Craig Kimbrel
Craig Kimbrel
31-Year-Old PitcherRP
Chicago Cubs
2019 Fantasy Outlook
While his performance dipped in 2018, Kimbrel still turned in sterling ratios and benefited from pitching for a 108-win Boston squad, allowing him to finish as a top-three fantasy closer. However, some cracks in his armor have started to form. His average fastball velocity fell a full tick from the year prior, which likely factored heavily into his 80.4 zone-contact percentage, a 10-point increase from 2017. It ultimately didn't prove too harmful to Kimbrel's strikeout totals, but the righty saw his walk rate surge back over 10% and posted the worst home-run rate of his career. Fortunately, Kimbrel lessened the effects of his declining command and heat by making more use of his deadly knuckle-curve and inducing more soft contact, helping him limit opposing batters to .145 average. Kimbrel's peak may have come and gone, but his skills remain strong enough for him to warrant a top-100 selection in drafts. Read Past Outlooks
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$Signed a three-year, $43 million contract with the Cubs in June of 2019.
Could be nearing team debut
PChicago Cubs  AAA
June 25, 2019
Kimbrel could join the Cubs during their current homestand, which lasts through Thursday, Jordan Bastian of reports.
Kimbrel completed his fourth appearance with Triple-A Iowa on Tuesday, recording a perfect ninth inning with two strikeouts. The veteran reliever has allowed just one run through 3.2 innings in the minors with four strikeouts, and Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said Kimbrel could potentially join the team before the conclusion of its current homestand Thursday, or early on its upcoming road trip. It's unclear if Kimbrel will immediately step into Chicago's closer role, but he should get there soon enough.
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Left/Right Pitching Splits
Since 2017
No Stats
BAA Batters K BB H 2B 3B HR
Since 2017vs Left .166 234 102 25 34 8 1 8
Since 2017vs Right .123 267 120 20 30 7 1 5
2019vs Left 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
2019vs Right 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
2018vs Left .153 116 42 17 15 5 1 4
2018vs Right .139 131 54 14 16 4 1 3
2017vs Left .178 118 60 8 19 3 0 4
2017vs Right .109 136 66 6 14 3 0 2
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Home/Away Pitching Splits
Since 2017
ERA on Road
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ERA on Road
ERA at Home
Since 2017Home 2.10 0.84 68.2 6 0 37 14.7 2.9 0.8
Since 2017Away 2.01 0.81 62.2 4 1 40 15.8 3.3 1.0
2019Home 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
2019Away 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
2018Home 3.06 0.99 32.1 4 0 20 13.4 5.0 0.8
2018Away 2.40 1.00 30.0 1 1 22 14.4 3.9 1.2
2017Home 1.24 0.72 36.1 2 0 17 15.9 1.0 0.7
2017Away 1.65 0.64 32.2 3 0 18 17.1 2.8 0.8
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Recent RotoWire Articles Featuring Craig Kimbrel
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Past Fantasy Outlooks
His Red Sox career got off to a somewhat disappointing start in 2016, but Kimbrel returned to elite form last season. The right-hander tapped into a bit of extra velocity and that helped him boost his strikeout rate by more than two per nine to 16.4. Best of all, he dramatically lowered his walk rate, shaving it from a career-high 5.1 BB/9 to a career-low 1.8 BB/9. Kimbrel was hit hard at times -- he allowed a 39.1 percent hard-hit rate and 91.4 mph average exit velocity -- but that's not a big deal when you allow so few batted balls in play (110 batted-ball events). An uptick in velocity can sometimes be a precursor to injury, but Kimbrel has been incredibly durable throughout his career, and with the skills bouncing back, Kimbrel has a clear case to go ahead of every reliever not named Kenley Jansen.
On the surface, Kimbrel filled his role as Boston's closer well. He converted 31 of 33 save opportunities and struck out 14.1 batters per nine innings. But if you dig a bit deeper, Kimbrel had his problems. While unhittable for stretches, an intermittent loss of the strike zone led to career highs in walks per nine innings (5.1) and losses (six). The walks made him somewhat unreliable, most notably in a gut-punching loss to the Yankees on the night the Red Sox "clinched" the AL East. And he was abysmal when called on in non-save situations. Kimbrel allowed 12 runs (11 earned) on 15 hits and 14 walks in 19.1 innings when the game wasn't on the line. Maybe that's not a big deal, but Boston will presumably continue to use him occasionally in non-save situations, so it is something to be aware of. Kimbrel will return as Boston's closer, with Tyler Thornburg and Joe Kelly getting the first shot as setup men.
Kimbrel's lone season with the Padres may end up a footnote in a Hall of Fame career, if his time in Boston is anything like his time in Atlanta. Traded to San Diego a day before the start of the 2015 season, Kimbrel fell short of 40 saves after reaching that threshold in four straight years, but he still finished fourth in the NL with 39 saves, blowing only four opportunities. His average fastball velocity was higher than it's ever been, and his swinging-strike rate was right in line with his career mark, but Kimbrel's H/9 and HR/FB rates both jumped significantly with lefties doing far more damage against him than they ever have in the past. That said, the peripherals remain excellent at age 27 and he is about as safe as they come at baseball's most volatile position, especially after the Red Sox gave up a nice package of young talent to acquire him from the Padres in November to take over as their closer.
