By Joshua Nord-@nordjoshua
Ball four, take your base!
That call is part of the game, a duality with strike three your out. Yet for Sox fans it’s a call we’ve all grown tired of hearing in the ninth.
Kimbrel isn’t doing his job. How bad is it? He’s allowed 26 hits and walks in just under 20 innings since July 2nd. He hasn’t had a one run save since July 2nd, and has only thrown four clean innings since June. I don’t believe ERA matters much to a closer since it can be inflated so easily. Since the All Star Break in mid July Kimbrel has a 1.54 WHIP compared to 0.89 in the first half of the season. When he falls behind in the count he hardly ever gets it back. Which has led to a 3.24 strikeout-to-walk ratio, a far cry from his elite nine in 2017. Why is all of this?
Well, Kimbrel thirty. He’s getting old for a long time closer. Why does that matter? Look at what Pedro Martinez has to say about turning thirty in his book. “For some people, turning 30 is a bigger milestone than for others. For pitchers, it marks the turning point in a career.”
This isn’t a hot take, just about everyone at the ballpark the other night saw it clearly when the Sox closer walked back to back hitters on pitches that weren’t even close to the zone. Kimbrel’s repertoire? A fastball that can’t quite touch a hundred anymore and a knuckle curve that when it works it’s works, but therein lies the problem.
It doesn’t work.
The knuckle curve is a deceptive pitch, can be thrown in the same movement as a fastball. Yet the deception means nothing when Kimbrel misses the zone as much as he has with it. Major League hitters, no matter how young or bad they might be can lay off a curve that never lines up with the zone at any point in its trajectory.
Of the thirteen knuckle curves I saw Kimbrel throw in game one against the Marlins, nine were balls more than a few inches outside the zone, including a wild pitch which led to runners advancing. To make matters worse, his velocity with both pitches are down from last year.
When you’re thirty your body just isn’t the same. Kimbrel is still a good pitcher, 37 saves in 53.0 innings is nothing to sneeze at. However, while it doesn’t touch his elite 2017 season, it’s better than the 2016 everyone seems to be comparing him to. The problem with that comparison? Kimbrel was injured that year and played through it, and then put up big numbers when he was fully healthy the following year. This year, under Coras coaching philosophy? I don’t think it’s due to injury again. Nor do I think it’s a case of overworking.
The genuine answer is that Kimbrel is getting old and might need to change the way he approaches pitching to hitters. Because trying to blow away the radar gun can only get you so far.
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