The date is June 6th 2019 and Craig Kimbrel has finally agreed to a contract, except it’s not with the Minnesota Twins! Instead it was the Chicago Cubs who gave him a 3 year $43 million deal (14.3 AAV). The Twins did not want to go the third year on the offer so he decided on the Cubs, but I am not worried about it. Kimbrel is one of the greatest closing pitchers of all time without a doubt, but I still didn’t want the Twins to sign him once the season began because most pitchers need a Spring Training. Here are a few pitchers who signed without a Spring Training in 2018 along with their first half stats:
- Greg Holland: 7.99 ERA, 2.197 WHIP
- Yovani Gallardo: 8.60 ERA, 1.714 WHIP
- Alex Cobb: 6.41 ERA, 1.576 WHIP
- Lance Lynn: 5.22 ERA, 1.653 WHIP
It’s almost as if pitchers need to face live major league batters for a month so they can be ready for the season... but hey I could be wrong.
Craig Kimbrel also showed a lot of signs of incoming regression throughout 2018 that would have affected him even if he had a Spring Training. Here, I’ll show you!
In the second half of the 2018 season, Kimbrel held a 4.57 ERA and a WHIP just above 2.00 to go with an increased BB/9. A lot of fans just want him as a lockdown October arm but he was even worse in the playoffs with a 5.91 ERA in 10.2 innings.
As most pitchers get their arm overworked, their fastball velocity begins to dip (see Addison Reed) and we saw that with Kimbrel last year as his velocity dipped more than a full MPH from 2017.
If you were to list the top things you do not want to see from a reliever, walks might just top the list. For Kimbrel, his BB/9 was 4.5 so essentially he walked someone once every other outing. Among qualified relievers, that would be in the bottom 25% this season. His K/9 was undeniably outstanding at 13.9 in 2018 but even that took a 2 point hit from 2017.
Another thing that hints towards regression was the large drop in GB% while the LD% went up. Ground ball percentage went from 37% down to 28.2% in 2018 while line drives went from 19% to 24% in 2018.
All of these things to go along without having thrown to live batters since October 2018 is certainly a cause for concern. Remember everyone, the Red Sox wanted nothing to do with Kimbrel even after a slow start with one of the worst bullpens in the AL. Obviously that is a sign that perhaps Kimbrel doesn’t have the same stuff that he used to.
During the offseason I did not like how the front office handled the bullpen by only signing Blake Parker with plenty of arms available. Before Spring Training started and even about halfway through I was all aboard the Kimbrel Train but once the season began he was no longer worth a three year contract worth almost $15 million per year. Instead I hope to see that money go somewhere better (extending key players like Buxton and Berrios) rather than having wasted money on a reliever. The Addison Reed experiment was not fun and I think this could be similar for the Cubs.
Is the bullpen perfect? No, of course not but it is passable at the moment. I can guarantee to you that the Twins will add impact arms to prepare for an almost inevitable October run (97.1% chance of playoffs at the moment). I predict they will add at least one starter and one reliver and both of them will work out better than Kimbrel.
The Twins currently hold a 9.5 game lead over a Cleveland Indians team that is down three starting pitchers and have a lineup that doesn’t quite match up with the Twins. It is going to be OK. It will hopefully only get better once we add the quality arm.
Also, the Twins were offering Kimbrel two years but Chicago was the only team to take the leap and go to three so he signed there. I would also bet that even if the Twins matched the Cubs offer, Kimbrel would still have chosen Chicago.
This front office is much smarter than any of us and they have much more information than we will ever have on Craig Kimbrel. If they didn’t want to make the large offer for him, then I trust what they are doing.
Don’t kill me.