Craig Kimbrel (by Rob Cope)

Having the same dominant closer for many years is a luxury that a mid-market team basically cannot afford — honestly, considering how few dominant closers are able to keep their stuff for more than a few years, it’s a luxury that hardly anyone can afford. The Braves have been very fortunate to have a revolving door of reasonably dominant closers in a stop-gap role over the past few years, starting after the atrocious Reitsma/Wickman era. From Mike Gonzalez to Rafael Soriano to Billy Wagner and now to the Kraken, the Braves have been able to rotate out a position that many teams struggle to fill with short-term solutions.

For the most part, the Braves have had fairly good luck with closers, over the past two decades. Looking back to the 90s, Wohlers to Ligtenberg to Rocker to Smoltz also gave us 9 years of great closers. Today, the responsibilities have been placed on the broad, sturdy shoulders of Craig Kimbrel.

Kimbrel was drafted in the third round out of Wallace State Community College in Hanceville, AL in 2008 (the second time the Braves drafted him). Kimbrel blew through all levels of the minor leagues and ended up in AAA at the end of his second professional season. After a half-season in Gwinnett during the 2010 season, Kimbrel was called up to Atlanta and immediately began his run of dominance. Some fun highlights of his 21 games: an ERA+ of 914, 40 K’s in 20.2 IP, and only 9 hits allowed.

In 2011, Kimbrel burst onto the national scene when he began the season as Atlanta’s closer and the show-stopper of the O’Ventbrel trio. He finished the season with an ERA+ of 183, leading the league in saves, earning an All-Star game appearance, and the Rookie of the Year award. Kimbrel was almost entirely uncontested for the award, as Freddie Freeman finished second with no first place votes.

2012 saw nearly unprecedented levels of dominance. In perhaps one of the greatest seasons ever by a reliever and one that will surely see him get some Cy Young love, Kimbrel was almost literally unhittable. 16.9 K/9, an ERA+ of 399, and one again leading the league in saves made Atlanta’s bullpen once again best in the league. If you could translate that level of dominance to a starting pitcher, Kimbrel would have had an easy shot at the Cy Young. He’ll have to settle for the Rolaids Relief Man award.

Kimbrel is an incredibly valuable asset that the Braves are incredibly fortunate to have. He made $590k in 2012 and he will see a bump in 2013, which is his last year before arbitration. So the Braves will have to make a decision before 2014. Will the Braves allocate the money that he will most certainly deserve, seek to buy out his arbitration years, or trade him before he becomes a $10M a year player on a team with a limited budget? I’m not a major league GM, but I would have to say that within the next two years, Craig will become a luxury the Braves simply will not be able to afford.

Kimbrel is 5’10”, and has a delivery that causes him to throw across his body with a violent ending, and I would be very hesitant to commit to him long-term. With the Braves’ success of developing closers and relievers overall, we ought to enjoy Kimbrel’s success until he reaches a salary that we simply can’t justify.

In the meantime, gosh, what a sight to enjoy.

40 thoughts on “Craig Kimbrel (by Rob Cope)”

  1. Solid job, Rob. I feel like a proud uncle, as I am pretty sure you were in high school when you first started posting here.

  2. Summed it up nicely, Rob.

    Elite closers (and elite bullpens) are luxuries. The prevailing wisdom from those of us in the propeller-head baseball community is that you are best off not paying top dollar, or even average dollar, for relievers. Use young, cheap guys while you can and then let them walk. For every nice Billy Wagner deal, there seem to be two or three Ryan Madson/Heath Bell deals that prove high cost relievers aren’t worth the risk (although who outside of Miami really thought Bell was a good idea?).

    The only problem is that the moneyball bullpen model requires that you be able to pump out quality relievers from the farm system. Fill your farm with hard throwers that might pan out and starters who couldn’t and some of them will end up working out as relievers. This sounds easy enough, but for a while it seemed like the Braves couldn’t get any young relievers to the majors that were any good. Then Kimbrel, Venters and O’Flaherty happened.

    One of the worst parts about the pretty disappointing endings to the last 3 season has been the feeling that the Braves blew their chance to go through a playoff run with a damn good bullpen. Would have been the most confident in late inning playoff games since Rocker, Remlinger and Seanez were doing their thing ages ago.

    Let’s hope we finally get to see this bullpen push the team deep into October 2013, because this is probably the last run for the O’Ventbril era.

  3. Good work Rob!

    Hey everyone! Guess whose team is getting a new coach next year? NOt just Bethany’s!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. I would seriously consider trading Kimbrel after the 2014 season when his salary would get too unreasonable for the Braves but not for the big market teams. With two years left for arbitration, his trade value would still be pretty high.

  5. News from the Dominican:

    Elsewhere in the league, Atlanta Braves infielder Juan Francisco knocked the 37th homer of his career in the Dominican League with the Licey Tigres to move into 15th place all-time. The top three posts belong to former Kansas City Royals outfielder Mendy Lopez (61), former major leaguer Felix Jose (60) and Dominican legend Rico Carty (59).

  6. on extending Kimbrel:

    1. We have this year at league minimum (or whatever bonus the Braves put on that) (Year 3). Last year the bonus was 110,000 or so.
    2. He will probably arb at 20 / 40 / 60 of estimated FA contract Years 4, 5, and 6). With his production that will be max at about 3 mill, 6 mill, 9 mill.
    3. Then, you will have the ability to offer a qualifying offer which will probably near 15 mill by then.
    4. If he stays healthy and maintains this production (or anything near) he will get at least a 4 year offer of at least 18 per year (assumes 30% or so salary inflation as the new national contracts kick in in 2014).
    5. At least 5% chance that he has an injury in those 4 years that permanently significantly lowers his value.
    6. At least 10% chance on top of the 5 that he misses most of a season in those 4 years.
    7. If you DON’T guarantee him into the future, then you can non tender him in case of 5 above or in case of 6 above entering year 6 or maybe even entering Year 5.
    8. So, to insure Kimbrel’s production (guaranteeing him money) you probably need to vest the lower end fo the arb scale and get two club option years at 9 mill each. Otherwise, just play it year to year.

