Boston Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel is ready to turn back the clock and bring back his old K-day self
When the Sox acquired Craig Kimbrel from the Padres, they knew at the time they had just gotten one of the best closers in baseball. There was no question there. What they saw before his stint in San Diego was proof enough. Kimbrel, already a huge flame thrower, had more than just the heater and odd delivery going for him, he had a knuckle curve that had a major falling-off-the-table effect right before arriving across the plate. When I think of Kimbrel, I still think of what he was able to do in Atlanta and I genuinely feel he’s ready to adjust and break out in our big city. He just needed time.
Unfortunately the Kimbrel that we saw last season wasn’t that guy entirely. Yes he was good, but he was by no stretch of the imagination lights out. This was the guy that led the league in saves four years in a row. Even the Padres didn’t see the Atlanta Braves version. So what happened to that automatic lock down mentality in the 9th inning? Kimbrel’s 1.43 career Atlanta ERA rose from to a 2.58 in 2015 as a member of the Padres and rose again to 3.40 last season in Boston. His last two seasons were the only two seasons that he did not establish a minimum of 40 saves. In his defense, the Padres were not a great team in 2015 finishing 74 – 88 good enough for 4th place. Yet what was the excuse when he came to Boston?
Before last season began, the Sox wanted to re-establish themselves as one of the leaders at the closer position. They went out and traded four prospects for Craig Kimbrel’s services to shut the door. The Sox as everyone remembers, finished up 93 – 69. Even winning over 90 games, the Sox star closer could only manage 31 saves. Again, we must come to his defense as the Sox blew out team after team with the help of David Ortiz and friends. Still we ask, what did Kimbrel need to change before he came to his former self?
Let’s reiterate, Kimbrel was not a bad closer, he was still almost perfect shutting the door 31 times in 33 save opportunities. Those aren’t ugly numbers but the 3.40 ERA was not as scary as the sub 1.25 ERA we saw in back to back seasons in Atlanta. 2017 was the start or continuance of something good for Kimbrel. Over his last three starts he’s been almost perfect. He’s pitched three innings and struck out seven of the nine batters he’s faced. He’s got six saves in seven appearances with 12 strike outs in 7 innings pitched. He’s had only one blemish game where he walked two batters and allowed one run on one hit. How has he done the rest of the season? Kimbrel outside of that one dud game has struck out 9 batters allowing two hits in 6 innings. That is the definition of lights out. Oh ya, he still hasn’t allowed a run to score this season.
If you wanted to look at his numbers since his rough outing, he’s had seven strike outs in 4 innings allowing just one hit. One major change between the start of the season and now is that Kimbrel is not throwing nearly as many pitches. CK was averaging 21 pitches through his first three games and only 14 over his last four games. Throwing a lot of pitches can be taxing on an arm especially when you’re consistently hitting 99 and 100 on the radar gun. The #ReleaseTheKimbrel has been floating around for a while now and while I think it’s hilarious, he’s one of the last guys I would want to face. With that little bit of extra rest, it makes all the difference.
The Red Sox have won four games in a row and improving to 9 – 5 on the season. They are in a three-way tie for first place with the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles. All three teams have elite closers, in fact, no other division have closers as distinguished as the Sox, Yanks, and O’s. If you’re losing and facing one of those teams, you better pray that their guy has an off day. If you’re facing the Sox, you better believe we’ll be unleashing the Kimbrel. Best of luck! The Sox look to built on their four game win streak against the Jays with Rick Porcello facing off against Francisco Liriano.
Photo Credit – Stan Grossfeld – Boston Globe