Is Craig Kimbrel Broken?

After putting together one of the best single seasons in relief pitcher history last season, Craig Kimbrel has ran into a rough patch in the early portions of this year, with many asking if anything is “wrong” with the flame thrower. With three blown saves and a 3.38 ERA compared to his career mark of 1.61, the first glance would point to there being some type of issue. However, when you realize he has thrown just 13.1 innings it becomes less evident. We all know how weighing early season small samples can distort analysis, and that is especially true with relief pitchers.

In looking at the peripherals, it is clear that luck has been a big part of Kimbrel’s season so far. He has a 25% home run per fly ball rate after a 9.7 and 5.3 in the two previous seasons. That is obviously not Kimbrel-esque and will drop at a rapid rate over the course of the year. The main reason to be so confident in that is that his velocity is still pretty much in line with his career norms. With that said, when I say pretty much in line there is a slight drop. It is hard to put his home run per fly ball rate bumping up and his BABIP similarly jumping to .320 all on under a mile per hour drop in velocity. Could it be a factor? Yes. Is it the factor? Probably not.

One of the issues I have noticed is a lack of reliance on his breaking ball. While Kimbrel is known for his dynamite fastball, his breaking ball is actually probably a higher quality pitch. It is essentially a curveball in terms of its movement but with slider velocity. His usage of the pitch has dropped about 10%, from 33% to 23%, a significant drop. Fastballs are generally more hittable than breaking balls, and his issues have really come with his fastball. Perhaps there is a lack of faith in his breaking ball at this point in time, which could have longer lasting effects than simply throwing it less frequently over 13 innings.

Even though he has had a rough season so far and specifically a rough week, he has built enough rapport with fantasy owners to be essentially just as valuable now as he was early in the season. There is no reason to pick up a handcuff and no reason to try and move Kimbrel now. If you drafted him, you probably drafted him early. Paying a lot for closers is never something I recommend, as the position itself is very volatile and there are other needs that early in drafts than grabbing the first closer. If you see someone in your league starting to sour on Kimbrel, make a low offer and see if he counters with something reasonable. You may not get many chances to “buy low” on him, so if you sense any serious worry by his owner now is the time to make a move.

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Ben has been at RotoGraphs since 2012 and focuses most of his fantasy baseball attention toward dynasty and keeper leagues.

17 Responses to “Is Craig Kimbrel Broken?”

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  1. Ken says:

    Was offered Kimbrel for my Grilli. Have to jump on it, right???

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    • Jaker says:


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    • thistakesgumption says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member


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    • Wil says:

      Heck yes. Kimbrel had a little rough spot at the beginning of last season too. Make the trade and enjoy the rest of the season.

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    • Tony Bologna says:

      Do it now.. You will get the best of Kimbrel, while they get the worst of Grilli. Numbers will stabalize Kimbrel’s ERA should be a run lower, while Grilli’s should be 2 runs higher.

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    • d says:

      Oh hell yes! Kimbrel had the same rough stretch in late April- early May in 2011 (blew 3 leads), then was lights out until September, rattling off 30 straight scoreless innings.

      The pitch fx/velocity on his fastball is also the same as it was in 2011 (it ticked up .6 MPH last year).

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    • philosofool says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      Someone is stupid. But there will be two stupid people if you don’t accept that trade.

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  2. MFYG says:

    was really hoping to click through and read “no”.

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  3. Brandon says:

    Get Kimbrel ASAP. He will begin to figure it out.

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  4. Ken says:

    Thank you all! Just needed some affirmation from others.

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  5. John says:

    Makes me wonder if Brian McCann being out has something to do with that. Catcher calls the game right? Be interesting to see if those curveballs come back now that he has his catcher back.

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  6. jon says:

    Freddie Freeman too high a price for Kimbrel? I have Chapman, Mujica, Tazawa. Would replace Freeman with Swisher at 1B. OPS lg.

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    • squads says:

      Freeman doesn’t play that well well in OPS leagues. Might depend on what pitching categories your league uses. (5×5?, 7×7?)

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      • jon says:

        6×6, we count AVG and OPS in hitting and for pitching we count IP, K/9, SVs, ERA, WHIP, and QS (not Wins)

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  7. Dion says:

    I’d keep Grilli. He is one of the if not the most dominant closer today and his job is 100% safe. While Kimbrel SHOULD improve, why gamble.

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  8. JoshO says:

    Would you trade Billy Butler to get Kimbrel. I have Napoli @ C/1B but Rosario is my other catcher. Also have AGon currently slotted into an OF with Crawford and Choo also starting. Currently R Soriano and Jansen as my 2 relievers. (2 SP spots, 2 RP spots, and 1 P spot). This is a points dynasty league. Kimbrel and Butler have identical contracts. Thanks for the help

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