  7. Personally, I’m fine going year-to-year on Kimberl. Relievers are just so volatile that unless the Braves get a tremendous discount, it doesn’t make sense to lock him in at a fixed rate. There’s just too much of a chance that he falls off. (Witness: Venters, 2012.) And not that he couldn’t still be effective at 70 or 80% of his current level. Just that paying for 100% of it, or even 90% is unlikely to end well, and that’s even before you consider whether or not Atlanta can pay for it.

    So anyway, my preference here is to just go year-to-year. I don’t think anyone’s going to go overboard with a trade offer, so just keep paying as little as you can for Kimbrel and then make a decision either when he reaches his last year of arbitration or when he reaches free agency.

    In the meantime, it’ll continue to be awesome to watch him. Seeing him blow people away has honestly been one of the most entertaining things to watch from the Braves these past two years.

  8. I think there’s a real possibility that Kimbrel will have an injury that will nullify any decisions to make. Especially in 2011, he has been ridden pretty hard, he throws very hard for his frame, and he has a lot of torque in his mechanics.

    It seemed Bobby was pretty unapologetic about running relievers into the ground because they are so fungible. My hope is Atlanta continues to do the same, uses Kimbrel for everything he’s got, and let it fall where it may. For the greater good, I think it’s best.

    After all, Bond gets shot in Skyfall. It was the right thing to do.

    Yep, I’m obsessed.

  9. I’ll go the other way on Kimbrel and say a multi-year contract is the way to go. Most relievers are fungible, even closers — but Kimbrel isn’t A closer. He’s THE closer. The value he adds over and above even a pretty good closer is well worth the risk that he might lose some time to injury.

  10. I remember ububba’s comments about Quantum of Solace, so that is legitimately high praise.

    After four years of hiatus, I’m glad they got it right. There’s a perfect blend of tradition and modernism in there. I would argue that Silva is probably the best villain in the series, even considering Fleming’s creations (Dr. No, Blofeld, Scaramanga, etc.). Craig also gets the Bond character down after some near-misses.

  11. I think the screenplay has borrowed from some of the better superhero movies in that there’s more attention & (dare I say) depth given to the characters and their backstories, etc.

    IMO, it’s way better than just having the experience go all wiz-bang all the time.

    I’m sure I’m showing my age here, but at a certain point too much CGI actually gets boring to me. I kinda need to invest in the characters at least a little bit.

    But more importantly, Rob, and I haven’t had a chance to bring it up because things have been pretty crazy around here, but… how ’bout them Dogs? ;)

  12. Planning on seeing it tomorrow. Because I’m a cheapskate and not as into movies as the next guy, I don’t go to the theater much. But for Bond? Sure.

  13. I agree with 23 & 24. Some talents are so transcendent that the risk/reward and on-field-production/$ equations aren’t the only or best way to decide the future. I mean, Kimbrel’s forearm may well go cartwheeling off into the stands trailing a rainbow of gore at some point. But in the meantime, he is blowing away batters in a way that has literally never been seen before and that creates fans. Which is important for a fast-growing metro area with a lot of yankee transplants and a whole bunch of baseball playing kids searching for a sports identity. Not to mention the jersey and gate sales are going to matter a lot more in the next few years, what with our junky TV deal.

  14. I’m quickly reaching a point — both from my experience as a Braves fan and just from learning more about the game — where I don’t take the playoffs or winning the World Series seriously. I guess the next step would be the erosion of my team loyalty, but as that hasn’t happened yet for some reason, I’d like to see Kimbrel stay a Brave as long as he remains otherworldly.

  15. I’d love to see Kimbrel get a 4-5 year deal if they can get it done for relatively cheap, but there’s no way the current Budget Braves can tie up even close to as much money per year in a closer as he’d be likely to get elsewhere, so it would, for me, have to depend on how much Craig wants be in Atlanta.

    On Skyfall, I really, really enjoyed it, but there were a few times where it dragged on and a couple plot stupidities. I personally liked Casino Royale better of the Daniel Craig Bond movies.

  16. Forget about Kimbrel’s role and focus on how many extra wins he buys. There were 33 pitchers last season who recorded at least 15 saves. The midpoint (#17) in BBRef WAR was Glen Perkins of the Twins, with 1.2. Kimbrel had a 3.2 WAR, making for a 2.0 WAMCl (Wins Above Midpoint Closer). Here are the corresponding players at other positions with a 2.0 WAMs:

    WAMC – Carlos Santana
    WAM1B – Paul Goldschmidt
    WAM2B – Aaron Hill
    WAMSS – none
    WAM3B – Brett Lawrie
    WAMOF – Alex Rios, Angel Pagan, Matt Holliday

    These are not the best players in baseball, but they’re all slam-dunk multi-year contract players — especially the infielders, who are more or less around Kimbrel’s age and experience level.

  17. Hunter is friends with Heyward and they spoke about him joining the Braves.
    interesting for 1or 2 years at most.

  18. So we turned down a Mike Olt for Andrelton Simmons offer. Texas wanted Simmons to flip him for Upton. It looks like we will be out on the Upton sweepstakes or Simmons will have to be included on our end.

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