At this point, Kimbrel's reputation as the most dominant end-gamer in baseball is well established. While his ERA jumped by 40 points in 2014, his FIP actually dropped by 10 points (from 1.93 to 1.83), and his strikeout, contact and swinging-strike rates all improved. He did take a step back with his control, posting a 10.7% walk rate, up from 7.8% a year before, but the right-hander averaged better than 97 mph on his fastball (a career high) and notched an NL-leading 47 saves, marking the fourth straight season in which he's led the league in that statistic. Right-handers had a bit more success against Kimbrel, but they still managed just a .436 OPS against him, and Kimbrel was equally dominant against lefties, improving his OPS against southpaws by nearly 150 points (from .574 to .425). The workload is starting to add up, and he could see fewer save opportunities in 2015 on a regressing Braves team, but he hasn't shown any real signs of slowing down to this point and is thus still the safest relief option on the board.
For the third consecutive year, Kimbrel led the National League in saves, becoming the 11th pitcher in major league history to reach the 50-save mark in a single season, while also becoming the first pitcher in the history of the game to record 40-plus saves in each of his first three full seasons. He set a Braves franchise record in 2013 by converting 37 consecutive save chances, and ended the season by converting 40 of his final 41 opportunities. After the calender turned to June, Kimbrel allowed just four earned runs over 46.2 regular-season innings (0.77 ERA), and he held opposing batters to a .161 average for the year. His strikeout rate did, however, drop by more than three per nine innings, to a career-low 13.2 K/9, and his swinging-strike rate was well below where it was in 2012 (13.6% from 19.2%). Lefties hit .211/.265/.309 against him, up from .116/.189/.143, and his walk rate was up slightly as well. All that aside, Kimbrel didn't lose any juice on his fastball, and is unquestionably one of most dominant end-gamers in all of baseball. He's still the easy choice for first reliever off the board in 2014.
Kimbrel is just 24 years old and is already the best relief pitcher in Major League Baseball. Kimbrel has been the Braves' closer for two years and led the league in saves both seasons. He won the NL Rookie of the Year award in 2011 and finished in the top-10 of Cy Young voting each of those two seasons, while also finishing in the top-10 of NL MVP voting in 2012 after posting a 1.01 ERA. Kimbrel's K/9 rose to an absurd 16.7 while his BB/9 dropped to just 2.0. With his stuff and control, he is nearly unhittable. Over the last two years, Kimbrel has led all major league relievers in strikeouts and it isn't even close. He will be the first reliever off the board during fantasy drafts and for good reason.
Kimbrel set a major league record for saves by a rookie with 46 and won the NL Rookie of the Year award last season. Kimbrel's success wasn't merely a by-product of getting 54 save chances as his peripheral stats were outstanding as well. He had a 14.8 K/9IP, a 3.97 K/BB ratio, increased his groundball rate (to 44.8 percent of batted balls) and only allowed three home runs. His only blemish was that he wore down at the end of the season by posting a 4.76 ERA in September and blew three of his final eight save chances – including Atlanta's loss on the last day of the season that knocked them out of the playoffs. The Braves may try to reduce his workload a bit this season and have Jonny Venters save a few more games as a result. However, he'll should be among the elite NL closers again in 2012.
Kimbrel is the leading candidate to replace the retiring Billy Wagner as Atlanta's closer in 2011. The 2008 third-round pick averaged 95 mph on fastballs in the majors last season and also features a nasty hard curveball. He was dominating at Triple-A with a 1.62 ERA and 13.5 K/9IP and shuttled between Triple-A and Atlanta several times before getting regular duty in September, when he threw 11 scoreless innings with a 23:5 K:BB -- often in crucial situations. He also thrived in the playoffs by giving up just one run and one walk with seven strikeouts in 4.1 innings. Many times the best pitching prospects are not closers in the minors. However, this is a case where a top prospect was a minor league closer. And so far everything he's shown in the minors and in his brief time in the majors suggests he'll thrive in the closer role with the Braves -- as long as he can win the job this spring.
A future closer, Kimbrel overpowers hitters with a 95 mph heater and a nasty hard curve. His command is somewhat erratic, but minor league hitters had little chance against him last year. He led the minor leagues with 15.5 strikeouts per nine innings last season. He does need to improve his control as he had just a 103:45 K:BB ratio. Still, the Braves aggressively promoted him from Low-A to Triple-A last season, so he could be a part of the Atlanta bullpen in 2010. And it's not hard to see him becoming Atlanta's closer in 2011.
More Fantasy News
Tabbed for another rehab outing
PChicago Cubs  AAA
June 23, 2019
Kimbrel is scheduled to make another rehab appearance with Triple-A Iowa on Tuesday, Sahadev Sharma of The Athletic reports.
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Pitching at Triple-A again Saturday
PChicago Cubs  AAA
June 22, 2019
Kimbrel is scheduled to make another rehab appearance Saturday at Triple-A Iowa, Jordan Bastian of reports.
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Pitching for Iowa on Friday
PChicago Cubs  AAA
June 19, 2019
Kimbrel will pitch Friday with Triple-A Iowa, Jesse Rogers of reports.
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Set to pitch Tuesday at Triple-A
PChicago Cubs  AAA
June 16, 2019
Kimbrel is scheduled to pitch Tuesday with Triple-A Iowa, Jordan Bastian of reports.
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Slated for live BP
PChicago Cubs  AAA
June 14, 2019
Kimbrel will throw live batting practice Saturday, Jordan Bastian of reports.
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