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2023 Phillies in Review: Craig Kimbrel

He just ran out of gas at the end.

MLB: New York Mets at Philadelphia Phillies Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

One a three-two pitch to Arizona Diamondbacks center fielder Alek Thomas, Craig Kimbrel threw a 93.8 mile per hour fastball on the outside corner only to watch fans dive into a pool out in right-center field.

Kimbrel’s one year with the Phillies will have that defining moment to shield over any good he did for this club. The all-star appearance won’t matter to fans, radio personalities, or anybody.

It’s probably too much to ask but I would like everyone to try and forget that moment for the next few minutes and remember how important Kimbrel was to getting the Phillies that far.

This will probably be the most positive Craig Kimbrel piece you will ever read from a Phillies fan.

2023 stats: 71G G, 69.0 innings, 23 saves, 3.26 ERA, 132 ERA+, 3.81 FIP, 33.8 strikeout%, a rain of boos from Phillies fans in game 6, 1.1 fWAR

The good

Craig Kimbrel put together a very successful one-year contract through the regular season, especially for a bullpen that needed the help.

José Alvarado went on the injured list twice for nearly two months of the season. Seranthony Domínguez missed a little over a month because of a left oblique strain. Matt Strahm had to start games at the beginning of the year. Gregory Soto had his highest ERA since 2019. Arms like Andrew Bellatti and Connor Brogdon were sent to AAA and never made significant impacts for most of the season.

At the end of the day, the Phillies could depend on Craig Kimbrel to pitch in the backend of regular season games.

After a tough grand slam in Los Angeles, Kimbrel had maybe the best stretch from a Phillies pitcher this season. From May 9 to July 7, he put together a 1.09 ERA in 25 games. He walked just five batters in this span with 40 strikeouts. It propelled him into his ninth all-star appearance of his career.

On May 26 of this stretch, Kimbrel became the eighth-ever pitcher to record 400 career saves down in the place he started his career, Atlanta.

Kimbrel pitched the second most regular-season innings in his career this year and gave the Phillies some dependability during a grueling regular season.

At the end of the season, Kimbrel sat down with Tim Kelly of Phillies Nation to talk about the blown games in Arizona and the boos back in Philadelphia. It’s something I’ll always remember about his tenure here, it demonstrates about as much professionalism as an athlete can show.

There’s almost no chance of a reunion this off-season because of the postseason and what this workload could have on the rest of his career. However, for a one-year contract, Kimbrel was a successful signing that just had a terrible ending.

The bad

Those 69 regular season innings were crucial for this club but it came at a price. In the middle of October, Kimbrel ran out of gas in Arizona.

That pitch to Alek Thomas was over two miles per hour slower than his season average and his command wilted with two walks the previous game.

In August, Kimbrel went through a rough stretch with a 5.73 ERA and two tough-blown games against the Angels and Giants. He would rebound in the month of September but he lost the trust of the fanbase.

August still offered a glimpse into what games in October would look like for someone who just couldn’t handle 70+ innings anymore at the age of 35.

Kimbrel also struggled with controlling the running game. Opponents were 12/12 in stolen base chances off him during the regular season and it carried over into the middle of October. His setup and delivery were so deliberate that runners would eat him alive.

He also had many battles with the pitch clock with a league-leading 13 violations. That does not include the many instances where JT Realmuto would have to call a timeout to prevent one.

The future

You don’t need a fortune-teller to tell you Kimbrel won’t be back in red pinstripes next season. That spot could come from a free agent signing or from someone like Orion Kerkering making the club out of spring training.

For Kimbrel, there will probably be jobs out there if he wants them. Among free-agent relievers according to FanGraphs, Kimbrel is tied for the fifth most fWAR.

Teams are always looking for bullpen help, preferably for one-year contracts. Kimbrel should garner plenty of interest from teams looking for a stop-gap in the backend of their bullpens.

If Kimbrel has to make an appearance in Philadelphia again, he will more than likely receive boos from the fans but hopefully, some of you will reconsider after reading this. Maybe you have the Thomas home run on repeat in your head.