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2023 SnakePit Awards: Unsung Hero of the Year - Kevin Ginkel

From optioned to the minors, to post-season stud. Just another season for the Ginkinator.

Syndication: Arizona Republic Rob Schumacher/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

An administrative note. A valiant effort by the Tommy Henry family to stuff the ballot-box, but when the SnakePit user IDs submitting votes for him included, and I quote, “Granny”... yeah, not hard to see the red flags going up. All they actually succeeded in doing is getting Henry disqualified. Might he have won anyway? You’ll never know now. I hope you’re happy. But I’m perfectly fine with the true winner being Ginkel, since he got a clear majority of the other votes, once Granny and her friends had been crossed off the list.

“It’s been a story of perseverance. A story of him being able to believe in himself through some very trying times where the ball wasn’t coming out the way he wanted it to and the secondary stuff wasn’t landing the way he wanted it to. But he accepted some coaching. He worked his butt off, and everything was trending in a very good direction. He’s showing the form that we remember back in ’19. I don’t want him to be anything other than what he is right now. Continue progressing and learning. He’s doing a great job of that.”
Torey Lovullo discussing Kevin Ginkel

Kevin Ginkel’s career has more ups and downs than a Six Flags roller-coaster. It’s worth reviewing, since 2023 proved to be a microcosm of that situation. He burst onto the scene back in 2019, posting a stellar 1.48 ERA over his first twenty-five games in the majors. But the pandemic-shortened 2020 and 2021 were a polar opposite, with the fifty-one combined appearances resulting in a 6.50 ERA. Worse still, the latter campaign came to a sudden end in June when he was placed on the disabled list with elbow inflammation. At the end of the year, he was taken off the 40-man roster, and we noted he’d need to rein in his high walk and home-run rates, if he was to win a place back on the team.

That did not happen until August. After a couple of rough outings, Ginkel settled in, with a 1.33 ERA covering the final 20.1 innings. It kept him on the radar last winter, and Kevin stuck on the Opening Day roster. It begin roughly, committing the first pitch-clock violation in team history, and surrendering three runs in an inning against LA during the opening series. But the ERA trended down, helped by outings like above, where he K’d five over two innings against Oakland. Said pitching coach Brent Strom, “It’s a confidence thing with Kevin... He has a plus-plus breaking ball. This guy really gets on a roll, gets his confidence and everything, he can be a frontline reliever. He has two swing-and-miss pitches. Love the guy.”

Despite Ginkel’s ERA having reached basically a season low of 2.76, he was still optioned down to Reno on June 12. The move was to make room for Joe Mantiply to come back off the injured list, but as Jack noted, this was a bullpen which could somehow find room for Jose Ruiz. He had no options remaining, but Kevin did. He didn’t have to like it though. “It was hard,” Ginkel said at the end of the season, “One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. It wasn’t performance-based, they just had to make a move. We had won the game I pitched in and it was like, ‘I get it, but I don’t.’ I don’t think I ever will.”

His time in the wilderness lasted barely two weeks, and Ginkel even briefly took over as team closer in July, notching three saves over eight days, before the arrival of Paul Sewald. Kevin dropped back into a set-up role, and over the 35 games following his recall, had a 2.25 ERA and 44 strikeouts in 36 innings. He then improved further during a stellar post-season, where he pitched 11.2 scoreless innings with 15 strikeouts, and his Win Probability of +97.3% was the highest by any pitcher in the 2023 playoffs. Probably no outing mattered more than Game 7 of the NLCS, when he retired all five batters faced (below), including striking out the Phillies in the eighth with his lethal slider.

It’s startling to realize Ginkel is now the longest serving member of the Arizona bullpen, with this having been his fifth year there. From a 22nd-round draft pick, he now seems to have developed into someone who will be the set-up man for Sewald next year, then possibly take over as closer in 2025. It has been a fascinating saga, and one which looks like it might have a happy ending. The odds of Ginkel qualifying for this award again next season seem slight!

“I’ve just never given up on myself. I didn’t really pay attention to what people were talking about me. I knew I wasn’t the first-round pick. I knew I wasn’t that guy. But I felt like, for me, I just carried a chip on my shoulder. I feel like that propelled me. I never got that big signing bonus, but I felt like I had the support and love of my family and my friends. I was doing something I love to do and I kind of just had to keep believing and keep working and not get deterred by what else was going on around me. A big-league career is never linear. There’s ups and downs … especially with the bullpen. It can be extremely hard. But I think it’s more just about being grateful and having that quiet confidence.”
Kevin Ginkel

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