On the surface, Craig 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 has been asked by the Red Sox to focus heavily on improving his command this spring, Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald reports. Boston's closer walked 5.1 batters per nine innings in 2016. Kimbrel has been an elite closer since he became one for Atlanta in 2011, but his performance for Boston last season was less-than elite. Many statistics indicated he was the same old Kimbrel -- opponent batting average of .150 and 14.1 K/9 stand out -- but command got him in trouble. Of the 22 pitchers that recorded at least 20 saves, he ranked 17th in ERA. "That comes with alignment, delivering the ball to home plate," manager John Farrell said. "He got into a little bit of a habit where his posture might not have allowed him to stay in line, he'd end up being a little bit side-to-side, and that's where you saw some pitches yanked down and away from right-handers or he'd miss up to the arm side to left-handers." He's in no danger of losing the closer's job, but more consistent command is the goal for 2017.
Kimbrel allowed one run on a walk, a wild pitch and two sacrifices in one inning in Saturday's 4-3 loss to Toronto. Boston's closer has walked six of the last 13 batters faced and has been tagged with losses in two of the last three games. While Saturday's performance wasn't the kind of meltdown we saw Wednesday in New York, it's a reminder how dangerous a walk, particularly a leadoff walk, can be. Kimbrel's had a fleeting relationship with control all season, posting a 5.0 BB/9 rate while walking a career-high 13.6 percent of the batters faced, up from 9.2 percent last season. And now that problem is rearing itself as the Red Sox prepare to embark on the postseason. With his velocity, Kimbrel doesn't need to be pinpoint with his pitches, but he needs to put the ball over the plate. Red Sox manager John Farrell said he's not considering moving Kimbrel out of the closer spot, but they need to fix this latest flare up of control issues.
Kimbrel walked two batters but managed to pitch a scoreless inning for his 31st save of the season in Friday night's 5-3 win over Toronto. Including Kimbrel's meltdown Wednesday against the Yankees, Boston's closer has walked five batters in his last two appearances. His performance has been disconcerting, particularly after he and the team played so well in the month of September to clinch a spot in the postseason.
Kimbrel failed to convert a save opportunity Wednesday allowing a hit and three walks and being charged with four runs and the loss in Boston's 5-3 loss to the Yankees. The rain was falling in New York when Kimbrel entered the game, which may have contributed to his location problems -- just 13 of his 28 pitches were strikes. He was yanked in favor of Joe Kelly, who served up a grand slam to Mark Teixeira. The performance was shocking after Kimbrel had been lights out since mid-August.
Kimbrel was left in the bullpen in a save situation in Boston's 3-2 extra-inning win over the Rays on Sunday. Until we hear otherwise, not going to Kimbrel appears to be a decision based on his usage over the last week, and not due to injury. Boston's closer had pitched four of the last five days, so he was allowed to sit this opportunity out despite the Red Sox having an off day Monday. Instead, manager John Farrell left Joe Kelly (2.2 innings) in the game to finish off the Rays in the 10th inning.