Kimbrel’s dizzying pace: 50 K’s, 1 walk past 28 innings

Craig Kimbrel is less than loquacious when it comes to discussing himself and what’s made him, at 24, arguably the best closer in baseball.

But Braves teammates will go on at length about the boyish-looking Alabama native with a right arm like Thor’s hammer.

After striking out all three Houston batters he faced in the ninth inning Friday, Kimbrel had an absurd 50 strikeouts and one walk in 28 innings over his past 28 appearances.

“I’d put him up there in the same category with [Eric] Gagne among the guys I’ve caught,” said veteran Braves backup catcher David Ross, who played for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2003 when Gagne won the National League Cy Young Award, converting all 55 of his save opportunities and posting a 1.20 ERA with 137 strikeouts and 20 walks in 82-1/3 innings.

“When Gagne was on that streak [84 consecutive saves converted] it was a joke; he wasn’t on the same playing field as anybody else,” Ross said. “I put Craig in that category, of guys I’ve caught. I was on a team with [Trevor] Hoffman, I was on a team with Wags [Billy Wagner] and with Gagne. Three of the top closers in the game for periods of time. And Craig’s in that category for me.”

After posting a 2.10 ERA with a 4-to-1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio in 2011, when he tied for the NL saves lead (46) and was a unanimous choice for NL Rookie of the Year, Kimbrel has been even better in 2012.

He had a 1.29 ERA with 73 strikeouts and 11 walks in 42 innings before Saturday. He was tied for the league lead with 31 saves (in 33 chances) and had a majors-leading 6.0 runners allowed per nine innings. No other reliever was below 7.0.

“He’s so young that you hate to say ‘finished product],’” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “But he is pretty close.”

After giving up a run apiece in back-to-back appearances May 2 and May 4, Kimbrel allowed eight hits and two runs in his past 31 appearances before Saturday.

“There’s a lot of good pitchers in the game,” Braves pitcher Kris Medlen said, “but if Craig can keep it up there’s no doubt he’s going to be one of the best closers of all time.”

Kimbrel’s .120 opponents’ batting average for the season included a microscopic .055 (4-f0r-73) with 41 strikeouts by left-handed batters. And he’s right-handed.

“Every time I watch him it’s like, it’s not fair,” Braves reliever Jonny Venters said, shaking his head. “He’s locked in.”

Ross added, “I mean, when he comes out there, you really feel like the game’s over. A two-run lead feels like six.”

Wagner pitched for the Braves in 2010, the last year of the left-handed closer’s illustrious career and one of his finest. At 38, he had 37 saves and a 1.37 ERA for the Braves, with 104 strikeouts and 22 walks in 69-1/3 innings.

As good as Wagner was on the field, tips he provided in the bullpen and clubhouse might prove even more valuable for the Braves in the long run. Venters, Eric O’Flaherty, Medlen and others who were part of the 2010 bullpen say Wagner went out of his way to share advice and experiences with other Braves relievers, and particularly with Kimbrel during spring training and when the then-prospect was called up several times from Triple-A.

“As a young guy, any kind of hanging out and talking that you can do with the older players helps,” Medlen said. “Any time you can talk to a guy that’s been here that long [Wagner] or for any time at all, it’s going to help you. It definitely helped Craig. You can see that. He’s the best closer in baseball. Best reliever in baseball.

“[Wagner] volunteered to take him under his wing. He saw the potential. He was right, obviously.”

Venters said, “I think being able to spend time with Billy was huge for him. Because they were kind of getting [Kimbrel] ready for that [closer] role, and to learn from one of the top five that ever did it… And he was so willing to help us and share with us things that he’s learned and things that he did. I think we all benefited a great deal and in different ways.

“When Craig came up his stuff was great, but I don’t think he had as good of an idea as he does now, to what he wants to do. Having Billy down there to tell him, ‘Just go right at hitters. Throw strikes.’ Because both of them have stuff that’s just filthy. If you get ahead of guys you’ve really got a chance to be successful.”

16 comments Add your comment

Brvs1fan

August 4th, 2012
7:19 pm

B_F 54

August 4th, 2012
7:20 pm

rhaiz r blaide

August 4th, 2012
7:21 pm

We finally have a closer- As good as the Braves were for a decade and a half we always had so-so closers……Don’t know how many times Mark Wohlers or John Rocker or someone like them would walk the bases loaded before pitching out of it……If Bobby Cox had Kimbrel or Mo Rivera he would have won 6 or 7 WS’s…..No BS.

TheDude

August 4th, 2012
7:47 pm

@rhaiz r blaide, I think you’re exactly right.

shawn

August 4th, 2012
7:48 pm

Once it is all set and done, he might be as good as or better than Mariana Rivera…………

shawn

August 4th, 2012
7:50 pm

rhaiz r blaide : The way Bobby managed Braves in post season, he would not have won more than one WS…..Bobby Cox was an horrible manager during playoff and that is the fact…

bruce

August 4th, 2012
7:55 pm

Great praise for Wags!

KKKKimbrel will probably cause many more young fireballers to look at closer to start career rather than start. Would be great legacy for the young man.

bruce

August 4th, 2012
7:56 pm

Sorry, should be
KKKimbrel
three outs in ninth.

Brime Lee

August 4th, 2012
8:10 pm

Hopefully Craig remains dominant till his career end and remains as a Brave like Mo of NYY, not like Hoffy who ended his career in a different city from where he dominated.

Growler

August 4th, 2012
8:38 pm

Amazing stats, hope he finally can save the big games at the end of the year, when the season is on the line. As for Gagne, the way he collapsed so suddenly, does anything think he might have been on steroids during his streak? Love the fact Kimbrell is doing it clean.

Skeezix

August 4th, 2012
9:57 pm

Kimbrel is possibly the best player on the team. I love to see him at work. And he is still learning.

[...] The most dominant closer in baseball right now is Craig Kimbrel. No question. The guy has 50 strikeouts with 1 walk in his last 28 innings, allowing seven hits and a .077 opponents’ average in that stretch. Since giving up a run in back-to-back appearances May 2 and May 4, he’s allowed eight hits and two runs in 31 appearances (31 innings), both runs on homers. [...]

Sonnydays

August 5th, 2012
12:01 am

Lets wait until it counts before we annoint him the next coming of.

rxdawg

August 5th, 2012
2:39 am

Gagne was listed in the Mitchell report…so yes, there are plenty of people who think he was involved with steroids, including MLB itself.

longtimefan

August 5th, 2012
7:33 am

And let’s give some credit to Frank Wren for drafting Kimbrel in the third round of the first draft, 2008, that that he was GM.

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October 4th, 2013
7:26 pm

Kimbrel’s dizzying pace: 50 K’s, 1 walk past 28 innings | Atlanta Braves
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