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Craig Kimbrel signed with the Cubs with plenty of fanfare in June. His on-field performance didn’t match the hype.

 

Kimbrel entered Thursday with a 6.53 ERA and a 1.6 WHIP in 20 2/3 innings with the Cubs. The highest ERA of his career before this season was 3.40. He hasn’t had a WHIP above 1.1 since his rookie year.

Theo Epstein has a theory why Kimbrel struggled, although there’s nothing surprising about it.

“We knew that given that he wouldn’t have a normal spring training, given that he was trying to do something that very few had ever done before, which was join the team midstream in a closer’s role, that there would be some risk,” Epstein said in an interview on 670 The Score on Thursday. “We felt it was certainly a risk worth taking. I think it’s impossible to pinpoint how much of his struggles have been because of that, but from my perspective it’s the single biggest factor. He’s never struggled like this before. He’s never even been close to having this type of performance before.”

Kimbrel’s strikeout rate remained high at 13.1 per nine innings, but that was still the lowest mark of his career. He walked 12 batters in his 20 2/3 innings, which was also high, but he’s had control issues before and been able to overcome that. The biggest area of regression for Kimbrel this year was in hits allowed, especially home runs.

The 31-year-old has given up nine home runs with the Cubs, which was highlighted by the back-to-back home runs he gave up against the Cardinals in Saturday’s 9-8 loss.

Kimbrel signed a three-year deal, which means the Cubs have two years to figure out what went wrong and fix it. Was it as simple as him getting a late start on the season?

“We’ll find out next year,” Epstein said. “He’s going to have to have a real productive offseason and have the benefit of the foundation of a spring training underneath him. I think the best bet would be to have him perform at his previously established level.”

Epstein said he had no regrets of the signing, calling Kimbrel an “elite talent.”

“It’s something that I would do over again, albeit I recognize that that is not a move that panned out this year despite Craig’s best efforts and we do look for better in the future,” Epstein said.

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