After posting a 0.44 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, and 2.50 K/BB in 20.6 innings last season, most people correctly assumed Craig Kimbrel would grab hold of the Atlanta Braves closer gig, and never let go. That has been more than the case in 2011. In just his second Major League season, the 23 year-old has become the best closer in the National League.
Kimbrel’s 2.03 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 4.28 K/BB, and 45 Saves speak to that point perfectly. Even though the righty’s control can be a little suspect at times (3.46 BB/9), his outstanding 14.81 K/9 more than makes up for the league-averague walk rate. Without a doubt, Kimbrel is a very dominant closer. However, as scary as it is to think, Kimbrel’s special 2011 season might just be the tip of the iceberg.
According to his 1.44 FIP and 1.85 xFIP, Kimbrel’s already studly 2.03 ERA appears to be a tad underachieving. His stingy ERA is all supported by the righty’s extremely modest .309 BABIP. This means that while the closer has only given up 5.49 Hits/9, it’s actually a maintainable rate–despite how rare it is. One cannot poke any Sabermetric holes in this guy.
And even though 2010 was a small sample size, Kimbrel has improved across the boards from it in 2011. Control might never be a strong suit for the pitcher, but improving from a dismal 6.97 BB/9 to a more respectable 3.46 BB/9 illustrates his immediate maturation. If Kimbrel could somehow reduce that rate even further, one has to wonder how an opposing batter will ever reach base.
Speaking of unhittability, Kimbrel has controlled batters with two star pitches, his fastball (worth 12.1 runs above average) and slider (worth 13 runs above average). Considering those pitches were “only” worth 3.8 and 2.9 runs above average last season, respectively, it is yet another marked improvement. Also, both his fastball (from 95.4 MPH to 96.2 MPH) and slider (from 84.7 MPH to 86.8 MPH) have already seen pleasant average spikes in just one season. His dominant pitches too shed light on how Kimbrel maintains one of the lowest contract rates (63.4%) among all Major League pitchers. In addition, he not only owns one of the highest wiff rates (15.9%) in baseball, but also boasts a fab 32.7% non-strike swinging percentage, and microscopic 44.3% non-strike contact rate.
These peripherals simply do not grow on trees, but somehow, the Braves have a very ripe peach tree in their bullpen with Craig Kimbrel and Johnny Venters (who deserves an article of his own).