Orioles' delusion with Craig Kimbrel is concerning for future of organization

The end appears to be near for Craig Kimbrel. How much longer can the Orioles really wait to see if he can turn things around?
Minnesota Twins v Baltimore Orioles
Minnesota Twins v Baltimore Orioles / Mitchell Layton/GettyImages

On the surface, a casual observer of Craig Kimbrel's time with the Baltimore Orioles might think that he has been kind of okay. His 4.73 ERA isn't great, but his strikeout rate has been good and he has a lengthy track record of being one of the best closers in baseball to fall back on eternally. It was, in fact, what led the Orioles to sign Kimbrel this past offseason and ignore his downfall in Philadelphia.

However, those that have ACTUALLY been watching Orioles games know that Kimbrel has actually been far worse than that, and Wednesday's game against the Nationals reinforced all those fears.

It looked like Baltimore was on its way to a breezy win with a two-run lead in the bottom of the ninth. However, Kimbrel came in, and with two outs in the frame, gave up a homer to let the Nationals get close. He then walked the next two batters before the Orioles brought in Keegan Akin to try and bail him out again. Washington tied the game, but fortunately the Orioles were able to squeak out a win in extras.

This has become a familiar story. Kimbrel enters a close game and begats a total adventure. Either he finds a way to salvage things, or Baltimore has to pull him before too much damage is done. Despite Kimbrel's struggles, though, the Orioles remain steadfast that he can return to glory this season.

The Orioles can't afford to stay the course with Craig Kimbrel much longer

The problem with weighing what a reliever has done in the past is that it becomes a gambler's fallacy. "Oh, what if he does what he used to do? We are SET if that happens!" Of course, that is not how gambling works, and it is definitely not how the game of baseball works.

Yes, Kimbrel is still striking out batters at a high rate (14.18 K/9) and that is great. However, that is literally the only thing he is doing well. He is walking 6.08 batters per nine innings pitched, which is double what is normally considerable acceptable. All of his pitches are grading as at least below average versus the rest of the league in 2024. Kimbrel's FIP of 4.21 points to the fact that he hasn't even been unlucky, but instead has just been getting torched.

This was bound to happen eventually. This is the soon-to-be 36-year-old Kimbrel's 15th season in the big leagues, and he has made 796 appearances in his career. Father Time comes for us all, and it has been miraculous that Kimbrel has been as good as he has been for as long as he has been. If he were to retire today, he would be in the top 5-6 (tied with Kenley Jansen) on the all-time saves list and would be on the short list for induction into Cooperstown.

Assuming Felix Bautista recovers from his elbow surgery well, they have a long-term solution to this problem in place starting next year. However, Baltimore may need to make a change much sooner than that if Kimbrel can't at least make some improvement very soon.

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