Cubs Counting On Better Form From Kimbrel In 2020

By 670 The Score
(670 The Score) The last time the Cubs saw closer Craig Kimbrel on the mound, he was giving up back-to-back homers against the Cardinals in a crushing loss on Sept. 21 that served as a dagger for Chicago’s bleak playoff hopes. 

It was the second time in three days that Kimbrel took the loss and was a fitting end to his ugly season. After sitting out until being signed by the Cubs on a three-year, $43-million deal in June, Kimbrel produced the worst season of his career. His 6.53 ERA, 1.60 WHIP and nine homers allowed were all career-worst marks.

As the Cubs move forward, they’re counting on more from Kimbrel, who will turn 32 in May. Their hope is that Kimbrel can regain his strong form with a full spring training and be more comfortable in knowing his teammates and the organization from the start, which were luxuries that he didn’t have in 2019.

"It was a unique circumstance," pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said on Inside the Clubhouse of Kimbrel’s situation and struggles last season. "It was really unprecedented what he tried to do. He signed so late in the year, yet he was expected to come in and pitch at high-leverage situations. We did our due diligence to help him get ready in the minor leagues. What was asked of him in that circumstance was difficult, and not a lot of people can come through all of that and be successful. 

"We learned a lot through the process, and he was ready. When you know the team is looking for you right away to get it done in the back end of a game, you may put a little more pressure on yourself than normal circumstances."

Hottovy is confident Kimbrel will produce much better results in 2020, even if he means he has to make some adjustments.

"If you go back to the beginning of the last decade when he came up, how many pitchers had the fastball that Craig Kimbrel had?" Hottovy asked rhetorically. "He had this upper-90s fastball with a ride and carry. That fastball played, and it was a dominant pitch that not a lot of closers threw. Fast forward 10 years, there are a lot more guys in the game that throw that hard. That means hitters get to see that kind of velocity more often. One thing I don't want to get lost is Kimbrel has had a dominant breaking ball. His curveball was third on the list of lowest OPS against. The others were all starters on that list. The game has obviously evolved over the last 10 years."

For Kimbrel to get back to top form, it starts with the fastball, Hottovy said.

"It’s working on the fastball command," Hottovy said. "We want to make sure the movement is the way we want it and velocity is where it is again. For me, again, it's about movement and setup of the breaking ball as well and how well that has played the last 10 years. Now you see bullpens with three or four guys who throw in the upper 90s with a lot of ride. It’s just more common of what hitters do see these days."

Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine​.