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Craig Kimbrel Brings Experience & Effectiveness to O’s Bullpen

Craig Kimbrel pitching Phillies
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The Orioles entered the offseason knowing they wouldn’t have Felix Bautista, arguably the team’s MVP in 2023, for the 2024 season. Knowing that, it was a goal of Mike Elias’ to bring in a reliever to replace him, and he wanted someone with closing experience. We can debate whether or not that aspect of things is important, but the need for a high leverage reliever was there. Yesterday, they completed a deal with Craig Kimbrel, signing him to a one-year deal for $13 million and an option for 2025. He gets $12 million in 2024 and has an option with a $1M buyout.

I have seen some angst about this move amongst O’s fans but I am really unsure as to why, outside of the idea that he hasn’t been good in the playoffs in recent years. How important is that? Well, on the surface, it’s obviously a concern but it’s also a small sample size and it doesn’t mean it will carry over.

However, outside of that, I don’t get the issue here. If one agrees that the team must sign someone with “closer experience,” that leaves us with Kimbrel, David Robertson, Aroldis Chapman and Josh Hader. Maybe there is a closer available in trade too but for what we know, its those names. Now, you can argue that they should sign a guy like Robert Stephenson instead, someone younger and maybe with a higher upside right now, but how much and how many years do you want to give a guy with very little proven success?

Personally, I would sign him to a 3/30ish deal but wouldn’t go beyond three years and I would sign him even after the addition of Kimbrel.

But getting back to the notion of the guy with closing experience, we know Hader is off the table. The Orioles aren’t going to pay that contract (and they shouldn’t). They likely feel very good about Bautista coming back in 2025, so they aren’t going to spend on a closer for multiple years. That brings us back to Kimbrel, Robertson and Chapman. I would take Robertson or Kimbrel over Chapman and between those two, it’s kind of a toss-up.

The other complaint I have seen from people is they are worried Kimbrel could fall off at any time. My question is, why? The one answer has been age. He will be 36. So what? He is a reliever and age is far less important for relievers and it’s only a one-year deal.

What about his stats? Well, his Statcast numbers are still solid and relatively in line with what he has done in his career.

Yes, he is allowing some hard contact, but his K rate is still excellent, he misses a lot of bats, throws strikes at an above league average rate and his K:BB ratio is well above 3:1.  He does walk a few too many guys but that’s not abnormal for a high K reliever.

I have also seen people talk about some of his higher ERA numbers in recent years. Well, in 2021 he had a 0.49 ERA with the Cubs until he was dealt at the deadline. He went to the White Sox and pitched 23 innings, in 24 outings, in the regular season. In 1.2 innings (two appearances), he allowed six of the 13 runs he gave up for Chicago. So, in 1.2 IP, he had an ERA of 33.75.  In the rest of his outings, his ERA was just under 3.

People mention 2023 and that he lost the closer’s role at one point in May.  Well, in his first two outings in May, he gave up six runs in one inning and in late August, he gave up three runs in another one-inning appearance. So, that is nine runs in two IP (40.50 ERA). He gave up 16 runs in the other 67 innings.  That is a 2.15 ERA.

So, what is more representative of the player? Three outings totaling two IP and giving up nine runs or 68 appearances totaling 67 innings?  This isn’t to say, we should ignore those bad outings and pretend they didn’t happen.  However, the evaluation has to go deeper than that and the bottom line is that relievers are involved in small sample sizes and a few bad outings can greatly skew their numbers.

Kimbrel was also hurt by the homer last year but, according to Baseball Savant’s park factors, Citizens Bank Park was the 7th easiest park to hit a homer, whereas OPACY was 21st, so he should see those come down anyway.  He gave up 11 homers last year but only seven of them would have go over the fence in OPACY. Righties and lefties struggle vs him, so that is a plus in Baltimore’s park, that favors lefties power wise.

I don’t find this to be an overly exciting move but I do think it’s a fine signing for one year and it’s better to go with him than staying with what we have. I will say that I believe, if he pitches another 3-5 years, that Kimbrel will have at least one more sub-3 ERA season. Let’s hope 2024 is that season.

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