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What to Expect From Craig Kimbrel as the Cubs Closer

June 12, 2019 | By RotoRob | comment on this post
Craig Kimbrel will upgrade the Chicago Cubs bullpen.
Can Craig Kimbrel (right) save the struggling Cubs’ bullpen? (Jose M. Osorio|Chicago Tribune)

So now that Craig Kimbrel has finally found a new home, signing with the Cubs last week, how can we expect him to fare as the new closer at Wrigley?

Hell, even the best sportsbooks online are likely loathe to take a bet about how long a Cubs closer will stick around.

After all, this is a gig that has seen its fair share of talented arms in recent years, but really has been a revolving door. There was Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams; the very rotund Rod Beck; Carlos Marmol, whose control issues likely made even Wild Thing blush; LaTroy Hawkins, who famously stopped talking to the media in Chicago; the licorice-eating Turk Wendell; Aroldis Chapman; Randy Myers, who was superb, but had the misfortune to blow a save on the same day the team offered his poster as a giveaway; Kerry Wood, who found success as a closer after injuries derailed his starting career; Wade Davis; and Rick Aguilera, among others.

Well, one thing is certain: Kimbrel will definitely help a bullpen that has blown 12 of 26 save chances so far this season. Regardless, the Cubs are still right in the thick of the NL Central, just a half game behind the Brewers entering play on Tuesday, so this addition is a welcome one. It’s probably not the last move Chicago will make to bolster the pen this season, but it’s the most important one.

By addressing its biggest weakness, Chicago has definitely improved its chances of getting to the World Series. If nothing else, the Cubs themselves are stoked about this signing (see video below).

Kimbrel’s three-year deal (with an option for 2022) will pay him $43 million, but the seven-time All-Star isn’t quite ready to take the mound in anger considering he hasn’t pitched since last season. As we discussed in last week’s Wire Troll, he’s expected to be ready to pitch in the majors in about two and a half weeks, perhaps a bit sooner.

We know that when Kimbrel is on his game, he’s an elite closer, but when we last saw him in last year’s playoff run by Boston, he was shaky, recording a 5.91 ERA in the postseason. During the regular season, he was solid, but not nearly as effective as he’d been in 2017.

Kimbrel did match his career high in wins last year, but do you really want your closer earning wins? It usually means he blew a save in the same game. In fact, his five blown saves last year was the second highest total of his career.

Kimbrel’s first five seasons — all with Atlanta — were among his most consistently dominant, although he probably had his greatest season ever in 2017 with the BoSox.

But that run in Atlanta included 186 saves, a sub-1.50 ERA and Top 10 Cy Young finishes every season from 2011 to 2014.

Last year, Kimbrel continued to post an elite K rate, but his walk rate regressed after he showed such improvement in that regard in 2017. After setting a career high with a 93.9 per cent strand rate in 2017, that dipped to 83 per cent last year, more in line with his career norm.

Still, the reduction in his command last season is something to watch this year — especially early on as he tries to shake off the rust. Kimbrel’s always had unhittable stuff, but if these command issues get any worse, it could hurt him.

Traditionally a groundball pitcher, he skewed into more of a flyball hurler in Boston, and this is something to watch in the sometimes not-so-friendly-to-pitchers confines of Wrigley Field.

From a Fantasy perspective, Steve Cishek has just had the rug pulled out from him. Pedro Strop can also be sent packing, had you been holding onto him.

As for Kimbrel, by the time he’s ready to return, he should garner 20 or more save chances over the remainder of the season, and will likely convert nearly all of them — think 18-21 saves — with his usual solid ERA, WHIP and K numbers.

RotoRob Tune of the Day

Italian prog rockers Delirium originally formed in 1969, sticking around until the mid-’70s and then reuniting in the early 2000s. The band’s biggest hit is “Jesahel,” released in 1972. Here’s the B-side, “King’s Road.”

Now it’s your turn. Let us know in the comments below how you think Kimbrel will fare with the Cubs.

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