If you think about it, two years of an ERA over 5.00 could make people believe a pitcher is finished.
However, Kimbrel threw 20.2 innings in 2019 and 15.1 in 2020, which is not exactly a significant sample size.
This year, Kimbrel has reminded everyone he is still an elite reliever: in 35.1 frames, the Cubs’ right-hander has a 0.51 ERA and a 0.68 WHIP.
Craig Kimbrel adds another dominant inning to his 2021 resume. 22 of 24 in saves with a 0.52 ERA this season.
— Jesse Rogers (@JesseRogersESPN) July 21, 2021
His strikeout ability never left him, even in those years of struggle, and that remains the case this season: with 61 strikeouts in 35.1 innings, he has been one of the most dominant pitchers in the National League.
Health Has Made The Difference
One of the things that has helped him reclaim his position as a bullpen ace is health.
In 2019, for example, Kimbrel suffered from right elbow inflammation and also right knee inflammation.
He also had a notorious home run problem that year, allowing 3.92 long balls per nine innings in 2019.
Last season was weird for everyone, and Kimbrel was one of the established stars that didn’t perform well.
However, his problem in 2020 were mostly walls.
In those 15.1 innings, he handed out 12 walks, or 7.04 per nine: that’s incredibly high, and no pitcher can have a good season with that kind of wildness.
Everything has clicked this year for Kimbrel, though: the strikeouts are there, as usual, but the home runs and walks are not.
In the 35.2 innings he has pitched so far for the Cubs, Kimbrel has conceded 0.25 homers per nine frames, the best mark of his career.
He is also running his lowest walk rate since 2017, with 3.06.
The Cubs are certainly happy with Kimbrel dominating even if they have already thrown the towel this year.
That’s because they are expected to be sellers near the July 30 deadline, which is a week from now.
Kimbrel, naturally, is a target for every contending club because he wouldn’t necessarily be a rental.
Other teams continue to say the Cubs haven't yet set firm asking prices for their big names yet, but the expectation is they will before the July 30 deadline. Kris Bryant/Mets a possible fit, Craig Kimbrel could help lots of teams, Rizzo fits BOS perfectly–1B, LH, great defense.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) July 22, 2021
The fireballer has a club option for 2022 worth $16 million.
It’s a lot to pay for a reliever, but Kimbrel is, without a doubt, back to his dominating ways.
Kimbrel Should Dominate For The Remainder Of His Contract
It’s highly unlikely for a pitcher to complete a whole season with an ERA under 1.00, let alone in the 0.50s.
However, Kimbrel should be able to dominate for the remainder of this season and next, since he is actually not that old at 33.
His fastball velocity is in the 97.2 mph range on average, right in line with his last three seasons, so there hasn’t been a steep decline there.
There is enough evidence this year to proclaim Kimbrel as an elite reliever.
Overall, he is having perhaps the best season of his career, at least since his rookie year back in 2010 with the Atlanta Braves, when he had a 0.44 ERA in 20.2 innings.
Other run prevention metrics, like Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP, with 1.10), expected ERA, with 1.67, and expected FIP, with 1.99, certify his dominance.
His 2.0 Wins Above Replacement, or WAR, also speaks volumes.
Kimbrel is definitely back to being a top-five reliever in the sport.