Craig Kimbrel set a new career high with his seventh loss of the season last night. The run he allowed was unearned because the runner who scored was only on base because Rob Manfred makes everything worse, but when the run ultimately scores because you walk back-to-back hitters with two outs, you don’t really get much benefit of the doubt.
Kimbrel’s season has been an overall disappointment with flashes of hope that he might figure things out. Last night’s game was a microcosm of his season, with a huge strikeout of Manny Machado for the second out with the winning run on third followed by two walks on pitches that weren’t anywhere near the strike zone.
And now, here we are, 13 days before the first game of the postseason, and he is in very real danger of not just of losing his role as closer in the postseason, but of not even making the playoff roster.
Let’s dig into the numbers for some reasons why Kimbrel shouldn’t be part of the Dodgers’ October plans:
His 4.02 ERA is the second-worst of anyone under consideration for a playoff spot. Only Phil Bickford has been worse for the Dodgers this year, and is currently praying for six guys to get hurt just so Dave Roberts will remember his name when they’re making the NLDS roster. (Disclaimer: Bickford is probably a good teammate who would never actually pray for his friends to get hurt.)
The next-worst ERA in the Dodgers’ bullpen is Tommy Kahnle’s 3.72, but that’s almost entirely from two home runs he gave up to the Pirates in May.
Kimbrel’s 1.357 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) is, again, the worst of any Dodger under consideration for a postseason spot. His BABIP (batting average on balls in play) had been impossibly high earlier this season, but it’s down to .317 now, still higher than his career mark but much closer to normal. But as the hits have stopped falling in everywhere, his walk rate has gone up and up. Since the beginning of August, Craig has walked 11 hitters in 20 innings.
Simply put, a reliever can’t survive putting that many runners on base.
The 8-time All-Star’s 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) is the lowest of his career and lower than most of his fellow relievers in the Dodgers’ bullpen. While his stuff still looks good at times, he just isn’t putting hitters away. His 26.7% strikeout rate is by far the lowest of his career and nearly 15 points lower than his career mark coming into the season of 41.3%.
Comparing Kimbrel to his bullpen mates, only Caleb Ferguson, David Price, and Brusdar Graterol have lower strikeout rates than Kimbrel.
The Dodgers have 17 pitchers who could, with a straight face, say they deserve or might deserve a spot on the postseason roster, and they only have 13 spots available. Of the 17, probably only Bickford would be lower on the “has he earned a spot” rankings.
One caveat here is that four of those 17 are currently on the injured list. Yency Almonte, Blake Treinen, Dustin May, and Tony Gonsolin are all hopeful to be ready for the postseason, but there are no sure things.
But if even two of those guys get back in time for the playoffs, Kimbrel’s spot is in real doubt.
And now, for the main reason he might make the postseason roster:
Kimbrel’s 394 saves are the most of any active pitcher. He is a Proven Closer, and his stuff is still pretty close to as good as it was when he was elite. It’s possible that he could find the magic over the next two weeks and earn a spot on the postseason roster, and it’s even possible that he could spend the first round or two of the postseason regaining Roberts’ trust enough to be saving games in the World Series.
It’s not insane to think the cover of the Dodgers’ World Series DVD could be a picture of Will Smith hugging Kimbrel after locking down the final game of the Series. It’s unlikely, but it’s not insane.
For the same reasons the Dodgers have given Kimbrel all season to try to find his mojo, that mojo could return at any moment. And if it does, having a proven closer with stuff like his would only make the team better.
Kimbrel won’t make the postseason roster because of his reputation or his past. He has to earn it, as he acknowledged to the media after last night’s game. The thing is, he might actually do that. But the work starts today.
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