Adam Cimber found himself in a rather surprising position when he came over from the Padres in mid-July.
As the second piece in the Brad Hand/Francisco Mejia deal, you could be understanding in thinking Cimber was more a throw-in than anything, an intriguing rookie that might become a solid piece of the bullpen in the future. And with his odd release and unique motion, you might be right in most cases. But the Indians bullpen was a smoking ruin at that point. He wasn’t just wanted for the future, he was needed for now. So even with all the innings soaked up by the elite starting staff, the young righty found himself facing 92 batters from July 20th on, fifth among Indians relievers over that stretch.
He also found himself to be much, much worse for his new team. In the box score at least.
CImber was an exciting, intriguing player for many reasons. Chiefly and most obviously because of the insanely low release point — the second lowest in the majors and so low it actually appeared that his pitches rose as they approached the plate. He actually threw the ball uphill. But besides that, he was simply effective, especially against right-handers.
For the Padres Cimber posted a 2.33 FIP, struck out 26.5 percent of hitters and walked just 5.2 percent. He forced a ground ball 52.5 percent of the time in the 48.1 innings he threw for San Diego. Right-handers hit just .207 against him. He was really pretty excellent, exactly the pitcher the Indians needed. With all those lefties in the bullpen, he was to be the ROOGY that silenced Aaron Judge and Mookie Betts and JD Martinez and all those Astros in big moments in October.
Instead, they got a guy who struck out the same number of guys he walked, simultaneously a paltry (for strikeouts) and just too high (for walks) 7.6 percent. His ERA with the Tribe was 4.56, his FIP was 4.58, and batters’ posted a .957 OPS against him. In October he pitched two innings and gave up two hits and a run to righties in the deciding Game 3 bludgeoning. It was already out of hand, but it was icing on a hideous cake It was just terrible. He was everything he wasn’t billed to be.
So what does all this mean? What are we to make of Cimber at this point? He’s going to be on the Indians for quite a long time, so it’s not like he has to turn into the elite closer by next April. He’s simply done the disservice of reminding us of Joe Smith because of his release point, and Joe Smith was very good for the Indians in two different stints. Cimber can’t pitch like that though. He’ll find his way to Columbus in short order if that’s the case.
There is a bit of good news of course. In the short time with the Indians we saw him juice his ground ball rate to 65.8 percent, and his Hard Hit Rate (batted balls 95 mph and above) dropped four points when he joined the Indians to 27 percent. So it’s not like he started giving up home runs like Dan Otero did this year, though he did allow three dingers as an Indian, compared to Otero’s four over the same stretch.
But those small nice nudges are hardly enough to cover up what was a nasty first stint in Cleveland. He was a bit more unlucky with a nine point jump in BABIP to .324 in Cleveland, and his Medium Hit Rate bounced almost 10 points to 50 percent. So it’s hard to read it. Maybe grounder squeaked through more than in the past when he walked one more person than he had in San Diego, or the ball went the wrong direction off a bat. But the contact rates, and the strikeouts, they need to be righted. He’s simply a shadow of what he’s supposed to be otherwise.
The 2018 season isn’t the story of Adam Cimber. It’s merely a first chapter. The coaching staff showed a comfort in him — or a complete desperation — and he still has that funky fun pitching motion. He just needs to figure out a changeup of some kind so he can be as killer to lefties as he is to right-handed bats. That’s for the future though. For now we just saw the highs and lows of a young pitcher’s first year. In this organization it’s right to think the needle is pointed in the right direction. Time is on his side.