On Wednesday night, Craig Kimbrel came into the game with the Phillies leading not in the ninth inning, but in the tenth inning after the Marlins had tied it already in that ninth. Since it was an extra inning, there was a runner placed on second base, staring down the barrel of Kimbrel and the catcher, Garrett Stubbs. So Kimbrel did a very interesting thing:
Craig Kimbrel, Intentional Balk Mechanics. pic.twitter.com/n9SeKSVTAe— Mr Matthew CFB (@MrMatthewCGI) August 3, 2023
Folks, that is 100% an intentional balk on Kimbrel. At the time, it was speculated that he didn’t want them stealing his signs, which makes sense since it was a two-run game and as noted on the broadcast, that run wasn’t all that meaningful (at the time...heh heh) and outs were more important.
But then another interesting thing was picked up: the Marlins were getting something on Kimbrel and relaying it to the hitter at the plate.
They have picked up a tell by Kimbrel. Sanchez touched his head on the fastball they said and touched his chest on the breaking ball.— Matt Winkelman (@Matt_Winkelman) August 3, 2023
These tells led to the Marlins getting much better swings on Kimbrel, putting lumber on the ball and tying the game before the Phillies would lose it in the twelfth inning.
So what was it?
We are laypeople when it comes to the inside game of baseball. We can watch as much video as we want to in situations like this and never be able to see what the Marlins were seeing. That is why they are the professionals who study this type of thing over and over to get whatever little advantage they can get over pitchers in the game. But watching the video of the game, maybe we can see if there is something we can find, the little tell that Kimbrel had to give away his arsenal.
Let’s look at the fastball that Jesus Sanchez hit for a double in that inning. Watch the hand pump Kimbrel does as he brings the ball close to his head.
It’s a very subtle hand pump. You can see it again here to Jon Berti, a pitch he takes for a ball.
You can see it yet again. Very small, not a whole lot of movement, but it is still there, a staple of his windup this season. Now, let’s switch gears. Is there a difference in his hand pump when he is throwing the knucklecurve? Here is one that Jacob Stallings takes in the dirt.
And another knucklecurve, this one the game tying sacrifice fly hit by Berti. Again, watch the hands.
There seems to be a small, just unmistakable difference in the way Kimbrel pumps his hands near his head when he is set to throw the fastball and the knucklecurve. The exaggeration is a little more clear when he is throwing the knucklecurve than when he is throwing the fastball, at least to my eye. You can really see it here on the ball that Jake Burger hit back through the box.
The biggest issue is that the pitches Kimbrel threw were in pretty horrible locations. Each of the pitches hit for runs were pretty much in the middle of the plate. Yet if you’re aware of what is coming as a hitter and you get that pitch in as hittable a spot as they did last night, damage should be done to those pitches and the Marlins didn’t miss.
Was this the tell? It’s so small of a thing that the answer is probably not. There might be something else the Marlins picked up on with Kimbrel on the mound. Whatever it is, no doubt it will be cleaned up the next time Kimbrel does take the ball in a save situation. The team doesn’t need him knocked around the park like he was last night.