launch balls as high as I can in the air and hope they go over the fence.”

His approach to analytics is also down the middle.

“It’s about striking the right balance,” reasoned Dosch. “You have to use information to your advantage, but at the same time, if you use it too much it becomes overload. At the end of the day, it’s about going out there and putting your best swing on the ball, and everybody’s swing is different. It’s hard to take a cookie cutter and say, ‘Oh, you want this swing path with this launch angle because it works best for everyone.’ That’s not necessarily true. You have to compromise, using those tools, but also going with what works for you.”

———

Thursday’s controversial call involving Matt Wieters‘ glove and Javy Baez’s bat — Craig Edwards wrote about it here — wasn’t the first time such a play has occurred this year. On May 29, the same thing happened in a Midwest League game between the Lansing Lugnuts and the Great Lakes Loons. According to Lansing broadcaster Jesse Goldberg-Strassler, the home plate umpire handled the situation flawlessly.

“The play happened on May 29, at Cooley Law Stadium,” Goldberg-Strassler explained to me on Friday. “With the Loons leading 5-3, two outs in the bottom of the ninth and runners on the corners, Christian Stolo struck out Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. swinging on the 11th pitch of the at bat. It ended in chaos. Guerrero was sure that he had foul tipped it, and blew his top. His backswing had caught the catcher, Steve Berman, who was staggered. The pitch bounced away and the runners sped around the bases.

“Credit to home plate umpire Tanner Dobson. He declared no foul tip (which was borne out on video replay), dropped third strike, and that the backswing had hit Berman. That meant dead ball, third out, ballgame. The uproar was enormous on the Lugnuts side, and that is how I learned rule 6.06 (c).”

———

Meanwhile, what was the deal with the dropped third strike that ended ALCS Game 5? The pitched clearly popped out of Gary Sanchez’s glove and the Yankees catcher neither tagged Austin Jackson, nor did he throw to first base for the putout. While it is true that the Indians outfielder didn’t run, he also didn’t cede his right to do so by immediately walking away from the batter’s box in another direction. He was still standing there, seemingly in stunned disbelief, when Sanchez put the ball in his back pocket as he jogged out to the mound to celebrate.

I’m no rules expert, but shouldn’t have Sanchez’s actions resulted in a dead ball, with Jackson being awarded first base? Such a ruling would go against the spirit of the game, but as Dave Cameron recently pointed out, that doesn’t seem to be a priority for MLB.

As for Jackson not running, Fred Merkle is famous, and to a lesser extent, so is A.J. Pierzynski.

———

Two weeks ago in this space, Oakland A’s broadcaster Vince Cotroneo told us about the longest home run he’s ever seen. It was hit in 1985 when Cotroneo was calling games for a Double-A franchise that was ahead of its time.

“I was with the El Paso Diablos and we played at Dudley Field, about a mile from the Juarez border,” explained Cotroneo. “Not only was it a real bandbox, it had a unique atmosphere. We had cheerleaders on top of the dugouts. We had a screaming PA guy — ‘Who scores more runs with two outs that anybody in baseball?’ — and the crowd would scream back, ‘The El Paso Diablos!’

“The owner, Jim Paul, had bought the team in the 1970s for a dollar, and inherited the debt. He turned it into a premier franchise. Promoting minor league baseball in a different way was a big part of that. He was one of the initial innovators in the way that minor league baseball is now operated coast to coast.”

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

At Atlas Obscura, Cara Giaimo gave us a look at the very modern life of an old-timey baseball organist, Fenway Park’s Josh Kantor.

Over at the Pioneer Press, Mike Berardino wrote about how Derek Falvey and Thad Levine are ready to change the way the Minnesota Twins pitch, from top to bottom.

The New York Mets are buying the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs. and Mark Weiner had the story at syracuse.com.

Writing for The National Pastime Museum, Mark Armour waxed poetic about the unexpected hero of the 1968 World Series.

At espnW, Melissa Ludtke wrote about how the fight for women sports reporters’ access to locker rooms is history… or is it?

RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

The Arizona Diamondbacks hit 39 triples this season, the most in the majors. The Toronto Blue Jays hit five triples this season, the fewest in the majors.

Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger — this year’s presumed AL and NL rookies of the year — had adjusted OPSs of 171 and 142 respectively, and their WAR totals were 8.2 and 4.0. In 1964, the top rookies were Dick Allen and Tony Oliva. Their adjusted OPSs were 162 and 150, and their WAR totals were 8.2 and 6.2.

A.J. Hinch went 4 for 14 with a home run against C.C. Sabathia.

One hundred years ago today, the Chicago White Sox beat the New York Giants to capture their second World Series title. Red Faber got the win.

The Yankees won the first of their 27 World Series titles on this date in 1923.

Dick Barrett — his given name was Tracy Souter Barrett — went 8-20 for the 1945 Philadelphia Phillies. His nickname was Kewpie Dick.

The record for most runs scored in a season is 198, by “Sliding Billy” Hamilton of the Philadelphia Phillies in1894.

On this date in 1946, Johnny Pesky held the ball.





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

18 Comments
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Kibber
5 years ago

good article – quick question
‘five months after the Detroit Tigers had drafted him 39th overall out of the University of Texas’
why the discrepancy in how numbers are represented?
Oh, I know why, Zachary Hubbard knows why…but do you?
No accusations here, but number coding deception has got to stop whether we’re aware or not.
Namaste

Ukranian to Vietnamese to French is back
5 years ago
Reply to  Kibber

Message or question
“In the first month after 39 years with the University, tiger, Tiger in Texas”
Why are there differences in data representation?
Oh, I know why, Oh, Mr. Hubbard … but why?
No cable, but the password is encrypted, whether we like it or not.
We ‘

Francoeursteinmember
5 years ago
Reply to  Kibber

What did I just read?

sadtrombonemember
5 years ago
Reply to  Francoeurstein

It looks like we have a numerologist reading Fangraphs, and that this particular numerologist is very concerned by the mismatch between spelling out “five” and the numerical writing “39th”. I wish I could explain it in a way that makes more sense than that, but I can’t. It’s exactly as coherent as it sounds.

Arte Moreno
5 years ago
Reply to  Kibber

good comment – quick question
‘why the discrepancy in how numbers are represented? Oh, I know why, Zachary Hubbard knows why…but do you? No accusations here, but number coding deception has got to stop whether we’re aware or not. Namaste’
why the f%ck are you focusing on this on a sports website.
No judgment here, just not aware of the perception of why we’re not aware about what it is that has got to stop.
Gum paste.

Serbian to Vietnamese to French is black
5 years ago
Reply to  Kibber

Yo yo, this is whacky tabacky homie