Tuesday, July 9, 2013

2013 Atlanta Braves Myths: Part V

A rarely witnessed event occurred last tonight.  No, not the 14 inning affair that saw the Braves plate six in the top of the 14th to win 7-1.  That is a little rare, I will grant you, but something a bit stranger happened in the 11th inning and it's a reason to bring back the 2013 myths.

1. Atlanta doesn't make productive outs because of strikeouts.
2. Atlanta seems to fall behind early and has to play catch-up.
3. Atlanta can't win if they keep striking out so much!
4. Anyone would be better than Uggla! 

5. Unless Its a Save Situation, Don't Use Kimbrel.

This one is a modern take on an old stand-by from "Old Cliches to Manage By", co-authored by 394 former managers.  The idea is that closers, unburden by the ever-pressing need to save a game, lose their drive, their mojo, their killer instinct when the game is tied.  Knowing this, and never one to go against the grain, Fredi Gonzalez has seemingly refused to bring in Craig Kimbrel unless it's a save situation, a tie-game at home in the ninth inning, or just for work.

However, does Kimbrel actually struggle based on unfamiliar situations?  Depends on whether or not you believe in sample size.  If you looked at just this year's numbers, those stats would say yes.  In non-save situations, a prospect Kimbrel has rarely been called upon during this season, Kimbrel's opposing hitters are slashing .304/.429/.391.  Even though Kimbrel hasn't been quite as dominating as he was last season, those numbers are not good.   However, it's never wise to base anything on 28 plate appearances.  Kimbrel, before last night's game, had been used in all of six non-save situations and despite the astounding amount of baserunners, only one run scored.

Over his career, the numbers become even less notable.  Hitters have hit just .165/.280/.242 against Kimbrel in non-save situations, good for a 15.5 K/9 rate and a 1.22 ERA.  That mimics his career numbers.

Well, most of those games are tie games!  Surely, when he's just getting work for work's sake, Kimbrel sucks the proverbial big one, right?  After all, that's all Joe Simpson used to say about Rafael Soriano.

Again, wrong.  Hitters OPS a miserable .474 when the difference is four runs.  I'll throw out the numbers for when the margin is bigger than four runs because Kimbrel has only logged 64 plate appearances against hitters in those situations.  The .474 OPS with a four run margin is almost the same as when there is a 3-run margin.  When the margin is just one run, hitters OPS a much better (relatively speaking) .561 OPS.  When it's a tie game, like it was tonight, hitters OPS just .532.

Fortunately, very few people still support this myth that seems entirely built on observational bias.  There is absolutely zero proof that Kimbrel suffers when it's not a save situation or even when it's a blowout.  Kimbrel seems perfectly capable of pitching in a variety of situations and tossed a perfect 1,2,3 inning in the 11th during a tied 1-1 game to get the game into the 12th.  I'm sure in the future, I will complain that Gonzalez fails to utilize Kimbrel for the "save" when it's most important (not always the ninth), but in the case of this myth, it's completely debunked.  Kimbrel is still the same dominating pitcher regardless of score.  He doesn't require a save situation to be himself.  He just is.

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