The 44 Greatest Atlanta Braves, #22: Craig Kimbrel (by bledsoe)

No. 22: Craig Kimbrel
Braves Seasons: 2010-2014
Right-handed Relief Pitcher
15-10; ERA 1.43, WHIP 0.903, 186 SV, 289 IP

A comet.

It is difficult to overstate how good this guy was. He blew away Smoltz’s club record for saves in 3 ½ seasons, leading the league in saves each year. In 2012, he had 42 saves with an ERA of 1.01 and a WHIP of 0.654 with 16.7 K/9, 116 Ks, and 14 walks. His FIP was 0.78 that year. For comparison, the single season FIP record (only starters qualify due to IP requirements) is Christy Mathewson in 1908 with a 1.287. (With that year, Kimbrel finished fifth in the Cy Young, which is simply risible. R.A. Dickey won.)

Kimbrel’s career ERA of 1.63 is the lowest in the history of baseball for pitchers with at least 300 IP.

Out of Huntsville, AL, Craig was a third round draft pick from Wallace State CC in 2008. If you don’t remember his minor league years, that’s because he didn’t have many. He made his MLB debut less than two years later at the age of 21 on May 7, 2010. Rookie of the Year in 2011. TSN NL Pitcher of the Year in 2013 and 2014.

Mariano Rivera? Don’t want to hear about it. For the four years he was a Brave, no one was better in all of baseball than Kimbrel. I can’t find a four year stretch in Rivera’s career anywhere that is as good as CK’s four years in Atlanta (although his 2008-11 is close). The only reliever I can recall from memory that was as utterly dominant for 2-3 seasons was Billy Wagner in his Houston days. For his short Braves career, Kimbrel was better than Sutter, Lee Smith, Eckersley, Hoffman. His ERA+ as a Brave was 266. Among the few closers who make the minimum 1000 IP, Rivera leads that stat with 205 (he’s the career leader for all pitchers), Quisenberry 146, Hoffman 141, Franco 138, Sutter 136, Lee Smith 132. God, I hated to see him go.

Obviously, Rivera and those other relievers were very, very good for a much longer period of time. Kimbrel’s numbers in San Diego fell significantly off his ridiculous career marks, but he seemed to find his stride in the second half. Where does he wind up? He’s already 39th in career saves with peripherals that stand up against anybody. The Hall of Fame has not been generous with closers. Of true closers, only Eckersley, Fingers, Gossage and Sutter have made it in, but voters’ resistance to the role seems to be weakening. Rivera is a lock and Trevor Hoffman should eventually make it. We’ll have to see if Kimbrel can avoid injury, Wohler’s Disease, or getting hit by a train. But if he does, he’ll be a real candidate.

I had some difficulty ranking him. It’s hard to balance his phenomenal impact with his very short Braves career. Sure he’s got more saves than Garber. But Garber pitched a lot longer for the Braves in a time when the role of Closer™ was not quite as strictly defined. I finally settled on No. 22, below McGriff (sliding to 21 in the new list) and above Ralph Garr. That feels right, but if you want to rank him 3 slots higher or 3 lower, you could easily defend that position. If you want to go on peak value, he’s in the top ten easy.

29 thoughts on “The 44 Greatest Atlanta Braves, #22: Craig Kimbrel (by bledsoe)”

  1. Fun fact about Kimbrel (there are so many) — prior to his 2012 season, no pitcher in major league history had ever struck out 45% of the batters he faced in a season in which he faced at least 100. Kimbrel struck out 50.2% of the 231 batters he faced that year.

  2. I’m more than a little mad that we called him the Kraken instead of the Comet. Krakens are everywhere right now. Having our own comet for a while would have been special.

  3. “Kraken” starts with “K,” it was unavoidable.

    I did like Jason Isbell’s suggestion of “Redneck Rivera,” though.

  4. Loved Kimbrel, truly hated to see him go. His trade put me in a state of ambivalence that I haven’t felt since Chuck Tanner was manager.

    Unfortunately, 2 of the biggest moments ever presented to Kimbrel, he coughed up: Game 3 2010 NLDS vs. SF & that final 2011 regular-season game vs. Philly in 2011. (And, of course, there was that big moment he never got to face — 8th inning, Game 4 vs. LA in the 2013 NLDS.)

    I mention this because anytime anyone wants to compare any reliever to Mariano Rivera, I invite them to look at Rivera’s post-season stats. You cannot make any comparison to him without mentioning that. You can talk about regular seasons and I certainly get that, but Rivera’s true greatness was realized in the biggest baseball games played during a 15-year period.

