Admitting you were wrong is hard for some people, myself included. However, there are times when something you were 100% sure of ends up being so incredibly, completely, unequivocally wrong that admitting your error is quite easy. Such is the situation I find myself in when it comes to Chicago Cubs reliever Brandon Kintzler. It’s only right that I start out any article about him by admitting that I was totally in the wrong on how Kintzler would perform this year.
Coming into 2019 Kintzler had seen his DRA grow every year over the past 4 seasons. The last year he had posted a DRA below 4.00 was in 2013. His other numbers were erratic at best and more often than not fell into the negative category. It all culminated in a dreadful 2018 season. The right-hander split the 2018 season between the Washington Nationals and Cubs. He wasn’t good at either stop or in totality. His last pitch of the season left him with a 6.37 DRA, 142.3 DRA-, 1.47 WHIP, a GB% of 51, and a bWAR of -1.0. That’s why I spent a good chunk of the offseason trashing the Cubs for sticking with Kintzler instead of releasing him and eating the remainder of his contract.
I’m the one left eating my hat because Kintzler has been a much-needed arm out of the Cubs pen in 2019. Over 40.7 innings he has amassed a DRA of 3.76, DRA- of 77.1, a WHIP of 0.93, and has been worth 0.7 bWAR already. I don’t think anyone expected Kintzler to turn his career around like this, but the Las Vegas native has done just that. He’s emerged as a strong option out of the Cubs pen and has helped to hold down an otherwise shaky relief corps.
There are some causes for trepidation with Kintzler this year, notably his BABIP. .236 is a great BABIP, but it’s not truly sustainable and is more than likely a sign of a fair amount of luck being involved in Kintzler’s turnaround. Undoubtedly as the season progresses Kintzler will start giving up more hits and his BABIP will rise. There’s also the issue of Kintzler giving up hard contact. His Hard Hit% of 40.0 is quite high, ranking him near the bottom 25th percentile in the league. So far Kintzler has seen those hard-hit balls go right to defenders, but if hitters start finding the open holes then Kintzler has a chance at some serious regression.
I’m not convinced that regression will actually come, at least not the serious kind. The reason for that rests mainly with the one statistic I left out of Kintzler’s 2019 numbers I provided earlier, his GB%. It currently sits at 56%, which is among Kintzler’s top seasons. This is a very good number because at his core Kintzler is a groundball pitcher. He doesn’t strike a lot of guys out and he’s never had pitches with a lot of spin on them. He’s not fooling batters into missing, rather he is fooling them into making bad contact. An xBA of .236 and xwOBA of .294 tell us that Kintzler’s overall results are more about his succeeding at fooling hitters and less about luck.
As it stands today the product of Pasadena City College is producing like a top-flight bullpen arm. If Pedro Strop continues to struggle to find the lost velocity on his fastball don’t be surprised if Kintzler gets more chances to set up Kimbrel late in ballgames. Kintzler has earned those chances and there’s really no sign that he’s going to cost the Cubs in that spot. I was very, very wrong about Brandon Kintzler, but sometimes it’s good to be wrong.
Lead photo courtesy of Armando L. Sanchez – Chicago Tribune