Craig Kimbrel once again closed out a Red Sox victory in the postseason. Once again, he caused Red Sox fans to gnaw their fingernails down to the bone. The Red Sox defeated the Astros 7-5 in Game 2 of the ALCS on Sunday night, but Kimbrel was just a few feet shy of allowing the Astros to tie the game on what could’ve been a two-run Alex Bregman home run. Instead, he earned the save, on the hook for “just” one run on a pair of hits in an inning of work.
Kimbrel has now given up runs in all three of his playoff appearances this year. It’s four in a row if you go back to Game 4 of the ALDS last year between the Red Sox and Astros. The Red Sox should probably consider having a shorter leash on Kimbrel because he can only do this tightrope act for so long.
Kimbrel, now in his third year with the Red Sox, had a solid year, saving 42 games with a 2.74 ERA. There’s no question he’s still among the elite closers in the game. But there’s also no denying the concerning peripheral stats for the 30-year-old. The most concerning is his walk rate, which shot up to 12.6 percent after settling at 5.5 percent last season. His career average is a tick below 10 percent. As far as strikeout rate goes, 2017 looks like an outlier at nearly 50 percent. His career average is 41.6 percent and came in at about 39 percent in 2018. Kimbrel’s ratio during the regular season of 3.1 strikeouts for each walk marks the second-lowest among full seasons in his career.
Of the four balls the Astros put in play on Sunday night, three had an exit velocity of 92 MPH or above. Springer’s two-out double, which sparked the beginning of a potential rally, registered at 106.3 MPH. If we go back to Kimbrel’s ALDS Game 4 appearance against the Yankees last week, the two balls put in play against him had exit velocities of 99.5 and 107.1 MPH. In Game 1, the two balls put in play against him were hit 84.4 MPH and 108.8 MPH. When bats are being put on Kimbrel’s pitches, they’re mostly being smoked. A not-insignificant amount of credit goes to the hitters, of course, for making contact in the first place, but the cluster of hard-hit batted balls is eye-popping.
While Kimbrel has issued “only” two walks this postseason — both in Game 4 against the Yankees — to the 17 batters he has faced, his command has been clearly off and when he has been around the strike zone, he has been much more hittable than a pitcher of his caliber should be. The Red Sox shouldn’t overreact to a sample size of 3 1/3 innings, but they should have a life raft attached to their boat in case Kimbrel can’t shape up in time.