Saturday, January 3, 2015

Favorite Braves List - Closer

(Previous information on this series can be found here. Of importance, this is not a best list, but a favorites list since I started to follow the Braves. That limits options from 1991-to-now.)

Favorite Braves List (so far)
Ace Starter - Greg Maddux
#2 Starter - John Smoltz
#3 Starter - Tim Hudson
#4 Starter - Tom Glavine

Catcher - Brian McCann
First Base - Fred McGriff
Second Base - Marcus Giles
Shortstop - Andrelton Simmons
Third Base - Chipper Jones 
Left Field - Ryan Klesko
Center Field - Andruw Jones

Honorable Mention: Hard not to mention what Mark Wohlers did for the Braves. Even if reading his twitter account is like delving into the mind of a nut-job who overcompensates with his love for guns, he got the final out in 1995 and that alone deserves a mention. Kerry Ligtenberg was one of my favorites, too. His pitching was almost as awesome as his facial hair. Mike Gonzalez was insanely frustrating, but when he was on, he was a joy to watch.

Favorite Braves List - Closer
Craig Kimbrel

I'm a dork.

I can admit that so I have that going for me. If you have been a reader of this blog, you didn't need to be told about it, though. You already are well aware that I'm just a dork. And one thing that gets my dorkometer going is ridiculous numbers that you expect out of a video game on rookie level. Guys like Kimbrel provide that. Last season, Fangraphs re-classified Kimbrel's secondary pitch as a knuckle-curve. They used to call a slider. Neither are correct. Kimbrel's spiked curveball, or power curve, is downright ridiculous. He threw 287 of them last year. Hitters made contact on less than half of them. Of that half they didn't make contact on, almost a quarter of his spiked curve's were swung through. The spiked curveball resulted in 45 strikeouts. Only nine times in 297 usages of the pitch did the hitter reach safely via a hit. Just one resulted in a homer. For a dork like me, I feel like I'm cheating on my wife by looking at these numbers. Don't judge me.

For the last four seasons, Kimbrel has not only dominated the National League (he has led the league in saves in each season), but he has been remarkably durable. He has saved nearly 50 more than the second place guy, pitched in the eleventh most games, and logged the 8th most relief innings. His ERA despite arguably been overused? 1.51. Oh, that's the top in the league for that time frame. If you add his 21 games of work as a middle reliever during the 2010 season, he has a 1.43 ERA in 289 career innings. Of pitchers with 250 or more innings in the long history of baseball, only three players have an ERA under 2.00. Ed Walsh (1.82) and Addie Joss (1.89) join Kimbrel with that elite honor. Granted, they did it in over 2300 innings each, but they also had the spitball. So, even-Stevens?

The most amazing thing about Kimbrel is that while his stuff was never questioned, there was significant questions about whether or not he would find the strikezone enough to be an effective major league pitcher. You're talking about a guy who walked 5.6 per nine innings in the minor leagues. A comparable pitcher to what we thought Kimbrel was limited to was John Axford, a fine righty who has logged 116 saves since 2010, but a guy whose control has limited his effectiveness. You could reasonably have assumed that was Kimbrel's future when he came to the majors. Instead, he has showed unfair control, dropping his only weakness in favor of a walk rate of just 3.36 BB/9 with a low of 2.01.

Another crazy thing is that Kimbrel hasn't been as good the last two seasons as he was in 2012, when he struck out half of all batters he faced. While fangraphs doesn't chart K% that far back, only Aroldis Chapman last year has been able to replicate a percentage of 50% or better. Kimbrel only walked about 6% that year, leaving him with a difference of 44% between the two percentages. Only Chapman eclipses 40%. Kimbrel's FIP that year of 0.78 is eight points lower than the second best season. That season allowed Eric Gagne to win a Cy Young. Kimbrel finished fifth. I'm not a proponent of giving relievers the Cy Young, but damn, if you are going to do it, Kimbrel's 2012 was deserving. Just because there was a feel-good story of a knuckleballer in New York doesn't trump that Kimbrel was super awesome.

Of course, a Kimbrel appreciation article is incomplete without mentioning his pre-pitch stance. It's been called Kimbreling (I guess since wikipedia says so). It's been hilariously mocked. It only adds to the aura of Kimbrel, a guy with filthy stuff that despite being a luxury on a team likely going through a down period, is considered untouchable. He's one of a kind and a worthy addition to the Walk-Off Walk Favorite Braves squad.

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