Wednesday, July 10, 2013

What's Wrong With Kimbrel?

This might as well be a myth column, but let's attack this issue on its own merits.  Earlier this season, Craig Kimbrel stumbled against the Reds and several fans began to wonder if the Kimbrel of the past was already a distant memory.  It was a ridiculous notion, but one that grew with every non-perfect inning.

Since May 8th, the day where a pair of solo homers from the Reds turned a Brave victory into a loss, Kimbrel has allowed just one run (though it led to a loss after entering in a tie game), yet still, there are Braves fans throughout the interwebs concerned that Kimbrel has already shown signs of decline.

And that's how stunning Kimbrel's 2012 was.  Despite a 13.1 K/9%, a 2.46 xFIP, and a 1.05 WHIP, we have the ability to talk about how Kimbrel's production has declined.  And it should have been declining from 2012 because, short of striking out everyone he faced, Kimbrel simply couldn't have improved upon his 2012 season that saw him strike out 50.2% of the batters he faced.  Of all of the amazing numbers from last season, I find what Kimbrel did even more impressive than Miguel Cabrera's Triple Crown.  Sorry, Miggy, but you still failed quite a bit more than Kimbrel did.

Kimbrel was so good last season that its historical relevance over the last 40 seasons is ridiculously good.  With the minimum requirement of 60 innings, Kimbrel's K/9 and FIP are not just better than anybody, but there's enough of a gap to say that it was impressively better than the numbers of anyone else.  Eric Gagne's Cy Young season of 2003 is the only season that comes remotely close and despite some of the sickest stuff known to man, Gagne's K% is still notably less at 44.8%.  What Kimbrel did last season has not been respected by Braves fans, partially because Aroldis Chapman was nearly on the same level in the same year and the Wild Card game left all of Braves country with a bad taste in their mouth.

Regardless, what Kimbrel did in 2012 was HISTORIC.  What he has done this season has simply been damn good.  Sure, he's certain to walk more people than he did last season (already has 12 walks to 14 last season, though he also two more intentional passes than he did last season (which was zero)).  He's surely going to be charged with more runs than he was in 2012 as well (already charged with six earned runs to seven last season).  And he would have to be perfect to avoid passing his amount of blown saves from last season (already tied at three).

Yet, Kimbrel has been one of the best pitchers in baseball.  I mentioned his K/9, xFIP, and WHIP.  He might also have the wickedest breaking ball in the game at 5.8 wins above average.  His fastball, though it has sustained the average velocity, hasn't been as killer this season or maybe guys are just getting luckier.  Maybe he has tipped it off from time-to-time.  Maybe because his control hasn't been as spot-on, guys are getting into more fastball counts and succeeding because of it.

But their success is often short-lived as Kimbrel routinely puts up a goose egg.  In his 33 appearances, the opposing squad has scored four times.  They may be doing a better job at getting on base, but having that breaking ball in his back pocket often gives Kimbrel a key out of any jam and contrary to observational bias, he doesn't have to work out of jams all that often.

He hasn't been the Superman of 2012.  But he definitely has been an absolute force on the mound.

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