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2023 Arizona Diamondbacks Reviews: #5, Kevin Ginkel

An Unexpected Breakout

Syndication: Arizona Republic
Kevin Ginkel reacts to moving Mad Dog Russo to the brink of retirement in Game 7 of the NLCS in Philadelphia
Rob Schumacher/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

Overview

  • Rating: 8.75
  • 2023 stats (regular season): 60 G, 65.1 IP, 2.48 ERA, 2.86 FIP, 0.980 WHIP, 1.1 bWAR
    (post-season): 10 G, 11.2 IP, 0.00 ERA, 1.114 WHIP, +97% WPA
  • Date of birth: March 24, 1994
  • 2023 earnings: League-minimum
  • 2024 status: 40-man roster, first-year arbitration, two options left.

Voting overview

One year ago, if you told me that in a year I would be writing a piece about Kevin Ginkel, I would have assumed that he had been DFA’d yet again to make space for a new acquisition. Sure, his 2022 season had been a substantial improvement over 2020-2021, during which time he had appeared in 51 games and given up 51 hits, with 10 of them leaving the yard. He even got his lone save of the year in the final game of the season, a 4-2 win that featured back-to-back home runs in the ninth inning by Josh Rojas and some guy named Corbin Carroll. Wonder what happened to him? I haven’t read about him in these reviews yet...

Ignoring Ginkel seemed reasonable. After his rise to the majors in 2019 that was borderline meteoric (as he went from being a non-roster invitee who had never appeared above AA to being one of five pitchers to pitch at least 20 innings with an ERA+ of over 300) he had fallen off a cliff. He had been DFA’d following the 2021 season, and while he had made it back, he had worked low leverage through August and even though he had moved into higher leverage spots in September, he flew under the radar.

2023 started off with Ginkel in a familiar low-leverage spot. He appeared in the two losses of the season-opening series in Los Angeles, both with the game already out of hand, and gave up a three run home run to Trayce Thompson. He did pick up the win in his next appearance (in San Diego), thanks to a four-run inning keyed by Jose Herrera. With the bullpen worn out thanks to short outings from Madison Bumgarner and Zach Davies, he got his first above-average leverage look on April 8th, also against the Dodgers, and got a hold for his efforts. However, through June he appeared in just three situations with above-average leverage, and none with particularly high leverage. Furthermore, his role seemed fairly well set; he was providing multiple innings of middle relief. From May 9th until he was optioned to Reno following his appearance on June 11th, he worked multiple innings in half of his ten appearances. In four others, he worked the ninth inning of a game that was largely out of hand.

His June 11th outing was one that he entered with the game largely out of hand and one where he worked multiple innings. Zac Gallen turned in one of his worst starts of the year, and Ginkel took the mound in the seventh inning down 5-2. But the Diamondbacks had other plans on this Father’s Day, and Corbin Carroll picked up two hits and scored two runs in the final two innings as the Diamondbacks took a 7-5 lead, only for Andrew Chafin to do his best to blow the save. (Scott McGough came in to finish it off, with runners on the corners and one out.) The win made him 3-0. He had a 2.76 ERA, largely supported by a 3.39 FIP.

It would have been understandable if Ginkel was a bit discouraged by getting sent down, even if it was a numbers game and he understood it. But he went to Reno, faced 19 batters, struck out 11 of them, walked none of them, and found himself back in the majors before the month was out. And this time, it wasn’t just for mop-up work.

What is the best way to measure Ginkel’s performance and impact on the team from the time he came back up? Perhaps a bulleted list of the high points is the best way to do so

  • In 35 appearances after his recall from Reno, the Diamondbacks went 25-10
  • In 33 of those 35 appearances, he entered in the seventh inning or later
  • His average leverage index for those 35 apperances was 1.36. 1 is average leverage.
  • He faced 136 batters. 17 of them got hits (12.5%)
  • His WHIP was 0.861
  • He allowed just one home run, to Manny Machado
  • Again, the Diamondbacks were 25-10 in his appearances. This included the biggest slump of the year for the team. In the month of July, the Diamondbacks won just 8 games. Ginkel pitched in 6 of them.

And then, of course, came the postseason, where Ginkel’s star shone the brightest. He appeared in 10 games, worked 11.2 innings, and gave up zero runs. Furthermore, he did not allow any inherited runners to score. Twice he entered games with two on and one out. Both times the Diamondbacks faced elimination. In those situations, he retired Trea Turner, Bryce Harper, Nathaniel Lowe, and Jonah Heim. In Game 7 of the NLCS, he put the Phillies to bed in a manner that kept Paul Sewald facing the bottom of the order in the ninth inning. In Game 5 of the World Series, he struggled more but was able to keep the game at 1-0 to allow the offense a chance to come back. That they failed to do so was in no way his fault.

Why was he so good? David Adler at MLB.com, profiling him before the World Series, focused on his better location and increased slider usage. Basically, he was pitching like a pitcher who expected to dominate, throwing a 96 MPH fastball at the top of the zone and tunneling a slider off of that fastball that generally is below the zone. He finished the regular season in the 85th percentile for swing-and-miss, but also in the 81st percentile for ground ball percentage. What Adler did not detail in his piece was that Ginkel also developed a third pitch, a sinker that he uses about 10% of the time. He threw 102 sinkers in the regular season, and gave up no hits. Willy Adames and William Contreras both singled off the sinker in the postseason, but neither were impressive hits. Contreras’s single had a launch angle of -4 degrees and traveled 22 feet in the air. (Marcus Siemian also singled off the sinker in Game 5.) Essentially, Ginkel has transformed into a pitcher who can overpower batters, but if he fails at doing that, he has other ways of getting outs. He can make you look silly, or he can make you miss the sweet spot.

Now, for the first time in his career, Ginkel will (hopefully) get a full, normal offseason and have an expected role with the team next year. He should be one of the key parts of a bullpen that will hopefully be a strength. With Paul Sewald only under control for one more season, Ginkel might be primed to move into the closer’s role in 2025, or it might be best for him to continue in his current role of the best pitcher to throw into a high-leverage situation in the late innings.

For a player drafted in a round that no longer exists, and who is one of just three holdovers from the days of Dave Stewart and Tony La Russa, the rise of Ginkel has been an inspirational story. Ginkel is also, as of now, the third-longest tenured Diamondback, with only Luis Frias and Jose Herrera (who extends all the way back to the Kevin Towers days) having been with the organization longer. Plus, unless Jake McCarthy allows his locks to return, Ginkel has the best hair on the team.