Craig Kimbrel Struggling?

Bryan Mauro- Contributing Writer (@threecolorbeard)

Photo Credit: Chase Madorsky/Underdog Sports
What is one thing that all championship teams have in common? Other than a tight knit clubhouse and the ball bouncing exactly right in their season. The main factor is usually a lock down bullpen, especially in the back end. The Red Sox have had the luxury for the past 3 seasons, to watch the current best closer in baseball mow down lineups. All while helping the Red Sox rack up wins.

Recently, however Kimbrel and the Red Sox bullpen have shown some holes. It is no secret that the Red Sox bullpen has its weak spots. Though the Red Sox bullpen, after given the vote of confidence by the front office and Dave Dombrowski, has been pretty good. They like most other good bullpens in the league have had a few bumps in the road, and a few members of the bullpen have experienced some fatigue due to overuse. The overuse has been ever more prevalent in the recent weeks.

It is also no secret that the Red Sox missed out on adding to their already good bullpen, by adding another arm. That is not necessarily true, while the Red Sox did not add an arm from outside the organization. They did add Ryan Brasier, who has been lights out in his work so far. So, lights out in fact that he is now being used in many high leverage situations. The return of Tyler Thornburg’s confidence, and his ability to now get hitters out again is becoming a great weapon for the Red Sox. As the season continues it should not surprise to see a guy like Austin Maddox, added to the bullpen. He is recovering from a shoulder injury suffered late last year, but if he can pitch like he did last year. That would be a huge boost to an overworked bullpen.

Let us now focus on Craig Kimbrel. The better part of the last two weeks has been an adventure for Kimbrel when he is on the mound. He has blown one save against the Blue Jays, after giving up a no doubt home run to Justin Smoak. The closer has been close to blowing saves on a few other occasions, and during this period has left a slew of base runners.

Lots of analysts are asking why? How does Kimbrel who dominated the whole year, struggle this bad when he doesn’t have to shoulder the workload like some other closers. That is a huge reason why Kimbrel may be struggling. Most nights the Red Sox have blown out their opponents and there has been no need to run Kimbrel out there. At this point in the season, it should be about preserving his arm if he doesn’t need to pitch. The consistent work would be nice, but Boston needs to worry about getting Kimbrel ready for the playoffs.

Photo Credit: Christopher Evans
It only makes sense that Kimbrel would struggle after being so dominant this year. He like many of the other Red Sox was on a historic pace. Alex Cora told the media that Kimbrel found a mechanical flaw in his delivery and has been doing the needed work to fix it. In his last outing against the Phillies he looked much better. He was getting the much-needed bite on his curveball. The bite and extra drop on the curveballs are crucial for Kimbrels success, especially when it can play off the late life his fastball has.

When he was struggling the curveball was not a pitch the closer could throw for strikes. If the hitters he is faced can eliminate the curveball, knowing Kimbrel can not throw it for strikes. He becomes much easier to face, as all hitters know if he is going to throw a strike he is going to have to throw his fastball. Kimbrel still has one of the most explosive fastballs in the game, with so much late life on it, that he has been able to still get most hitters out.

Due to the career trajectory of Kimbrel and his history in Boston, it would be foolish to think Kimbrel won’t turn this around. He is well on his way to close to 50 overall saves, and it would not be surprising to see his ERA end up somewhere right at the two or just under two. The pitcher with the lowest WHIP in the history of the game is going to be just fine. Kimbrel is the piece of the bullpen that the Red Sox are worried about the least.

There has been no talk of removing Kimbrel from the closer role, there is no talk of removing Kimbrel from the closer role, and to think otherwise is foolish. Over the course of his career with the Red Sox he has consistently been the most dominant reliever in the American League, not to mention the most dominant pitcher in the entire Major Leagues. It remains to be seen how any of these Red Sox perform in the playoffs, but with them being 50 games over .500, lets just all sit back and enjoy the ride.