Craig Kimbrel Traded To White Sox: How Acquisition Impacts South Siders’ World Series Odds, Projections

Craig Kimbrel Traded To White Sox: How Acquisition Impacts South Siders’ World Series Odds, Projections article feature image
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Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images. Pictured: Craig Kimbrel.

Chicago Cubs closer Craig Kimbrel has been traded crosstown to the Chicago White Sox in yet another major trade for a reliever this deadline season, ESPN reported Friday.

The trade comes just a day after the Cubs sent Ryan Tepera to the White Sox for left-handed prospect Bailey Horn. The Cubs have now sent their two best relievers across town to join incumbent All-Star closer Liam Hendriks on the South Side.

Kimbrel is having career-best numbers in ERA (0.49), opponent slugging percentage (.146) and opponent OPS (.336) this season.

The 33-year-old has rebounded after rough 2019 and 2020 seasons in which he had a combined ERA of 6.00 over 36 innings pitched.

The White Sox are firm favorites to win the AL Central and entered play on Friday eight games ahead of Cleveland in the division.

Chicago has a 98.6% chance of winning the division and 98.8% chance to make the playoffs, according to FanGraphs.

Their odds to win the AL Central were -20000 at FanDuel, -3500 at DraftKings and -20000 at PointsBet prior to news of the Kimbrel trade.

Chicago’s odds to win the division actually lengthened to -10000 at FanDuel in the aftermath of the Kimbrel trade. Those odds stayed the same at both PointsBet and DraftKings as of Friday afternoon.

The White Sox’s odds to win the World Series were third-best across baseball at the three aforementioned sportsbooks before news of the trade. FanDuel had them at +650, DraftKings slated them at +750 and PointsBet had Chicago at +700 to win its first World Series since 2005.

Those odds did not move at FanDuel and PointsBet, but did reduce at DraftKings. DK now has Chicago at +650 to win it all.

The Cubs have become firm sellers this summer due to their precarious playoff position and with their World Series winning core of Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez eligible for free agency after the season.

Kimbrel, who was not a part of that 2016 roster, has a $16M team option with a $1 million buyout for 2022.

The Cubs entered play on Friday 11.5 games back from the Brewers in the NL Central and 9.5 games back from the second Wild Card spot. FanGraphs gives them a 0.4% chance of making the playoffs.

The Cubs received second baseman Nick Madrigal and reliever Codi Heuer in exchange for Kimbrel. Madrigal, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft, has hit .317/.358/.406 in parts of two seasons with the White Sox. He is out for the remainder of this season with a torn hamstring. Heuer has a 3.75 career ERA in 62 1/3 innings across parts of two seasons on the South Side but has struggled this season with a 5.12 ERA in 38 2/3 innings.

Kimbrel is an eight-time All-Star and has earned Reliever of the Year awards in 2014 and 2017.

He started his career with the Atlanta Braves, who drafted him in the third round of the 2010 MLB Draft.

The reliever, with that distinct pre-pitch pose, was then traded in 2014 to the San Diego Padres, then the following year to the Boston Red Sox. There, he won a World Series in 2018 over the Los Angeles Dodgers and registered a save in Game 2.

BJ Cunningham’s Analysis

Craig Kimbrel heading across town boosts an already stout bullpen. The White Sox as a unit have a 4.05 ERA, 3.95 xFIP, 10.51 K/9 rate, and 3.48 BB/9 rate, all of which are top 10 in Major League Baseball.

However, Kimbrel immediately becomes their best reliever because at age 33 he’s not only having the best season of his career, but he’s been arguably the best reliever in all of baseball.

  • ERA: 0.49 (1st among qualified relievers)
  • xERA: 1.72 (1st among qualified relievers)
  • xFIP: 2.00 (1st among qualified relievers)
  • K/9 rate: 15.71 (1st among qualified relievers)
  • HR/9 rate: 0.25 (11th among qualified relievers)
  • LOB%: 81.3% (31st among qualified relievers)

Not only has Kimbrel not lost any velocity on his fastball, but hitters have barely been able to touch it, as its allowing a .218 wOBA and has over a 35% whiff rate. His curveball though has been untouchable. He’s throwing it over 40%, which is his highest usage rate of his career and has allowed a total of three hits on it this season, while accumulating a 59.3% whiff rate.

The question now is does he immediately become the closer? Hendriks has been outstanding in his first season in Chicago, posting a 2.26 xERA and 2.51 xFIP, while getting 25 saves in 30 attempts.

The White Sox also just traded for Ryan Tepera, so with those two acquisitions, Hendriks and Michael Kopech, they now have one of the fiercest bullpens in baseball.

Sean Zerillo’s Analysis

The White Sox already had one of the best bullpens in baseball before trading for Craig Kimbrel (1.72 xERA, 2.00 xFIP, 1.83 SIERA, 37.2% K-BB%), who is having the best relief pitching season in baseball by most expected indicators.

The White Sox relievers ranked fourth in xFIP (3.95), second in SIERA (3.56) and second in strikeout minus walk rate (18.3%) before the trade. The organization further solidified an area of their team deemed a strength, rather than adding depth to a league-average offense, with multiple position players returning from IL stints.

There’s no secret sauce to Kimbrel’s resurgence. Last season, batters stopped chasing his pitches outside of the zone (-6.6% vs. career) and made contact with those pitches more frequently (+7.6% vs. career) when they did chase.

This year, all of Kimbrel’s plate discipline metrics have regressed towards his career numbers – but there’s nothing in his pitch mix, spin data, or movement to indicate any noticeable changes from one year to the next.

Kimbrel’s presence improves the White Sox “True Talent” level by 0.7 wins in my power rankings, and he’ll give the Southsiders a formidable one-two punch alongside Liam Hendriks – the only man ahead of Kimbrel in K-BB% (38.2%) at the end of games.

The White Sox have the best rotation in the American League (3.80 xFIP, 3.78 SIERA, and now they may have surpassed the Rays for the best bullpen, too.

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