How much more can Los Angeles Dodgers fans stomach from the lackluster back end of the bullpen? Yes, life is good with 80 wins, but as is the case every year with LA, the focus remains on building the strongest possible roster/role alignment for October.
So when Craig Kimbrel blew yet another save on Tuesday night, fans were rightfully up in arms, especially after manager Dave Roberts’ comments on the situation. We’ll get to those in a moment.
To better frame Kimbrel’s struggles, he’s yet to save a SINGLE one-run game in 2022, which, you know, is essentially the top duty on the closer job description. He’s had four chances to do so. He’s blown all four, taking the loss in three and getting the win in one.
That little nugget is by far beyond inexplicable, but even Kimbrel’s surface-level statistics aren’t great. His 4.57 ERA is atrocious for a ninth-inning guy, even if you don’t believe in reliever ERA being a defining statistic. What about his 1.55 WHIP? His 3.9 walks per nine innings? His 10 hits per nine innings? His 56 strikeouts in 41.1 innings is nice, but his 91 ERA+ is below the average 100 mark, and we’d LOVE for somebody to explain to us how his FIP is 2.48. Makes no sense.
The eye test says it all. Kimbrel is erratic when the pressure is on. And it’s not even an exaggeration. Out of his 20 saves, the right-hander as allowed one run in five of them. That’s 20% of the time! It might seem like overly demanding fans want perfection … but in reality they just don’t want to be on the edge of their seat in every single save situation.
Dodgers’ Craig Kimbrel is a problem for the postseason if this continues
Somehow, though, this troubling play hasn’t left Roberts wavering on Kimbrel’s status as closer. When asked about the situation after the game, Roberts said he’s “not even considering a change” at the position.
Perhaps some harsh fans are looking to exile Kimbrel once and for all, but that’s not even needed. There are plenty of other relievers on this roster who have consistently handled high-leverage situations better than Kimbrel. Maybe not consistently in the ninth inning, but consistently elsewhere, which, you’d have to imagine, will translate to the ninth.
Evan Phillips has become one of the best relievers in baseball. Alex Vesia hasn’t given up a run since July 21. David Price has surprisingly emerged as a reliable bullpen option and has succeeded when called upon in big spots.
It’s admittedly tough to make a change right now with so many arms still out and on the mend (Brusdar Graterol, Blake Treinen, Yency Almonte), but that’s why there perhaps should’ve been changed earlier, when the warning signs were just as concerning.
There’s no chance Kimbrel can be tasked with closing games in October. If that’s the plan right now, the Dodgers might as well chalk up an NLCS loss right now. But if they’re being honest with themselves and know a change is coming, it can’t hurt to consider such a move now since Kimbrel’s shown no signs of being his former, dominant self.