Philadelphia – As dominant a year as Braves closer Craig Kimbrel is having, he’s got some stiff competition at the top of the National League.
Cincinnati Reds closer Aroldis Chapman is having a pretty good year of his own. The Cuban defector with the 100 mph fastball had 100 strikeouts to Kimbrel’s 73 entering play Wednesday. And he’d struck out 16.77 per nine innings compared to Kimbrel’s 15.64.
Kimbrel had Chapman beat in ERA (1.29 to 1.34) and opponents’ batting average (.120 to .129). Kimbrel also lead in the most important statistic of all – saves. Kimbrel was 31 of 33 in save opportunities, while Chapman was 25 of 29.
Braves catcher Brian McCann has caught one and faced the other – going 0-for-3 with one strikeout against Chapman – and he’s taking Kimbrel in a pickup game.
“In my opinion there’s not anybody better,” McCann said. “I think (Chapman’s) problem was his control, and he’s starting to throw more strikes. He sits at 98, 99 mph so it’s an uncomfortable at-bat. I think Craig has got the best 1, 2 pitches in the game – his fastball, curveball. Both of those pitches are at the top of what a major league curveball is and what a major league fastball is. That’s what makes him so effective. He doesn’t walk many people.”
Chapman has cut down his walks this season too, with 2.3 per nine innings, compared to Kimbrel’s 2.4.
It would make for an interesting decision if National League Cy Young voters decide to give those two some attention. Only two relievers have won a Cy Young in the past 20 years – Dennis Eckersley for the Athletics in 1992 and Eric Gagne for the Dodgers in 2003. And they both had save totals in the 50s – Eckersley with 51 and Gagne with 55.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, for one, thinks the Cy Young should be a starting pitcher’s award, based on how many more innings they throw and the fact that relievers have the Rolaids Relief Man award. But relievers can get Cy Young consideration if they rack up saves, and it’s a mediocre year statistically for the top starters.
Russ Ortiz went 21-7 in 2003 for the Braves but with a 3.81 ERA and 102 walks in 212 1/3 innings. Gagne matched John Smoltz’s National League save record with 55, but without blowing a single save.