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Craig Kimbrel Has Turned Back The Clock For The Philadelphia Phillies

I am trying to figure out what's up with these Phillies blogs I've been posting. I'm not a fan of the team, but they've been hot, and they seem to be pulling excellent performances out of their ass. Of all the signings made in this most recent offseason, Craig Kimbrel to the Phillies was one I didn't think much of. I love Dave Dombrowski, but one of his weaknesses (at least in Detroit) has been constructing a good bullpen. Signing Kimbrel seemed like one of those moves where you sign an established name, even though he's well over the hill. I watched Kimbrel with the Dodgers last year, and while he wasn't awful, his numbers indicated that he was on the decline. His WHIP was well above one. He was missing fewer bats, blowing more saves, and giving up more runs. His performance with the Dodgers and his awful second half for the White Sox in 2021 made me think Kimbrel was on his last legs. And for the first month of the season, I was right. Kimbrel was AWFUL in his first fourteen appearances, giving up eleven runs in twelve innings and walking nine. He was becoming unpitchable. Then, seemingly overnight, he turned the clock back a decade.

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I don't know if it was as simple as a mechanical adjustment, but Craig Kimbrel has been as dominant as any reliever in baseball since early May. In 26 innings since May 9th, his ERA is 1.04, his WHIP is a microscopic 0.653, and he's striking out over fourteen batters per nine innings. He's also converted twelve saves and blown zero. I took a lot at Kimbrel's baseball savant page to see if anything stood out. Despite being one of the most dominant closers of all-time, Kimbrel has always had an issue giving up hard contact. Even in some of his best years, his average exit velocity and hard-hit rate are pretty ugly. He's always made up for it by missing bats; this year is no exception. His chase rate is only in the 33rd percentile, but he's pounding the zone and getting lots of swings and misses with his heater. He currently is in the 93rd percentile in whiff% and 93rd percentile in K%. Since that May 9th resurgence, his BB/9 has only been 2.4, well below his 3.8 career average.

Kimbrel collected his 400th save and made his 9th All-Star team this season. He's thirty-five years old, and if this resurgence continues for a bit longer, his resume for Cooperstown is going to be pretty damn strong for a reliever. It's insanely difficult to make the Hall Of Fame as a closer. I know that Kimbrel has had his postseason struggles (he was awful in October 2018), but if we're just talking about overall value and run prevention, few closers have ever been as dominant as Kimbrel. I think he'll ultimately be on the outside looking in, but I have to give the guy a ton of credit for being resilient. There have been multiple times over the last five years when I thought he was toast, and he keeps bouncing back. The Phillies pen has shown substantial improvement compared to where they were a year ago, and having a dominant veteran presence like Kimbrel has been a huge reason for that.