September 18, 2011; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel (46) pitches against the New York Mets during the ninth inning at Turner Field. The Mets defeated the Braves 7-5. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-US PRESSWIRE

Craig Kimbrel and Pitch f/x Part I


Here is the next part in my search to understand pitch f/x and evaluate pitchers more effectively. Luckily for me, Lee has joined the site and is great with pitch f/x. He has been extremely helpful to me and I’m sure you guys have learned a thing or two from reading his pitching projections.

First I talked about Jair Jurrjens, and now I am going to go over a player that no one questions. Arguably the best relief pitcher in baseball, Craig Kimbrel led all relievers (min. 55 IP) in baseball with a 14.84 K/9 while using just two pitches. That number is ridiculous and more than a full strikeout better than runner up David Robertson (13.50).

How did he do it? Quite simply, his pitches are dominant. Lee even warned me about his numbers before I checked them out so I wouldn’t think there was some mistake. They are as close as you can come to being “off the charts” apparently.

Let’s take a look. Since this is just my second time doing this I will be using a similar format to the Jurrjens piece. First we will look at his pitches and the frequencies.

Pitch Count Frequency
Four-Seam (FA) 1410 72%
Slider* (SL) 534 27%
Changeup 1 0%

*there has been some controversy about Kimbrel’s breaking ball. Brooks Baseball lists it as a Curveball, but the movement and speed of the pitch really make it seem more like a Slider. I think Kimbrel calls it a curveball but Ben Duronio pointed out in the forum of Brooks Baseball that all the other sites list the pitch as a slider. I will call it a slider because I agree with Ben.

Craig Kimbrel doesn’t have a changeup. We can just ignore that one pitch that was labeled a change. The speed of it was 89 miles per hour, hardly an effective change. It could have been a pitchout or something.

So now we see that Kimbrel throws mainly the fastball and then throws in the slider to keep hitters off balance. You might think its crazy that he only has two pitches but when you only throw one inning a game, you don’t need a large variety of pitches. He goes all out for 1 inning and has two plus plus pitches because of it.

Next we are going to look the balls and velocity of his pitches:

Pitch Frequency Ball Velocity
Four-Seam 72% 38.09% 96.1 mph
Slider 27% 37.64% 86.9 mph

One of the main worries with Kimbrel coming into 2011 was his control. He was pretty much a hit or miss pitcher, and with high strikeouts would also come high walks. However Craig surprised most people with a BB/9 of 3.74 which was 46th out of all relievers. That is certainly acceptable, especially when his K/BB is 16th at 3.97.

Kimbrel is one of the hardest throwing relief pitchers in the game, which says a lot about a 5 foot 11 rookie. His fastball averaged at 96.2 mph, putting him 9th out of all MLB relievers (Aroldis Chapman came in at first with an average of 98.1 mph).

His slider ranks 21st of MLB relievers at 86.8 mph. However, he also has much more movement on this pitch than most pitchers, especially the vertical movement. We will get into that more in part II however.

Part II should really show us why Kimbrel has been so effective. Part I pretty much just tells u that Kimbrel throws hard, didn’t have as much trouble with control as we originally thought, and that his breaking ball is something special. If you guys want to see some charts on the movement of his pitches I’m sure I could provide some of those as well. Stay tuned.

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Tags: Atlanta Braves Craig Kimbrel PitchFX

  • leetro

    His breaking ball has -6.7 inches of vertical break. The average slider is +2.3 at 84 MPH and the average curve is -5.3 inches at 77 MPH. The 9 MPH difference between his fastball and breaking ball says slider, but the break says curve. It should just be called the Kimbrel.

    Also, walks are harder to avoid with such stuff. First, hitters don’t put the ball in play much, which creates deeper counts and more chances for walks. Second, poor hitters will swing less, hoping for a walk knowing they can’t hit him. When you strike out 40% of hitters, you can afford walks.

  • http://www.sabbump.org/ clearwall

    My main issue with Kimbrel is that he becomes predictable. So many times watching games last year, I was screaming at him “THROW THE FASTBALL” and he’d throw two freaking sliders in a row and get the second one hammered. Same thing the other way, he’d throw two FB in a row at 98 and 99 and I’d scream, THROW THE SLIDER. He’d immediately throw another FB that would either miss and hed throw a FOURTH FB or he’d get his third FB crushed. He finally stopped doing that after the Houston series, but then in August fell back into rookie mistakes. I expect him to be a smarter pitcher this year and to develop a changeup. That’s scary to think of too…he was that dominant pitching with a rookie brain, imagine what he’ll do when he’s an intelligent pitcher too.