Red Sox could use Craig Kimbrel in 8th inning during ALDS

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 01: Craig Kimbrel
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 01: Craig Kimbrel /

This October, John Farrell could choose to call on Boston Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel before the 9th inning. Would that we be wise? We think so.

Yesterday on WEEI, manager John Farrell spoke on a number of topics regarding his Red Sox team as they gear up for Game 1 of the ALDS in Houston later this afternoon. The most intriguing bit of information he shared is that there have already been discussions within the organization about Farrell going to All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel in the 8th inning – as opposed to his standard 9th inning appearance.

This would certainly make sense and is a strategy I’m a huge proponent of when it comes to postseason bullpen management. After all, Kimbrel put up historic numbers this season with his 1.43 ERA and 126 Ks in just 69 IP. He’s the type of weapon Farrell shouldn’t be afraid to use in any situation.

Relievers in recent postseasons have played a dramatic role in altering the outcomes of a single or multiple series. Just think back to last fall, when the Red Sox were handed a loss as early as the 5th or 6th inning once Andrew Miller came into the game for Cleveland, or take a look at the postseasons of 2014-2015 when the Kansas City Royals used a formula built on their three-headed monster in Herrera, Davis, and Holland.

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Strong bullpens have been the key to October success in recent years, and with a historic arm at his disposal in Kimbrel, it’s no secret why Farrell is considering using him early and often this fall.

Taking a look back at Kimbrel pitching in innings prior to the 9th, he’s had tremendous success in a handful of appearances. In 24 career innings, Kimbrel has made appearances across innings 6-8. Those outings have seen him post an ERA of 1.00 and strike out 44 batters. In the 8th inning alone, batters have posted their lowest OPS+ against Kimbrel, coming in at 74.

While it’s small sample size, Kimbrel has had success in innings other than the 9th. We’ve seen it ourselves even this year. In the early months of the season, Farrell wouldn’t shy away from bringing Craig in for 4 or 5 out saves. And why should he now? Now is when every single out matters.

With Kimbrel waiting in the bullpen, Farrell should bring him in when the best opportunity represents itself. There’s no sense in waiting the game out and possibly letting the outcome get away from you. We’ve seen managers in the past get burned in the fall by waiting too long to bring in their best relievers. It happened to Buck Showalter just last year when he held onto closer Zach Britton for too long, and in 2013 it happened to the Braves when they left our very own Craig Kimbrel in the bullpen during an 8th inning Dodgers rally.

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For the Red Sox to play deep into October, they’ll need to rely heavily on their bullpen and specifically Kimbrel. Knowing the impact elite relievers can have on the postseason, Farrell shouldn’t hesitate to use Kimbrel when he feels he needs to. You don’t want to wind up with the ‘what ifs’ Showalter and the Orioles will forever be trying to answer. As the old saying goes, “it’s better to have Kimbrel’d and lost, than to have never Kimbrel’d at all.”