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.

 

Tags: Atlanta Braves

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