Long before he actually signed with the Cubs last year thanks to the financial flexibility that followed Ben Zobrist’s time away from the team, we all knew and discussed the biggest risk with bringing Craig Kimbrel in at midseason: without a typical Spring Training and then a typical ramp-up, would his effectiveness suffer at the time the Cubs needed him the most?
The frustrating thing is that we’re never really gonna know if that is in fact how things played out, or if it was just a mess for other reasons, or if it was actually a knee injury that did it, or if – most likely – it was a combination of all kinds of things. Whatever the true cause, Kimbrel’s partial season debut with the Cubs was a disaster in every way you could evaluate it. The command was not there. The velocity was way down. He gave up homers at a rate he’d never seen before. He missed time. He blew games. It was truly the worst version of what you could have feared might happen.
Which brings us to this, a normal Spring Training for Kimbrel. I get that everyone wants to believe Kimbrel, 32 in May, will simply be the guy he was before last year *because* he now has a normal Spring Training. But if it were that certain or that obvious, no team would’ve risked signing him midseason last year in the first place. The reality is, we don’t know what’s going on until we know.
So for Kimbrel, then, even admits that you aren’t really gonna know until the rubber meets the road:
Kimbrel, who didn’t sign last year until midseason, on whether having an actual spring training this year will be the big difference in rebounding from ‘19 struggles:
— Gordon Wittenmyer (@GDubCub) February 13, 2020
At least it does fit a plausible storyline, right? The lack of a normal Spring Training – at a time when he was trying to stay fresh, but also unquestionably thrown off by seeing baseball played without him – led to him being behind the curve when he started to ramp up. Then that ramp up was accelerated and totally different than what he’s been used to for years. Then the command and velocity aren’t immediately there (as they wouldn’t be early in the year in your 30s anyway), and maybe things just feel off. But the pressure is at its highest. And then he tweaks the knee, and things really go sideways. The team is competing for a playoff spot, and Kimbrel had been brought in at midseason as a critically needed addition. He was underperforming and hurt, and I’m just saying it’s not at all hard to imagine how everything could have spiraled into a mush of terrible.
Kimbrel on 2019: “Terrible is kind of an understatement” pic.twitter.com/e5KngNVlIH
— Mark Gonzales (@MDGonzales) February 13, 2020
Now now, again, we just hope Kimbrel has a normal, HEALTHY Spring Training, and the ramp up to, and then on into, the season is normal. Sounds like he feels normal for this part of the years, so that’s a great start.
Craig Kimbrel met with the media. Says he’s healthy, after right knee was problematic last season. Was lack of spring a year ago the issue? “We’ll see.” Plans to dive more into numbers later in spring, following his usual buildup and strength training. pic.twitter.com/eyIuomqBj3
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) February 13, 2020