The Cubs have placed closer Craig Kimbrel on the injured list due to inflammation in his right elbow, tweets Jesse Rogers of ESPN Chicago. President of baseball operations Theo Epstein told reporters that the team performed a precautionary MRI on Kimbrel, which came back clean and did not reveal any structural damage (Twitter link, with video, via Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune). Kimbrel’s placement is retroactive to Monday, and he’ll be eligible to return next Thursday. The move allows the Cubs to recall David Bote from Triple-A Iowa before the 10-day optional assignment minimum.
It’s been an up-and-down season for the 31-year-old Kimbrel, who sat out the first two months to shed the burden of draft pick compensation before ultimately signing a three-year, $43MM contract with the Cubs. Kimbrel had a rough couple of outings early in his Cubs tenure but rebounded with eight consecutive scoreless appearances. Most of Kimbrel’s outings have been clean, but he’s also allowed three earned runs on three separate occasions, leaving him with a bloated 5.68 ERA in 19 total innings since signing.
Kimbrel’s 96.3 mph average fastball velocity is down from last year’s 97.1 mph average, although his heater has gained some life as the summer has worn on. Like his velocity, Kimbrel’s K/9 rate (12.3) and swinging-strike rate (14.6 percent) are better than the league average but are both down relative to his elite standards. The biggest struggle, though, has been control — or lack thereof. Kimbrel has walked 11 batters and plunked another two in just 19 innings of work (5.2 BB/9), and his ability to locate the ball within the zone has clearly diminished. He’s already served up six home runs in those 19 innings — a mark that is only one shy of last year’s career-high seven homers allowed.
The extent to which the lengthy layoff early in the season has contributed to Kimbrel’s control issues can’t be known, but a return to form will be critical for the Cubs’ immediate playoff chances and their long-term outlook. Kimbrel would hardly be the only free agent who has struggled in the wake of a shortened (or, in his case, completely missed) Spring Training, but he also displayed some red flags late in 2018 — particularly in the postseason. If this proves to be the start of a pronounced decline, Kimbrel’s $16MM salary in each of the next two seasons will become particularly burdensome.