After acquiring Adam Cimber at the 2021 trade deadline, the submarine throwing reliever was one of the Blue Jays' best bullpen arms over his first season and a half with the team. He posted a 2.48 in over 100 innings pitched, and entering 2023 looked to once again be a reliable setup man. Unfortunately, 2023 was not very kind to him, and his future with the team seems far from certain.
Cimber got off to a solid start this past year, allowing just two earned runs in his first nine appearances, but the wheels began to fall off after that. He would allow 15 earned runs over 12 innings pitched in his last 13 games, highlighted by an appearance against the Twins in June where he would enter the game to start the eighth inning with the Blue Jays up 3-1, and would leave the game being credited with six earned runs and only one out. Two appearances and less than a week later, he would be placed on the injured list with issues in his throwing shoulder, where he would remain for the rest of the season. He would finish the year with a 7.40 ERA in 20.2 innings pitched.
So what went wrong? It's never simple enough to narrow it down to just one thing, but for Cimber, the root cause might not be too difficult to find. In five of his six seasons in the big leagues, Cimber has been in the first percentile for fastball velocity per baseball savant, and the only season he wasn't in the first percentile he was in the second. This means that throughout his career, he's either had the slowest or one of the slowest fastballs in the game, which isn't necessarily a problem, it's worked for him in the past, but it does mean that he has very little room for error. He's extremely reliant on inducing soft contact, which he was excellent at in 2021 and 2022, sitting in the 96th and 84th percentiles for barrel rate those two seasons. In 2023 his barrel rate was still above league average, but his numbers plummeted, which shows just how fragile his type of play can be.
You could argue that panicking about Cimber would be unjustified because of how small his 2023 sample size was, but it becomes concerning when you see that almost all of his peripheral stats were terrible. Again from baseball savant, his xERA, xBA, whiff rate, strikeout rate, and hard hit rate were all at the bottom of the barrel for Major League pitchers. While stats like ERA, WHIP, and even FIP work on a per-batter basis, lots of these advanced metrics work on a per-pitch basis meaning they have a much larger pool of data to work from. All this is to say that while 20.2 innings pitched may not be a lot, the results from Cimber in 2023 were troubling no matter how you look at it, and as the Blue Jays all the sudden seem to have one of baseball's best pitching staffs, it could be very difficult for him to make the roster in 2024.
It's also impossible to ignore the role that injuries may have played in his performance. There has been little reporting about how severe this injury was or how long he had been dealing with it, but it's very possible that this played a part in his struggles. He finished the year on the 60-day IL, but was that due to the severity of his injury, or was it just some roster gymnastics? This is all speculation, but it's important to consider how this could have affected his play.
Over the course of what was a pretty eventful season, and a very disappointing end to the postseason for the Toronto Blue Jays, Adam Cimber feels like he's been lost in the shuffle of it all. It's easy to write him off after what was by far the worst season of his career, but it's possible that it was just a blip on the radar and he'll be back to form in 2024. Either way, looking at his 2023 by itself, it would be lying to call it anything but a disaster.