To some, Craig Kimbrel wore out his welcome in Los Angeles rather quickly in 2022. The closer’s role probably did not bother him anyway as he seemed to be a shoo-in to reach the milestone of 400 saves at the start of the year. He ended at 394 saves, which probably is a clue to how Kimbrel’s season went for the uninitiated.
Personally, I had no issue with the trade that sent A.J. Pollock to the Southside of Chicago for Kimbrel. Unfortunately for all parties involved, it was one of those rare trades that made sense at the time, yet both sides ultimately lost with both Pollock and Kimbrel not thriving in their new locales.
Kimbrel could never seem to find his groove in Los Angeles. In (the) summer, I tried to defend the trade in my most controversial, non-Trevor Bauer essay of the year. In an essay where I nicknamed Kimbrel “the Rooster,” I argued that he was not bad per se. He was just less effective than departed-former closer Kenley Jansen, whom the fanbase had taken for granted, including me, and I booed the man to his face.
But that essay pointed out that it was always going to be difficult to replace Jansen. Still, when I finished that essay in early August, I had no idea the twists and turns that would remain in Kimbrel’s season.
To describe Kimbrel’s season in 2022 best is to use either of the following hypotheticals, which will get you 95 percent of the way there:
- Imagine Evan Phillips...but bad, costing way more money, and eventually...we’re going to have to listen to that terrible song from ‘Frozen’ and pretend to tolerate it or;
- Imagine Heath Hembree’s lack of clean innings in 2022...but in high-pressure situations, and eventually...we’re going to have to listen to that terrible song from ‘Frozen’ and pretend to tolerate it.
Like Phillips, I was present for five Kimbrel appearances in 2022. However, none of them went smoothly, and just about all of them were on the cusp of turning into blown saves or walk-off losses until one finally did.
- May 29 at Arizona: 1 IP, 1 hit, 1 run, 2 strikeouts, 1 HBP (tying run at the plate when the game ended)
- July 31 at Colorado: 1 IP, 1 hit, 2 strikeouts
- Aug 3 at San Francisco (discussed in depth below): 1 IP, 1 hit, 1 walk, 1 strikeout, 1 HBP (winning run at the plate when the game ended)
- Aug 14 at Kansas City: 1 IP, 1 HR, 1 strikeout (Dodgers were losing, home run given up served as the cue to head to the airport)
- Aug 16 at Brewers: ⅓ IP, 2 hits, 2 runs (1 unearned), 1 walk, 1 strikeout (walk-off loss)
I was particularly annoyed by the walk-off loss in Milwaukee because it rendered the greatest catch I had ever seen in person, by Chris Taylor in the previous inning, moot.
If you wanted to experience the typical Kimbrel outing in 2022, we need only return to August 3 in San Francisco — the night of Miguel Vargas’ major league debut. That night had been the Miguel Vargas show as he had been involved with two of the three runs scored in the game.
Kimbrel was brought in to pitch the ninth inning at the start of the inning. Here is the progression of events after Kimbrel came in:
- Deep fly ball out to center that is only kept in the park by Oracle Park’s goofy dimensions (J.D. Davis)
- Walk (Luis Gonzalez)
- Ground-ball single to left (Joey Bart; Gonzalez to second)
- Hit by pitch, which would have gone straight to the backstop if it had not hit the batter (LaMonte Wade, Jr.; Gonzalez to third, Bart to second)
- Pop fly out to short right field / deep second base (Mike Yastrzemski)
- Strikeout looking (strike three was at least two to three inches off the plate) (Austin Slater)
It was maddening to watch Kimbrel in person because Kimbrel would swing widely from looking sharp to looking like he could not hit water from a boat ...on a lake ...during a rainstorm.
One thing of note was that Kimbrel seemed to be hitting batters or throwing wildly. Kimbrel led the team with seven wild pitches and led the relievers with five hit batters. The overall hit by pitch leaders were Tyler Anderson and Andrew Heaney with nine each, in 118⅔ and 12⅔ extra innings, respectively.
If you really want to be infuriated, one need only compare Kimbrel to Phillips. While such a comparison might not seem fair, the statistics back up my assertions as to Kimbrel and Phillips.
- Phillips: 7-3, 2 saves, 1.14 ERA, 64 G, 63 IP, 15 BB, 77 K, 3 HBP, 0 WP, 0.762 WHIP, 2.8 bWAR, 2.2 fWAR
- Kimbrel: 6-7, 22 saves, 3.75 ERA, 63 G, 60 IP, 28 BB, 72 K, 5 HBP, 7 WP, 1.317 WHIP, 0.2 bWAR, 0.9 fWAR
Kimbrel pitched in 63 games in 2022. Of those appearances, 54 lasted at least a full inning. He had a clean inning 17 times, about 31.5 percent of the time. For the first time in forever, Kimbrel had a truly good stretch in 2022. But that sentence does not tell the whole tale of the unlikely boomlet sparked by a new entrance song for Kimbrel.
On August 21, the Dodgers had their Women’s Day at Dodger Stadium with the players’ walk-up/entrance songs selected by their significant others. If the above illustration was not clear, Kimbrel’s wife Ashley selected the entrance music of ‘Let it Go’ from ‘Frozen’.
Kimbrel had a clean inning and for the next eight outings, he did not allow a run while keeping ‘Let it Go’ as his entrance music. It even got to the point that the Dodger fans started singing the song when Kimbrel entered games. The streak ended on September 14 when Sergio Alcántara walked off the Kimbrel and the Dodgers in dramatic fashion.
Dodgers’ management stuck by Kimbrel nearly all year, even with his many ups and downs. By September 23, they finally saw enough and let Kimbrel go from the closer’s role. Kimbrel appeared in mop-up roles for the remainder of the year, even suffering the indignity of getting walked off by a walk in San Diego.
Unsurprisingly to anyone, Kimbrel did not make the postseason roster. He started his offseason about a week before the Dodgers did. Where Kimbrel goes next no one knows, but it will (likely) be into the unknown position of having to prove he can still be a capable reliever in this league.
Stats: 6-7, 22 saves (in 27 attempts), 3.75 ERA, 63 G, 60 IP, 28 BB, 72 K, 5 HBP, 7 WP, 1.317 WHIP
Salary: $16 million
Game of the year
With a season as resoundingly mediocre as Kimbrel’s was, picking a game of the year is hard. Before we go off to build a snowman, let us go with August 21 at Dodger Stadium, the start of the only streak of actual effectiveness in the closer role until the Dodgers finally let him go.
Kimbrel is a free agent.