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The Brandon Kintzler trade by the numbers

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A look at the stats and pitches of the Cubs new reliever.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Washington Nationals
Brandon Kintzler pitching against the Red Sox on July 4th
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Theo Epstein holds his cards close to the vest on trades and 2018 was no exception. The Cubs made a last minute move just before the deadline to acquire a bullpen arm that hadn’t gotten much (any?) discussion as the deadline approached. In fact, new Cub Brandon Kintzler was shocked when he found out about the deal:

Kintzler turns 34 today and will be celebrating his 34th birthday as a member of a new club. The Cubs owe him a little under $2 million for 2018 and will have an option to pick up for 2019. Let’s take a closer look at his stats and pitches to see what he brings to his new team.

The Stats

Kintzler is a right-handed middle relief setup man. Prior to being traded to the Nationals last year he was the Twins closer, so that adds yet another arm to the Cubs bullpen with closing experience. Although, to be clear, if Kintzler is closing something has happened to Brandon Morrow, Steve Cishek, Pedro Strop and Justin Wilson, so let’s all just hope it never comes to that. He has only been off the disabled list for a little over a month, so in looking at his stats I broke 2018 into pre- and post-DL stints.

Brandon Kintzler Key Stats

Name G IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% GB% HR/FB ERA FIP xFIP WAR
Name G IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% GB% HR/FB ERA FIP xFIP WAR
2010 7 7.1 11.05 4.91 2.45 .444 71.4% 68.4% 50.0% 7.36 5.81 2.93 -0.1
2011 9 14.2 9.20 1.84 1.84 .275 62.5% 60.5% 23.1% 3.68 4.25 2.71 0.0
2012 14 16.2 7.56 3.78 0.54 .340 76.3% 51.0% 9.1% 3.78 3.45 3.64 0.1
2013 71 77.0 6.78 1.87 0.23 .281 71.1% 57.4% 4.9% 2.69 2.54 2.93 1.5
2014 64 58.1 4.78 2.47 1.23 .293 83.8% 57.0% 17.4% 3.24 4.68 3.87 -0.5
2015 7 7.0 9.00 6.43 1.29 .478 70.5% 62.5% 50.0% 6.43 5.13 3.70 -0.1
2016 54 54.1 5.80 1.33 0.83 .310 75.8% 61.9% 14.3% 3.15 3.61 3.48 0.5
2017 72 71.1 4.92 2.02 0.63 .271 76.9% 54.9% 8.3% 3.03 3.77 4.36 0.9
2018 45 42.2 6.54 2.74 0.04 .302 73.3% 48.0% 5.6% 3.59 3.44 4.22 0.5
Pre-DL 31 28.1 6.70 3.80 0.30 .341 71.1% 44.7% 4.2% 4.45 3.72 4.66
Post-DL 14 14.1 6.30 0.60 0.60 .220 83.3% 54.8% 8.3% 1.88 2.88 3.35
Career 343 349.1 6.16 2.27 0.75 .298 75.4% 56.6% 11.7% 3.30 3.66 3.66 2.8
Fangraphs

There are obviously a few seasons here with some serious small sample size warnings, but looking at trends from his last few years I feel comfortable saying a few things. Kintzler doesn’t strike out a lot of guys, but he’s definitely gotten the walks under control since an injury shortened 2015. Coupled with his ground ball percentage and HR/FB ratio the numbers look a lot like Tyler Chatwood — minus the walks. He’s thrown 42⅔ innings so far this year and has only topped 70+ innings twice in his MLB career.

The most interesting numbers here are his numbers since coming off the DL on June 25. He’s had a minuscule 1.88 ERA. That number is probably driven by a bit of luck since his BABIP of .220 is about 80 points lower than his career mark of .298. However, the start of his season looked like he was getting a bit unlucky. It’s possible the Cubs traded for Kintzler in the middle of a hot streak, which would be a nice addition to an already great bullpen.

The Pitches

I’m going to do my usual Brooks Baseball spread here, but if that’s not your cup of tea I will not be offended if you skip to the end where I’ve got a video of Kintzler discussing his pitches and some evidence for his potential role in the clubhouse.

Kintzler’s sinker is his best pitch and when it’s working he’s most effective.

Kintzler pitch usage
Brooks Baseball

The velocity on his sinker sits at about 93 miles per hour, which is similar to his rarely thrown fourseam fastball. His change up and slider also mimic each other at 88 and 87 miles per hour respectively.

Kintzler pitch velocity by type
Brooks Baseball

While Kintzler has an above average ground ball percentage it is worth noting that Brooks calls both his slider and fourseam “extreme flyball pitches” which will be something to keep in mind if the wind is blowing out at Wrigley. You can see the difference in ground ball generation on the slider in particular from the chart below:

Ground balls per BIP
Brooks Baseball

But really, take a few minutes and hear it from the man himself, because there are some gems in this incredible video by MASN’s Dan Kolko that give you a great idea of all of Kintzler’s pitches, and some insight into the Cubs newest pitcher:

I love a few things about this video. First of all, it’s way more interesting than my usual “he throws a sinker 93 miles per hour” spiel. Second, you get an insight into how Kintzler thinks about each of his pitches and why he throws them the way he does. Finally, I love his discussion of spin rate at the end. Something tells me he’s a bit on the cerebral side and will probably get along well with Kyle Hendricks.

I did some searching on that and found this piece from the Washington Post that indicates the Cubs may have added a lot more than a middle relief guy, he’s apparently also an amateur pitching coach. It turns out Kintzler acquired a lot of knowledge about pitches while battling back from injuries over the years, and he’s not shy about sharing it, even with a pitcher as good as Max Scherzer:

“He makes some good points,” Scherzer said. “There’s some things I think he’s opened my eyes to that I think I can add into my program. He’s on to something.”

For a man as calculated as Scherzer to concede that, especially to a teammate as new to him as Kintzler, speaks to the credibility of the reliever’s criticism. Kintzler can be bold with his ideas because he has spent months researching and implementing them. He has had arm trouble and underwent surgery for a torn tendon in his left knee after the 2014 season. He didn’t recover well. He didn’t reestablish himself until he joined the Minnesota Twins in 2016.

Takeaways

This is a shrewd signing by the Cubs front office. As I read that Washington Post piece I found myself wondering if Kintzler is the middle relief equivalent of David Ross, which a few struggling Cubs pitchers could sorely use. Only time will tell on the intangibles. At bare minimum the Cubs managed to find a quality arm and a pitcher who likely has his best months ahead of him for 2018. They also managed to do it in an under the radar way that kept the price low and the chatter to a minimum.

I’m a pretty big fan of this trade, what about you?