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Phillies Sign Kimbrel To Strengthen Bullpen

Craig Kimbrel and the Philadelphia Phillies are reportedly in agreement on a 1-year, $10 million contract. Ken Rosenthal was first with the news:

He is the second reliever Philadelphia has added via free agency this winter after adding lefty Matt Strahm on a 2-year, $15 million deal earlier this month.

Kimbrel brings plenty of closing experience to Philadelphia. He is currently the active leader in career saves with 394, which is the 7th most all-time.

Kimbrel started his career with the Atlanta Braves. He has also pitched for the San Diego Padres, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, and Los Angeles Dodgers.


Career At A Glance:

Throughout his career, Kimbrel has won the National League Rookie of the Year Award and the Reliever of the Year Award in both the National and American League. He is also an 8-time All-Star.

The now 34-year-old Kimbrel debuted with the Braves in 2010 at the age of 21. He threw 20.2 innings that year, with 40 strikeouts and a 0.44 ERA. He quickly became the best closer in baseball.

Here are his numbers from 2011-2014 with Atlanta:

YearAppearancesInningsStrikeoutsERASaves
20117977.01272.1046
20126362.21161.0142
20136867.0981.2150
20146361.2951.6147

After being traded away from Atlanta following the 2014 season, Kimbrel continued to be a good option in the 9th inning for the Padres and then the Red Sox. He won the 2018 World Series with Boston.

He had a few bumpy seasons in 2019 and 2020 with the Cubs but had a great first half of the season in 2021 where he pitched 36.2 innings with a 0.49 ERA, 64 strikeouts, and 23 saves. Kimbrel was then traded from the Cubs to the White Sox at the trade deadline. He struggled in his 24 appearances while on the South Side, as he had a 5.09 ERA and only 1 save.

Kimbrel spent 2022 with the Dodgers. In 60.0 innings of work, he had a 3.75 ERA with 22 saves and 72 strikeouts.


Repertoire:

Craig Kimbrel was once a flame-throwing righty with an unhittable curveball. Although he isn’t the pitcher he once was, Kimbrel can still provide good innings out of the bullpen.

Both his average fastball velocity and strikeout numbers are no longer what they used to be, but they are still good when compared to the rest of the big leagues. Kimbrel’s average fastball velocity in 2022 was in the 83rd percentile and his strikeout percentage fell in the 79th percentile.

Here are how those numbers have looked over the years dating back to 2015:

YearAverage Fastball VelocityStrikeout Percentage
201598.0 MPH36.4%
201698.0 MPH37.7%
201798.3 MPH49.6%
201897.1 MPH38.9%
201996.2 MPH31.3%
202096.9 MPH40.6%
202196.5 MPH42.6%
202295.8 MPH27.7%

This is how hitters have fared against Kimbrel’s curveball since 2015:

YearBatting AverageSlugging PercentageWhiff Percentage
2015.117.16757.9%
2016.081.09756.5%
2017.158.21155.3%
2018.082.09855.6%
2019.156.40650.0%
2020.143.14348.4%
2021.111.11159.3%
2022.167.24443.6%

Here are some overlays of Kimbrel’s fastball and curveball from this year:

While Kimbrel still has the ability to be nasty at times, he doesn’t bring the kind of heat he once did. His curveball continues to be a good pitch and he can clearly still get big-league hitters out.


Kimbrel’s Fit in Philly:

Kimbrel probably won’t be “the guy” in a bullpen for the remainder of his career like he once was. He can still be an effective reliever though, which is what Philadelphia is expecting from the right-hander.

Heading into the offseason, it was clear the Phillies had the back of their bullpen figured out for 2023 based on what they saw in the postseason. They relied heavily on Seranthony Dominguez and Jose Alvarado in high-leverage situations during the playoffs. It worked very well.

As Dominguez and Alvarado are likely to continue in their high-leverage roles, Kimbrel adds depth to the bullpen.

The most likely scenario for the Phillies’ bullpen in 2023 will be to use Dominguez and Alvarado as manager Rob Thomson sees fit throughout a game. Thomson will then likely leave Kimbrel available to come in and pitch the 9th inning to finish games if both of their high-leverage relievers were already used or are unavailable.

These are the probable candidates to start the year in the Phillies’ bullpen in 2023 with their statistics from this year:

PitcherInningsStrikeoutsERA
Seranthony Dominguez (RHP)51.0613.00
Jose Alvarado (LHP)51.0813.18
Craig Kimbrel (RHP)60.0723.75
Matt Strahm (LHP)44.2523.83
Andrew Bellatti (RHP)54.1783.31
Connor Brogdon (RHP)44.0503.27
Nick Nelson (RHP)68.2694.85

The Phillies also have other options on their current 40-man roster alongside prospects within their farm system that could see some work out of the bullpen throughout 2023 such as Sam Coonrod, Michael Plassmeyer, Erik Miller, Francisco Morales, and James McArthur.

Bailey Falter and Cristopher Sanchez could also see time in the bullpen depending on how Philadelphia structures its starting rotation.

Kimbrel is likely going to get plenty of work in the 9th inning, but he is not going to be relied on to be the best reliever in Philadelphia’s bullpen.


Recap:

Once the best reliever in baseball, Craig Kimbrel’s days of dominance are behind him. He can still pitch solid innings as he nears the age of 35 and provides depth to the Phillies’ bullpen, which was a need heading into the offseason.

He won’t be the guy manager Rob Thomson will look to in high-leverage situations throughout the season. Kimbrel will likely be called upon in the 9th inning when the Phillies’ top bullpen arms aren’t available.

With Craig Kimbrel back in the division where he started his career, the already strong National League East continues to get better.


Featured Photo: Twitter / @BRWalkoff

Bailey Digh

As a life long baseball fan, I enjoy not only watching and writing about my favorite team, the Philadelphia Phillies, but also like writing about the game as a whole.

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