Sure the sky is falling this season and our best two winter additions are bombing so it’s time to throw in the towel or at least that’s what it seems according to the Boston media. Looking at counting stats after 18 games is silly and it’s even worse for pitchers. Now that’s not to say our pitching has been great, but there is no way wins, ERA and to be honest even strikeouts and walks are troublesome in such small samples.
So not only am I going to look at a pitcher, but a reliever who has only 9 innings pitched so far. Craig Kimbrel has not looked great this season and relievers have it tough to prove what they have. A full season for a reliever is borderline statistical numbers, so what can you tell in nine innings?
The results for Kimbrel have been a big disappointment so far. His ERA stands at 5.00 even before Monday night’s game and has a xFIP of 3.41. That’s not Kimbrel level of skill and not what the Red Sox gave up so much to get. He has really struggled with control and given up more than a fair share of home runs in his start to 2016.
On the other hand he has often looked electric and has struck out 42 percent of batters he has faced. That ranks third among relievers in the American League behind the Yankees pair in Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances at 57 and 63 percent respectively. Kimbrel’s career rate is 41 percent showing he’s not failing to strikeout near career levels.
As for his control he’s got a BB/9 of 5, which is far and away his worse rate of any season in the majors since his rookie season. His career rate of 3.40 shows he’s not great at avoiding walks, but for most years he has shown solid if not great control. Combine the walks with a few extra home runs and a pitcher with 9 innings can look very bad quickly.
Something interesting right away is Kimbrel is much more of a one pitch pitcher in Boston than anywhere else. He is throwing 80 percent fastball so far this season and the rest are curveballs. Before this season his average was 70 percent fastballs and nearly a third curveballs. It’s not clear what is the reason for the change, but it’ll be interesting if it continues as his curveball has been pretty good over his career. Worth about 2.45 runs above average for every 100 pitches thrown.
Another issue for Kimbrel has been a slow start to each season. His xFIP in April, May and June is 2.42, 2.37 and 2.30 respectively, but come the summer it goes to 1.51, 1.81 and 1.35 for the last three months of the year. If you break it into two parts his xFIP in the first half is 2.26 and 1.57 in the second.
Kimbrel has been an amazing reliever, in either half of the season, but clearly shows he gets better as the season goes on. This season is also not a huge outlier as last March and April his xFIP was 3.57 with a strikeout percentage of only 27 percent. There was a lot more to worry about then compared to now.
I’d like to see Kimbrel start using his curveball more and also see his stuff get better as the summer comes on. While I expect some small drop in numbers in the American League and maybe a slight bump in home runs against after pitching in San Diego last year I expect still elite numbers by the time 2016 closes. Used correctly the Red Sox bullpen could be the best in the AL East, but we have to wait for John Farrell to prove he can do that.