Red Sox should be concerned about Craig Kimbrel

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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.

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
USA Today
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Jacob deGrom is headed to the free-spending Texas Rangers, who believe the health risk is worth the potential reward in trying to end a six-year run of losing.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday, leaving the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

“We acknowledge the risk, but we also acknowledge that in order to get great players, there is a risk and a cost associated with that,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And one we feel like is worth taking with a player of Jacob’s caliber.”

Texas announced the signing after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

The team said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings in San Diego.

“It fits in so many ways in terms of what we need,” Young said. “He’s a tremendous person. I have a number of close friends and teammates who played with Jacob and love him. I think he’s going to be just a perfect fit for our clubhouse and our fans.”

Texas had modest expectations after adding Seager, Semien and starter Jon Gray ($56 million, four years) last offseason but still fell short of them.

The Rangers went 68-94, firing manager Chris Woodward during the season, and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco. Texas’ six straight losing seasons are its worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

Rangers owner Ray Davis said the club wouldn’t hesitate to keep adding payroll. Including the $19.65 million qualifying offer accepted by Martin Perez, the team’s best pitcher last season, the Rangers have spent nearly $761 million in free agency over the past year.

“I hate losing, but I think there’s one person in our organization who hates losing worse than me, and I think it’s Ray Davis,” Young said. “He’s tired of losing. I’m tired of losing. Our organization is tired of losing.”

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

That ended his deal with the Mets at $107 million over four years, and deGrom rejected their $19.65 million qualifying offer in November. New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

The Rangers visit Citi Field from Aug. 28-30.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons. He gets $30 million next year, $40 million in 2024 and 2025, $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027. The deal includes a conditional option for 2028 with no guaranteed money.

The addition of deGrom gives the Rangers three proven starters along with Gray and Perez, who went 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in his return to the team that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela. Young didn’t rule out the addition of another starter.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation.

Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.