Oct 4, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel (46) reacts after defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers in game two of the National League divisional series playoff baseball game at Turner Field. The Braves won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Player Projection: Craig Kimbrel

Through his first three full years as the Braves closer, Craig Kimbrel has been the best there is in the game of baseball. Maybe the history of baseball.

Running it up to 100 mph on occasion, and consistently bringing the heat in the upper 90s, he is a daunting presence to go against in the 9th inning for any team.

From day one his career has been a success. In 2010, he did not pitch enough for it to classify as his rookie year but he still went 4-0 with a 0.44 ERA in 21 appearances (20.2 IP). That wasn’t a mirage as he assumed the closer role in 2011 and notched 46 saves that year to win Rookie of the Year. In 2012 he had 42 saves, then reached the 50 plateau in 2013.

Overall, Kimbrel is 139 of 154 (90%) in save opportunities in his young career. To compare him to the best of all time – Mariano Rivera – who was 124 of 142 (87%) in his first three full seasons as a closer (1997-99), it makes Craig’s numbers pop out even more. Here’s some more comparisons between the two in their first three seasons:

 Opponents batting average  Kimbrel  Rivera
 Year 1  .178  .237
 Year 2  .126  .215
 Year 3  .166  .176


 WHIP  Kimbrel  Rivera
 Year 1  1.04  1.19
 Year 2  0.65  1.06
 Year 3  0.88  0.88


 E.R.A  Kimbrel  Rivera
 Year 1  2.10  1.88
 Year 2  1.01  1.91
 Year 3  1.21  1.83


What’s really staggering is if looking at the SABR stat, FIP (Fielding Independent Percentage): over this three year span Rivera’s is 3.18 and Kimbrel is 0.87. That’s in large part due to the number of strikeouts Kimbrel gets- 341:146 in this time frame.

So it’s no surprise the Braves stepped up to the plate to lock down their closer for the next four years, with an option for a fifth year.

Even though Kimbrel’s first three years have been spectacular, they still don’t quite equal what John Smoltz did in his three years (2002-04). Smoltzy was 144 for 157 (92%). It’s very close and they are both dominating and awesome – but, hey, gotta give Craig something to keep him motivated.

As long as that arm stays hot throwing gas there should be no reason to believe he’ll fade any time soon at 25/26 years old. 50 saves once again will be the mark, and at least a 90% conversion rate – that’s what is expected when you’re making $10 million + per year.


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  • fireboss

    Everyone compares to Kimbrel to Rivera and no doubt Mo was one of a kind. However the all time save percentage leader isn’t Rivera, or Kimbrel, it’s Joe Nathan. Between 2004 and 2013 he dropped below 95% only twice and never below 94%. His career 96.6% (341 0f 353 opportunities). His only year above a 2.63 ERA was the year of his TJ surgery. Excluding the TJ year his career ERA as a closer is 1.86. In his first three years he was 123 of 127 (96.8%). He’s not Kimbrel of course, he didn’t strike out hitters at the same pace (287 in 210 1/3 vs 341 in 207 2/3) and perhaps because of that and because he was a Twin no one paid a lot of attention to him. What Nathan has done the Kimbrel will have to do is eventually learn to live without his fastball and still get hitters out in the 9th. I’ve no doubt he will and if he needs advice he could do worse than talk to Joe Nathan.

    • Lee Trocinski

      Not sure where you got your numbers, but B-R has Nathan at 341 of 379 (90%), and 326 of 357 (91.3%) in his eight great years.

      I’m just worried about Kimbrel’s elbow exploding one of these days. He lands with a closed front foot, bringing his elbow way behind his shoulder, leading to his front shoulder coming open early and the arm dragging behind.

      • fireboss

        I went to his career numbers as a reliever took the 2003 – 2013 numbers then went to his sv situations in games finished and in 2004 he was 44 of 45, in 05 43 of 45, in 06 36 of 37, in 07 37 of 38, in 08 39 of 41, 09 47 of 50, in 11 14 of 14 , in 12 37 of 39 and in 13 43 of 43

        • Lee Trocinski

          That leaves out all the games where he blows the save and the game goes into extras. If you click “More Stats” on his main page, you’ll find blown saves in the middle.

  • Brandon_Woodworth

    Kimbrel player projection:

    “…yeah, he’ll be pretty good.”