And if he is, does anyone know what the question was?
Personally, I think he’s the answer to the question “What Atlanta Braves pitcher has the best stuff since John Smoltz”? But what I’m more interested in is whether he’s the right person to close for the Braves in 2011.
Based on everything we know to date, I firmly believe that the job is his to lose. He truly possesses elite stuff, including a 98+ MPH fastball with movement. He was tasked in 2010 with two goals: 1) Learn how to be a closer at a high level, which he did with flair in AAA Gwinnett, saving 23 games and striking out 13.4 men a game and 2) Work on his control, which he also accomplished handily, dropping his BB/9 innings from 6.8 to a somewhat more manageable 5.7. Then, late in the year, the Braves needed late-inning help with the big club when Saito was down. He surprisingly had saved his best for last, striking out a jaw-dropping 16 batters a game while giving up one whole run in 20 innings pitched. He even shut down the Giants in the post-season, including his memorable two inning stint in game two, striking out four along the way.
Now that you can see that he’s equal parts Randy Johnson, Jack Bauer, and Superman, it’s obvious that the Braves have no worries at the closer spot until they have to start paying Kimbrell market salary, right? Right? Maybe we should slow down just a little before we start engraving the Cy Young trophy with his name. First of all, he’s a 22 year old. It’s a foregone conclusion that he will suffer some rookie-type maladies. He’ll get nervous a few times, just so he knows what it feels like. Someone on the Phillies could even take him deep! He’ll have to get used to being “the man”. But most of all, he still hasn’t put his control issues fully to rest. With a delivery that generates the torque that his does, I’m not sure he ever will. But I believe he’ll continue to fan batters at unheard of rates, and I also believe hits will be rare. I also believe that the best way for him to keep his delivery in sync is with frequent use, and what better role for that than closer? And, just in keeping with the Superman thought, (and I cringe even saying this), but there could be one piece of Kryptonite out there: Craig has yet to have his semi-mandatory Tommy John elbow surgery (and let’s all hope he never has it).
So what does my trusty crystal ball say is in store for Craig in 2011? I think he’ll be handled in such a way that will foster success. Jonny Venters will get some save opportunities, especially against some of the lefty stacked lineups, or after Craig’s been used a couple of days in a row. He needs to be fresh down the stretch. This will hurt his save totals a bit, but will help his peripherals. I see 25-30 saves, an ERA under 3.00, and a WHIP around 1.10. I think he could be a great asset for your fantasy league, if you can get him.
I’ll throw in a poll so that you can check out your own crystal ball. I’d also be very interested in hearing what you have to say about Craig.