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We're NOT Doomed--A Salve for Pronk's Bullpen Doom Boner


Just look at that little turkey vulture! (Courtesy of Getty Images)

Oh, Pronk. I may never forgive him for trying to get everyone all up in a lather with his big, giant doom boner over Craig Kimbrel. We're making him do 1,000 push ups at DNA HQ as I type this as punishment. I mean, "doom" is even right there in the title. SMH.


In the wake of the massive doom tsunami he no doubt created with his Doom Manifesto, I'm here to try to calm things down just a scosh. Ready? K.


First, I'm well and fully ready to admit that I wasn't on the SIGN KIMBREL OMG!!!!11!!11!! train that a lot of you were on. In fact, ultimately the team probably would've been better off without him, especially now that The Budget has reappeared and Thed seem to be on the brink of trading Sparkles or Willy or some combination thereof. That said, the signing happened and our little garden gnome doppelgänger is here for a few more years (unless Thed trade him, of course, and then they won't have a closer again).

Yay conundrums!

Pronk uses 2017 as a starting year to show Kimbrel's decline. While it's true that the last two seasons have shown a drop-off from 2017, both 2012 and 2017 were extreme outliers for Kimbrel in terms of both BB% and K%. In fact, his K% in 2013-2016 were actually equal to or lower than the K% he put up in 2018 in Boston. Add to that the fact that his BB% spiked in 2016 before plummeting to an almost comically low 5.5% in 2017, and you could easily argue that Kimbrel might not be declining at all and that he's completely fixable for 2020. Even with a slight velocity drop (welcome to your 30's, Craig!), great pitchers can work around that with a great coaching staff and a good game plan. I'm not going to do a full career comp to complete Pronk's numbers because we think his original post already drove him mad, and I'm not going there.

Real footage of Pronk writing his farticle.

Another thing to look at is usage. During his two outlier, high K, extremely low ERA seasons in 2012 and 2017, Kimbrel was actually used in a much lower percentage of high leverage situations than at any other point in his career.

The pLI/inLI/gmLI stats are your friends here. (Info courtesy of FanGraphs.)

The Leverage Index stats show that in 2017, in particular, Kimbrel was on average coming into lower leverage games and lower leverage innings more often than any other year in his career other than 2012. Could this be nothing? Sure. It could also mean that changes in when and how Kimbrel is used have an impact on his outcomes, and having another pitcher to use as a set up man will be very important to the Cubs in the next two years to lessen some of that pressure. Thankfully, what we've seen from the Wi(e)cks and even from Tyler Chatwood shows that the team has some options there that are under 30 years old, where they don't have to count on an aging reliever like Pedro Strop to carry that weight. And if they do wind up signing Brandon Morrow to a minor league deal and getting some meaningful innings from him (and call me crazy, but I think they might!), then even better.


The real problem with Kimbrel that needs solving is the HR rate. His HR/9 were never above 1 until 2019, although he was at 0.91 in 2015 with the Padres. So... he's flirted with a higher number before. But what's really wrong there? Do the K% and BB%, as Pronk relied so heavily on in his narrative really tell us anything? I have my own chart!

Pretty, isn't it? Informative? Nope, not at all. All this chart really tells us is that historically, there has been no correlation at all between Kimbrel's strikeout and walk numbers and his HR totals. So fluctuatey! Now, that doesn't mean he's not on the decline, BUT... it certainly doesn't mean he is, either. Kimbrel could have had anything from just a fluky couple of half seasons, to a mechanical issue that needs to be diagnosed by our boy wonder #HOTtovy, to a bad half season because he didn't have a proper spring training. We also know the Cubs haven't done a great job of bringing on new pitchers mid-year in the past, something they admitted to after the Justin Wilson debacle in 2017 and worked on in 2018, when J-Wil was a whole lot better than you probably gave him credit for.

Finally, to address the Red Sox allowing Kimbrel to walk--we now know that they're just as "poor" as the Cubs, since they're rumored to be considering trading Mookie Betts and were waiting to see if J.D. Martinez would opt into his contract after the end of the 2019 season (he did). Letting Kimbrel go could've been a sign of something sinister, or it could've just been the Sox being #CheapRicketts cheap and letting a player go, knowing that they'd need to put the resources elsewhere. I mean, they're even worse--at least #CheapRicketts paid for Kimbrel!


Personally, I think it's time we just cool down a bit and wait and see what the Cubs coaching staff can do to help Kimbrel tweak the little things that made HRs such a problem for him in his limited 2019 Cubs duty. As long as he can solve that, and have a full spring training, I have full faith that he'll be plenty effective with some good set up men to help him out.



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