    That’s why, quality-wise, Rivera is Nirvana & Trevor Hoffman, who rarely saw a truly big moment that didn’t make him shrivel, is Bush (or Silverchair) — successful, yes, but true comparisons don’t really work.

    Kimbrel is terrific, but, like anyone else, he’s still got a ways to go before he’s mentioned next to Rivera.

    From previous thread…

    The Mets didn’t get swept in the 2000 WS. They won Game 3 of that series.

  5. @5

    Kimbrel certainly had his share of responsibility for 2011. A blown save here or there is going to happen, but when every single win matters so much and your team is holding on by its fingernails, you can’t afford to blow a ninth-inning lead, and he had a couple of devastating blown saves in September of that year.

    I had honestly forgotten about him blowing a save in the final game in 2011. We had had a month-long collapse which had completely numbed the senses by that point. And even if he closes that game out, we had a one-game playoff with St. Louis that I think we were all pretty sure we were going to lose. But you’re right, he did blow the save in that game.

    He had two others that stick in my mind more, though. First, there was the game in St. Louis early in September that, had we won, would’ve ended the wild card race right there in all likelihood. And the most ignominious Kimbrel blown save of all, in my opinion, is the loss in Florida where Chipper lost the high chopper in the lights and Kimbrel then served one up on a tee for Omar Infante. So in talking about 2011, I agree that he shriveled a bit, along with the entire team, obviously.

    Not so sure how much responsibility he has for the other one, though. Forgetting the fact that he was a rookie who wasn’t even actually our closer at that point, the right move in 2010 would’ve been to leave Kimbrel in to face Aubrey Huff, allowing him the opportunity to get out of the jam anyway, especially since Mike Dunn had a severe reverse platoon split. So I don’t really remember Kimbrel as the goat of that situation. Brooks Conrad, Bobby Cox and Mike Dunn are all higher than Kimbrel in responsibility for that loss, in my mind.

    And 2013 is obviously a combination of Fredi and Carpenter, with Kimbrel sitting there stewing in the bullpen.

  6. Texas is replacing Mike Maddux.

    We oughta hire him. McDowell has had a lot of success in Atlanta, but nothing seemed to work last year, and all of our young pitchers other than Shelby appeared to take a step back. I would be willing to replace McDowell with Mike Maddux.

  7. @8 Amen, since I think that might lasso in Greg as well. I think he has some position with the Rangers, no?

  8. MLBTR

    Expected Contract

    I can picture Boras coming out of the gates seeking Russell Martin/Brian McCann money for Wieters, meaning five years and $82-85MM. I don’t think he’ll get there, but I’m predicting a four-year, $64MM deal, even with a qualifying offer.

  9. New Hardcore History pod out today. If you haven’t listened to Dan Carlin before, you really should.

  10. Faton Bauta to make his 1st start at QB for UGA in Jacksonville this Saturday.

    Hey, it’s not like it’s a big game or anything… nonetheless, it’s hard to imagine the offense as previously constituted (Lambert, with no Chubb) doing too much damage anyway. Hopefully, Bauta can put his feet to good work.

    And I’ll assume the Vegas point spread just jumped a bit.

  11. Hey guys! Thanks to all that have read my pieces over at TT. Unfortunately, due to life getting incredibly busy with a new baby, my articles are going to cease. With that being, said, here’s my last piece, an actual piece, not a rosterbation/analysis/rumor piece, rather a piece I’m very proud of. Thanks again…I’ll likely be here much more regularly as this has always been my Braves home!

  12. Great story on Tomahawk Take, especially for us old folks who remember that time too well. Thanks, Ryan.

  13. @14, Florida should win this game by three TDs. The line being so close is really interesting. I wouldn’t touch this game.

    Richt has painted himself into a corner. Bauta plays great and then you gotta wonder what they were seeing in practice to warrant the other bozos getting snaps. Bauta plays bad and he’ll be roasted for playing someone with no game experience in the biggest game of the year.

    I like it though. Lambert can’t win the game. It’s unlikely anyone on that team can…but at least he’s trying to give us a shot.

  14. I actually give the edge to UGA. I think their defense will be able to stop Florida. UGA still has athletes on offense that can make big plays.

  15. #27
    UF’s offense is not especially scary, no.

    But without Chubb (and probably without McKenzie) they have fewer playmakers. Sony Michel is a talent, but he’s not a workhorse. They have to make some plays thru the air (or the QB with his feet), something to keep the D honest.

    If UGA had Chubb, they could win. Not sure as they’re currently constituted. Curious to see what Bauta will bring.

    But I’ll take a low-scoring Ugly Bowl, sure.

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