Sept. 17, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel (46) during a game against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

2012 Review: Craig Kimbrel


Craig Kimbrel has had one of the most dominant seasons a relief pitcher has ever had. After his stellar ROY 2011 campaign, most thought he would regress a tad in 2012. Boy, were they wrong. In 2012, all of his numbers improved, and improved a lot. His 1.01 ERA was by far the lowest of Major League relievers. Kimbrel’s FIP was 0.78, which was not only the best of this year, but the lowest of all time!

Year ERA FIP WHIP Sv K% BB%

2011

2.1

1.52

1.039

46

41.5

10.5

2012

1.01

0.78

0.654

42

50.2

6.1

The main reason for this, of course, was the rise in strike outs. He struck out an astonishing 16.66 batter per 9 innings and struck out 50.2% of all batters he faced. That equates to nearly two batters per inning (1.856) over the course of the entire season.  This is stuff that literally no one else has done before – no one else in the history of the game (who’s pitched 30+ innings) has even broken a 45% K rate.

 

Season Name Team K%

2012

Craig Kimbrel Braves

50.20%

2003

Eric Gagne Dodgers

44.80%

2012

Aroldis Chapman Reds

44.20%

2011

Kenley Jansen Dodgers

44.00%

1999

Billy Wagner Astros

43.40%

2004

Brad Lidge Astros

42.60%

2010

Carlos Marmol Cubs

41.60%

2011

Craig Kimbrel Braves

41.50%

1999

Armando Benitez Mets

41%

2012

Kenley Jansen Dodgers

39.30%

The nastiness started with his fastball, whose velocity was up a tick to 97.6 mph from 96.92 mph last year. That speed was accompanied by some solid upward  and armside run, according to Pitch F/X. He threw it about 2/3 of the time and used it primarily early in the count and to catch up when he was behind. Throwing it for strikes over 63% of the time, he was able to utilize it very effectively when he needed it. The nastiness finished with his curveball, which was faster than most curveballs, averaging 86.46 mph, and bit severely downward and gloveside at the last second.  He used it primary when he was ahead in the count and induced whiffs over half the times it was swung at.

 

Besides strike-ing out everyone and their mothers, he was able to prevent runners from getting on base. He finished the season with a microscopic .654 WHIP. This was partially because of a strong improvement in command – he only issued 14 walks the whole season, good for a real solid 6.1%.  Furthermore, he induced groundballs just about half the time, helping him limit his babip to .250. He was relatively capable of keeping the ball in the park. He was hurt somewhat by his high 9.7 HR/FB ratio, but since he dropped his FB rate to 31.6%, homeruns weren’t too much of a factor (even if we all remember them because they were in the 9th inning).

 

Kimbrel has certainly had a season for the ages. The Braves only paid little more than half a million for him last year. And he’s still a year away from arbitration eligibility, so we will have him on the cheap again next year.  I find it hard to believe that Kimbrel will keep up the same pace again next year. Its extremely hard to maintain such dominance. Provided he stays healthy, I would expect Kimbrel to still have a very strong year perhaps on par with his 2011 rookie year. Of course, relievers (besides Mariano Rivera) are nigh impossible to predict. Jonny Venters is a good example of this. If closer history tells us anything, even 3 years down the road, Kimbrel could only be a shadow of his 2012 self. However, for next year, there is nothing to indicate that he will drop off very much, and I’m pretty excited to watch him pitch again.

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  • Walt Coogan

    … good article, nicely blending statistical analysis with an understanding of the game and showing how they mirror each other in Kimbrel’s case. This mistake may just constitute a typo, but it should be “primarily,” not “primary.”