Craig Kimbrel only just recently reported to Spring Training after missing the first few weeks to be with his family while his infant daughter Lydia was in the hospital for heart surgery. Lydia is still recovering, but thankfully for Craig and his family, she is reportedly doing much better, and Kimbrel is now in camp preparing to dominate the 9th inning yet again for the Red Sox in 2018.
(Xander Bogaerts sports a #LydiaStrong shirt the team made in support of Kimbrel and his family. Photo credit: Red Sox)
According to ESPN, the Sox has the 4th best bullpen in 2017. Guys like Joe Kelly and Robby Scott stepped it up and performed above expectations, but Kimbrel was really the biggest reason for that overall success. He was lights out last year, putting together one of the best performances Boston has ever seen from a closer and acting as a safety blanket for the rest of the staff. Over 69 innings in 67 appearances, he posted a 1.43 ERA on the way to racking up 35 saves. He led the league in WHIP (.681), K/9 (16.43), and K-BB % (44.1%), while also finishing with a career low 1.83 BB/9. It was an all-time high for Kimbrel, one that he’s primed to repeat this season.
With a fastball that averages 98 mph and a hard curve ball, Kimbrel is the archetype of a power pitcher. He tends to make strikeouts look almost routine, baffling batters with his mix of power and finesse. If there’s one thing that hurts him, though, it’s his control. Kimbrel carries a career 3.3 BB/9 rate, and although he manages to keep a left-on-base % of 93%, that walks number is far above the desirable mark for a closer. He was able to manage that issue last year, as mentioned, and repeating that improved pitch control is key to his success in 2018.
A major point in his favor entering this year is his recent work rate. Although he disappointed many with his 2016 performance (3.40 ERA and a monstrous 5+ BB/9), he only threw 53 innings, and in fact over the last 2 seasons has pitched just 126 innings total, less than every other “elite” reliever in the MLB, according to Fangraphs, so he should be entering the new season fresh and rested. There’s talk that since he reported to Spring Training late he might not be quite ready by Opening Day, but once he’s good to go he will once again be the metaphorical foundation and emotional core of a Sox pen that could honestly go either way. With a lot of arms that lack consistency, Boston will be relying heavily on their star closer to finish games and keep them in the hunt for a 3rd straight AL East title.
(Header photo credit: SI.com)