In April, the Los Angeles Dodgers traded for Craig Kimbrel to help solidify the back end of their bullpen after long-time closer Kenley Jansen departed in the offseason. Unfortunately for the Dodgers, Kimbrel has been flat-out terrible.
While Blake Treinen was the heir apparent at closer, he's been dealing with a shoulder injury that has kept him out well into the season. He's unlikely to be back before the All-Star break. Due to that, Kimbrel has been LA's closer this season. He has struggled mightily.
On Sunday against the San Diego Padres, Kimbrel blew his third save in his last seven chances. He entered ninth inning with a 1-0 lead and promptly struck out Manny Machado. Then Kimbrel allowed a single to Jake Cronenworth that hit him square in the back, a double to Luke Voit that scored Cronenworth, and a single to Eric Hosmer that scored pinch runner C.J. Abrams. He was promptly pulled from the game with an apparent injury, likely from being nailed in the back by Cronenworth. Yency Almonte replaced him and surrendered a two-run home run to Ha-seong Kim. The Dodgers lost 4-2.
Kimbrel is currently 1-4 with a 4.78 ERA, a 1.52 WHIP, 28 hits and 12 walks allowed against 41 strikeouts in 26.1 innings. He has 14 saves in 17 opportunities. Those numbers are terrible.
Kimbrel struggled in 2019 and 2020 for the Chicago Cubs, posting ERAs of 6.53 and 5.28 respectively. He bounced back a bit in 2021 in a season split between the Cubs and Chicago White Sox. In 63 appearances he had a 2.26 ERA, a 0.91 WHIP and 100 strikeouts in 59.2 innings. It looked like he had fixed whatever was wrong in that previous two-year stretch. Maybe not.
Compared to 2021, Kimbrel's strikeout percentage in 2022 has dropped from 42.6 percent to 34.5 percent. His walk rate has gone from 9.8 percent to 10.3 percent, and his opponents batting average has gone from .148 to .243. On top of that, batters are barreling 9.5 percent of the balls put in play against 6.4 percent in 2021.
So what's the difference for Kimbrel this season? Well, he's throwing his fastball far more than in 2021 (65.1 percent of the time vs. 59.0 percent), and his knuckle curve less (34.9 percent vs. 41.0 percent). Other than that, the raw numbers on his pitches don't show much difference.
What has become clear is Kimbrel isn't good enough to be the closer on a team with championship aspirations. The Dodgers will almost certainly have to scour MLB for a replacement before the trade deadline.