How the Phillies Bullpen Stacks Up with Craig Kimbrel

The free agent signings are winding down, but there’s still valued to be had on the market. The Philadelphia Phillies reportedly agreed to a one-year deal with eight-time All-Star Craig Kimbrel. Kimbrel will join his fourth teams in less than two years, as Philly hopes that the right-hander can revert back to the dominant reliever that re-appeared in 2021.

Related: Daulton Varsho Heads to Toronto for Lourdes Gurriel and Gabriel Moreno: Who Made Out Better?

A Look at Kimbrel

Craig Kimbrel‘s 2022 campaign was a bit of an odyssey, something of a familiar theme for the right-hander since winning the World Series with Boston in 2018. Kimbrel dominated hitters with the Red Sox that season, as he struck out 96 over 62.1 innings en route to 42 saves. After that season, Kimbrel inked a four-year deal the Cubs.

Kimbrel’s time with the Cubs did not go as planned. Across two and half seasons with the Cubs, Kimbrel posted a 3.22 ERA, much greater than the ones he sported with Atlanta (1.43) and Boston (2.44 ERA). Kimbrel’s walk rates and WHIP exploded in 2019 and 2020, although the right-hander figured things out in 2021. With the Cubs in 2021, Kimbrel posted a sparkling a 0.49 ERA, and struck out 64 in 36.2 innings. The right-handed was traded to the south side of Chicago later that season, but failed to replicate those numbers with the White Sox. Kimbrel posted a 5.09 ERA in just 23 innings.

When Kimbrel did have success in 2021, the curveball played a major role. Kimbrel posted a gaudy 59.3% Whiff rate on it in 2021, thanks to great command of the pitch. The right-hander, for the most part, avoided leaving the knee-buckling pitch over the plate and worked hitters down low.

2022, though, didn’t go smooth for the 34-year-old. With the Dodgers, the righty did post a 3.75 ERA over 60 innings. If one takes into account Kimbrel’s track record over the past four seasons, that figure doesn’t sound too bad. However, Kimbrel left more pitches over the heart of the plate in 2022, and the righty’s Whiff% and Contact% rates went in the wrong direction.

Here’s a look at Kimbrel’s curve breakdown from last season, which illustrates part of the reason why the new Phillie couldn’t repeat his strong results from 2021. The righty saw an increase in pitches left over the plate, and the rest is pretty self-explanatory:

Kimbrel spent much of last season as the Dodgers’ closer, but was eventually booted. The eight-time All-Star’s uneven regular season resulted in the righty being left off the Dodgers’ NLDS roster.

Kimbrel has tended to have walk issues throughout parts of his career, an issue that the Phillies will have to contend with that in 2023. But when the right-hander has everything together, Kimbrel boasts a hard fastball that can miss bats, alongside a gorgeous curve.

What it Means

With Kimbrel in the fold, the eight-time All-Star will join a bullpen that performed well for the Phillies late in the season. No, Philadelphia won’t be able to utilize Zach Eflin like the team did in the postseason, nor will the Phillies have David Robertson available late in games. Still, the Phillies’ bullpen looks strong entering next season.

Here’s a look at the Phillies’ bullpen options come 2023:

Other options include Cristopher Sanchez, Francisco Morales, and Sam Coonrod.

Kimbrel should be one Rob Thompson’s options late in games, alongside Seranthony Domínguez. Domínguez excelled in the Phillies’ bullpen last season, particularly in the MLB Playoffs. After a strong regular season, the righty struck out 18 over 10.2 innings for the NL champions in the 2022 postseason. Domínguez, though, wasn’t the only reliable reliever that held things down for the Phillies in 2022 that returns for next season. Andrew Bellatti struck out 78 over 54.1 innings, and hard-throwing lefty José Alvarado set a career high in K/9 (14.3) last season. Yes, control will be somewhat of an issue with this group. Nonetheless, the Phillies have plenty of quality relievers with work with.

Phillies’ fans should feel good about the bullpen construction for 2023. Much of last year’s group returns for 2023, a positive given how well the likes of Bellatti, Alvarado, Domínguez, and Connor Brogdon performed last season. The additions of Kimbrel and veteran lefty Matt Strahm should also provide stability to a group that performed much better late in the regular season and the playoffs.

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