Craig Kimbrel’s Orioles debut is exactly what Phillies, Dodgers fans warned about

Craig Kimbrel's time in Baltimore is not off to a great start.

Kansas City Royals v Baltimore Orioles
Kansas City Royals v Baltimore Orioles / Mitchell Layton/GettyImages

When the Baltimore Orioles decided to sign Craig Kimbrel this offseason to handle the backend of their bullpen, there was a healthy mix of excitement and skepticism. On the one hand, Kimbrel is one of the most accomplished closers in the history of baseball and has been extremely solid the last three seasons playing for four different teams.

However, it is also true that Kimbrel isn't anywhere close to as dominant as he once was, put up a couple of dud seasons in 2019 and 2020, and is a 35-year-old reliever with almost 800 appearances worth of wear on his arm. There usually isn't such a thing as a bad one-year deal with a club option, but $13 million is still a lot to pay a guy with that kind of risk. However, the Orioles were likely to be without Felix Bautista for the entire 2024 season and they had to have someone to close games.

So far, the returns have not been great for the Orioles' investment in Kimbrel, although the season is still very young.

How long should the Orioles trust Craig Kimbrel in the bullpen?

There is one overriding point that needs to be made here: Kimbrel has only made one appearance, and drawing conclusions from just one inning of work is generally a bad idea. Unfortunately, that isn't how fans' minds work, and when Kimbrel blew his first save opportunity on Monday and had to be bailed out by a Jordan Westburg walk-off homer, many were quick to call the signing a mistake.

That said, there were some positives to take away from Kimbrel's Orioles debut. He did strike out a pair of Royals hitters, including Bobby Witt Jr., and the only reason that Kansas City was able to score a run off of him was because a close play on a steal at third base didn't go Baltimore's way.

However, there is some cause for concern with Kimbrel. After averaging 95.8 mph on his fastball just last year, Kimbrel did not throw a single pitch that reached 94 mph on Monday. There is a chance that Kimbrel was just being somewhat restrained early in the season, but any significant velocity drop needs to be monitored, given Kimbrel's age and the stage of his career.

Concerns about Kimbrel's decline aren't new. While his overall numbers with the Dodgers and Phillies (3.49 ERA and 3.54 FIP the last two seasons) are fine, they certainly weren't great. Moreover, many of Kimbrel's appearances in recent years have turned into adventures as he has aged and gotten significantly more hittable.

In short, yeah...Kimbrel kind of stunk in his first appearance of the season. However, he still deserves the benefit of the doubt given his track record, even if there is a real possibility that we could be witnessing the beginning of the end.

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