Cubs barely survive a bullpen meltdown, but they have a Craig Kimbrel problem

That’s a disaster appearance in every sense of the term, and unfortunately for the Cubs it’s roughly in keeping with Kimbrel’s recent history. At his peak, he was on the short list of the most dominant closers in baseball history, but that peak is fading deeper and deeper into the past. Kimbrel showed signs of eroding command during the 2018 season for the Red Sox, even though he wound up with strong numbers overall.

Source: Cubs barely survive a bullpen meltdown, but they have a Craig Kimbrel problem – CBSSports.com

It appears Craig Kimbrel is under a microscope again after yesterday when  he “earned” himself a Hold stat by giving up 2 runs and 4 walks.  Cubs signed him last season because their relief staff needed help and they were very much contenders for NL Central in June.

This article makes some broad declarations so let’s look at Craig Kimbrel.  Here’s his career according to this data model.

Craig Kimbrel

Year Rank WAA TeamID Pos
2010 +189+ 1.76 ATL PITCH
2011 +082+ 3.17 ATL PITCH
2012 +039+ 4.41 ATL PITCH
2013 +042+ 4.18 ATL PITCH
2014 +087+ 3.07 ATL PITCH
2015 +165+ 1.93 SDN PITCH
2016 XXXXX 0.99 BOS PITCH
2017 +041+ 4.49 BOS PITCH
2018 +163+ 1.99 BOS PITCH
2019 XXXXX -0.97 CHN PITCH

An excellent career with 5 years in top 100 and only not ranked twice over his 10 years in the league.   Last season was his first below average year after missing the first two months according to this data model.   Cubs acquired Kimbrel to help relief staff instead he dragged it down further.

Craig Kimbrel WAR

Year Rank WAR TeamID Pos
2010 XXXXX 0.7 ATL PITCH
2011 +173+ 2.4 ATL PITCH
2012 +099+ 3.3 ATL PITCH
2013 +110+ 3.3 ATL PITCH
2014 +157+ 2.5 ATL PITCH
2015 XXXXX 1.2 SDN PITCH
2016 XXXXX 0.9 BOS PITCH
2017 +082+ 3.6 BOS PITCH
2018 +180+ 2.3 BOS PITCH
2019 -140- -0.5 CHN PITCH
TOTAL X 19.7

As has been shown here many times WAR under values relief and here’s another example.  Kimbrel barely makes top 100 in 2012 and 2017 and out of the top 200 4 times according to WAR.  Both WAR and this data model generally agree on his career trajectory and his values for the year 2017 and 2018.

In 2012, one of Kimbrel’s career years helping Atlanta win 94 games WAR ranks him #99.  Darwin Barney in 2012, playing 2B for the Cubs that won only 61 games, ranked #34 in MLB by WAR.  Was Darwin Barney better than Kimbrel that year?

Player acquisition is always a gamble, sometimes more sometimes less.  Cubs needed help in relief, Kimbrel was available, and they took a chance.  It didn’t work out and Cubs didn’t make the playoffs.  Had it worked out Cubs may have just barely made the playoffs but would most likely lose in the first round.  It takes a team effort to win and a team effort to lose.

Modeling player contracts requires very complex financial math and risk analysis far outside the scope of this data model.  If this season continues on, and there doesn’t seem to be any drama today on the Twitter, then we’ll be able to have a better look see into Cubs relief situation for next year.  This is just one bad outing for Kimbrel in a very unusual season.  Tomorrow is another day.

Vegas has Cubs almost even steven with Reds for today’s game.  Not sure why.  More on this later.  Until then ….