By Sam Bush
The Phillies have gotten off to a 4-1 start and are hitting the ball like the 1927 Yankees.
But their pitching has been barely acceptable.
Ace Aaron Nola was rocked in DC the other day and only Zach Eflin looks ready to go.
Will the team go out and spend some more money on help?
MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki thinks not:
A source said last week that not much has changed regarding the Phillies’ view of free-agent left-hander Dallas Keuchel (above) or closer Craig Kimbrel, meaning the club remains interested in both pitchers, but on short-term deals.
I cannot imagine a disciplined Phillies’ front office adjusting its thinking based on five games.
But if the bullpen’s struggles continue and if Kimbrel remains on the market, things can change. My guess is that Kimbrel’s agent is betting on a competitive team realizing it is short in the bullpen and coming off its stance that Kimbrel is a risk on a multiyear deal.
What are the risks? MLB.com’s David Adler wrote about the concerns in February. First, Kimbrel’s fastball velocity dipped from 98.3 mph in 2017 to 97.1 mph in ‘18. His spin rate also dropped from 2,428 rpm to 2,356 rpm. The relative decrease in spin rate to velocity means a fastball thrown up in the strike zone, which is where Kimbrel’s fastball lives, is less effective.
Kimbrel threw fewer strikes last season, too. Fifty-one percent of his pitches were in the strike zone in 2017, which put him in the top 25 percent of the league in attacking the zone. Hitters only made contact on 66.8 percent of those pitches, the second-lowest in-zone contract rate in baseball. But last season Kimbrel threw pitches in the strike zone only 43.4 percent of the time, ninth lowest out of 267 pitchers (minimum 1,000 pitches). Hitters made contact on 74.8 percent of those pitches in the zone.
Make no mistake, Kimbrel would help anybody’s bullpen. But knowing those numbers and what they could mean in the future, would it be smart for the Phillies (or any other team) to sign him to a multiyear deal? Remember, every dollar spent in the future means less money to extend somebody like J.T. Realmuto or Rhys Hoskins or anybody else. It appears right now the Phillies believe it is not worth the risk.