This year, he has been absolutely dominant, pitching to a 0.49 ERA and a 1.08 Fielding Independent pitching (FIP) in 36.2 innings.
FIP rankings for relievers (min 30 G):
1. Craig Kimbrel – 1.08
2. Josh Hader – 1.63
3. Aaron Loup – 1.64
7. Edwin Díaz – 2.10
Mets have 2 of the seasons elite relievers in their pen already. Adding a third at the deadline would be massive
— extend str0 (@letsgometsgoo) July 27, 2021
He has been as good as ever, striking out 15.71 hitters per nine innings and allowing just one home run so far.
His season has been truly remarkable, and if that were the only sample we had about his tenure with the Cubs, he would pass with flying colors.
Unfortunately for him, if we are going to grade his tenure with the Cubs as it will presumably come to an end soon (he should be traded before the Friday deadline), he would get a D.
Why such a low grade?
Because his 2019 and 2020 campaigns were very poor.
His 2019 And 2020 Seasons Were Awful
In 2019, Kimbrel was limited to 20.2 frames of a 6.53 ERA.
He struck out his fair share of hitters (30) but also walked a ton of them (12), ruining his season together with his nine (!) home runs allowed.
That year was very rough for the righty fireballer from an injuries standpoint.
He suffered from right knee inflammation and right elbow inflammation, so he had a lot on his plate.
Then the pandemic happened, and it affected everybody.
Lots of players had atypical stat lines in 2020, and Kimbrel was definitely one of them.
Last year, he had a 5.28 ERA in 15.1 frames, in which he fanned 28 hitters but walked 12.
Again, walks derailed his season, his second one with the Cubs.
The third season of his three-year pact is the ongoing one, 2021.
And while he is performing like the star he is by virtue of regaining his full health and command, the Cubs would certainly have preferred him to dominate in 2019 and/or 2020, because they are about to start a new era of retooling/rebuilding in which he will, almost certainly, not be a part of.
He Will Likely Net The Cubs A Valuable Prospect Or Two
The fact that Kimbrel has a vesting option for 2022 worth $16 million that is very likely to become effective, the team that acquires him will almost certainly enjoy a full season and a little less than half of his 2021.
From a payroll point of view, $16 million for a reliever is a lot to pay, but this version of Kimbrel, the one that has a sub-1.00 ERA and is pitching the best ball of his career, is well worth the price.
Perhaps Kimbrel can fetch the Cubs a quality return in the form of prospects and a little extra payroll flexibility for what will come.
Craig Kimbrel continues to be a fun option for teams as the trade deadline approaches pic.twitter.com/2pmDpxQS0r
— Talkin’ Baseball (@TalkinBaseball_) July 27, 2021
However, his overall tenure in Chicago wasn’t always pretty, and while there is no denying that he has been the absolute best reliever in baseball in 2021, Cubs fans will also remember his 2019 and 2020 campaigns, which were very bad from almost every angle.
His 2021 contributions and the fact that he will likely bring something of value in return keep his grade from being lower, but a D seems appropriate given that Kimbrel had perhaps the worst years of his career in 2019 and 2020.