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2020 Arizona Diamondbacks Reviews #23: Kevin Ginkel

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Is he the D-backs latest ex-future closer?

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San Francisco Giants v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images
  • Rating: 4.60
  • Age: 26
  • 2020 Stats: 16.0 IP, 21 H, 13 R, 12 ER, 3 HR, 13 BB, 18 SO, 6.75 ERA, 5.82 FIP, -0.3 bWAR
  • 2020 Salary: league minimum
  • 2021 Status: under team control, 1.023 years of service time

2020 was a bit of a roller-coaster ride for Kevin Ginkel. It didn’t start well, with a real horror-show first outing of the year. On July 24, he was tagged for four earned runs without being able to escape the 7th inning. Over his nineteen outings, he was unscored upon in 13, and allowed one run in four more. But that first appearance, and an even worse outing on August 11, where he failed to retire a hitter and was also charged with four runs on only eight pitches, were responsible for two-thirds of the earned runs Ginkel allowed this season. When he was bad, he was really, really bad. However, manager Torey Lovullo seemed willing to overlook the bad outings as aberrations.

For after the team traded closer Archie Bradley to the Cincinnati Reds, there was an opening for the position. Ginkel was the first man chosen to replace Bradley, but it did not go well. In four outings, he had a blown save and a loss, walking four batters in 3.2 innings. Lovullo truly had a quick hook, optioning Kevin to the alternate site just two days after giving Kevin a vote of confidence. Lovullo said Ginkel “was virtually unhittable last year. If you can go back and remember some of the things he was doing to set up Archie and help us win baseball games, he was a strong reason why we won 85 games. He was directly related to the success we had through September.” Below is Kevin’s sole save:

This year? Not so much, with Ginkel having severe trouble reproducing that success. The strikeouts were still there, with a K-rate above ten per nine innings, as it had been in 2019. However, the rate of hits, home-runs and walks allowed all more than doubled for Kevin:

  • H/9: 5.5 to 11.8
  • HR/9: 0.7 to 1.7
  • BB/9: 3.3 to 7.3

That’s a trifecta which is almost impressive; it feels quite hard to do. As a result, Ginkel’s ERA more than quadrupled, going from 1.48 to 6.73. Now, the former figure was never going to be sustainable: his 2019 FIP was over twice his ERA, at 3.03. But even that figure shot up to 5.82, as you’d expect given the spike in his peripherals above. Admittedly, there was likely some element of bad luck involved, with Ginkel’s BABIP regressing even more fiercely than Yoan Lopez’s. That metric increased by a whopping 168 points, to an even .400 this year. That’s not sustainable either, even though Ginkel’s rate of line-drives allowed was well above MLB average (35% compared to 26%).

The explosion in Kevin’s walk-rate is particularly odd. If you look at his overall strike numbers, those didn’t show an enormous decrease. They dropped, but only from 61.2% to 59.4% - that’s one additional ball every 56 pitches or so. And it’s not as if he were perpetually falling behind. Again, there was a slight decrease in first-strike percentage, from 59.4% to 58.2%, but that works out to be ONE more batter this season who faced Ginkel and got to be 1-0, rather than 0-1. It certainly doesn’t explain the pitcher allowing almost half as many walks again as he did last season, while pitching a third fewer innings. Admittedly, two this year were IBB, something he didn’t issue at all in 2019.

Looking at his splits, it seems Kevin almost got a case of the yips when throwing in full-count situations. Of the eighteen plate appearances which reached 3-2, no fewer than eight eventually ended in walks, compared to four strikeouts (there were six balls in play, with one hit). Across all of MLB, numbers in that situation were about even (32% walks, 29% strikeouts, 39% balls in play), so Ginkel underperformed there. He did also issue more walks when there were runners on base (8 in 41 PA, compared to 5 in 38 with the bases empty), which perhaps suggests an issue pitching out of the stretch. However, the numbers here are small, and it’s perilous to try and draw meaningful conclusions.

I also notice, though the same sample size warning applies, that Ginkel was significantly worse against right-handed batters, who hit him for a 1.083 OPS. Lefties were all the way back at .801. This wasn’t the case with a larger sample size in 2019, and may be a factor of that BABIP, with RHB 111 points higher in that metric. But I do also note he had as many walks as strikeouts to right-handers. Another thing which stood out was the steadily increasing launch angle of balls hit off Ginkel. While he has kept the hard-hit percentage below league average (30.2% for his career, vs. MLB average of 34.9%), the launch angle has been creeping up, as the graph below shows.

The sudden change of heart shown by the team in September is curious. Between becoming closer and being sent down, he threw only four innings, and while the ERA of 4.91 in those games wasn’t great, it wasn’t terrible. It makes me wonder if there was some unannounced issue beyond direct performance - health, or in another area - which was a factor in the move. After all, it wasn’t like the D-backs were in a pennant race. If Ginkel was being groomed as a future closer, this would seem to have been a good opportunity for him to gain experience of the role, even at the cost of a few liumps. But we’ve seen cases of young Arizona pitchers falling out of favor for less than obvious reason, e.g. Jimmie Sherfy.

There’s nothing to be done except wait until spring training and see whether Ginkel fits into the team’s plans. There will certainly be bullpen vacancies to fill, and right now, he would still appear to be one of the candidates for a spot. Whether that remains the case once the free-agent dust has settled will give us our first clue as to his future with the club.