Craig Kimbrel has struggled in epic fashion so far this season, but he thinks he has figured it out.
With a third ineffective appearance on Tuesday night, Chicago Cubs reliever Craig Kimbrel pushed his ERA to 32.40 for the season. His ERA as a Cub, dating back to when he signed in June of 2019, is 8.46.
Kimbrel’s struggles, at least with command and control, actually date back to late in the 2018 campaign with the Boston Red Sox. His fastball velocity has dropped from an elite level, and his curve ball hasn’t been a worthy diversion for hitters.
For whatever it’s worth, Kimbrel thinks he has figured out the cause of his struggles.
So what’s causing Craig Kimbrel’s struggles?
Mechanical subtleties do make a big difference for pitchers, from arm speed, to finishing position, to ball showing/not showing and residual effects on pitch location and movement. Kimbrel’s late start to the 2019 season, due to being levied a qualifying offer and not signing until draft pick compensation went away, may have thrown him off track. Bullpen sessions on your own in the name of staying in shape lose competitive value at some point.
If the solution to his problems were as simple and subtle as Kimbrel has painted it, it seems he should have landed on it a year ago or so when he wasn’t pitching especially well. So maybe he’s dealing with a minor injury, shaving his beard led to a further loss of his mojo or he’s just a 32-year-old pitcher with lots of high-stress innings on his arm.
In any case, even with a 9-2 record entering Wednesday, the Cubs can’t rely on Kimbrel to close games or pitch in any high-leverage situations at all.