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2010 Season in Review: Craig Kimbrel

Written by Joe Lucia on .

Craig Kimbrel was anointed as the Braves closer of the future after being drafted in 2008. He's a tiny dude who has an odd delivery and quite frankly, he's been nearly unhittable for his entire career. He debuted with Danville in 2008, and worked his way up to Myrtle Beach, striking out 56 and walking 15 in 35 1/3 innings. He allowed 16 hits in those 35 1/3 innings. Pretty dominant for a kid fresh out of college. 2009 was a slight step back for Kimbrel, and he spent his year at 4 levels in the organization, from Rome all the way up to Gwinnett. During that season, he threw 60 innings, hitting the magic number and striking out 103 batters but walking a pretty high 45. But again, the BAA was low: only 30 hits, and a .150 average. 2010 was going to be the ultimate year for him though, and Kimbrel was expected to get a shot in the majors. He did, and was impressive.

Kimbrel spent most of his season in Gwinnett, logging 55 2/3 innings in AAA, but spent a good chunk of time in Atlanta too, getting 20 2/3 innings in the majors. His success was varied, as the patterns from the rest of his minor league career repeated itself: lots of strikeouts, lots of walks, and a low batting average. He was recalled for good once rosters expanded in September, and pitched so well that he made the playoff roster. He pitched so well, that people from all around the league started to take notice and just wonder "who the hell is this guy?!?!" After his recall, Kimbrel threw 11 1/3 innings, allowed 4 hits, no runs, 5 walks, and struck out 23 batters. His total season in the majors resulted in 40 strikeouts in 20 2/3 innings. Yes, he averaged nearly 2 batters per inning.

Kimbrel isn't necessarily a one trick pony. He's more than a strikeout machine. In his career of 171 2/3 innings pitched, he's only allowed 7 homers. That results in a fantastically low ratio of only 0.37 per 9 innings. Most dominant relievers have rates that low, but one bad outing can really screw your homer ratio...remember Tommy Hanson in that August start against the Marlins? Yeah. But with Kimbrel, there is reason to be optimistic that he can keep his homer total low. In every one of his minor league stops, he got more ground ball outs than fly ball outs. It doesn't really seem like much, but it really matters. When Kimbrel's vicious fastball is coming in, if you do make contact, its probably going to be bad contact, and you'll squib it to an infielder. He's not going to get a lot of long fly ball outs, though he allowed more balls in the air during his major league stint, most of which were concentrated to his first callup around midseason.

Now is Kimbrel's time. He can finally shed that "future closer" label and just be the Braves closer. Many Braves fans were wondering if he should even be the closer in 2011, with Jonny Venters instead getting the nod. Kimbrel's backbreaking performance in September and October pretty much closed the door on that scenario, because you absolutely don't want a guy that good as a setup man to an inferior pitcher like Venters, who I'd like to see have more than one good season in his career before counting on him to be a big part of the Braves future. Kimbrel WILL be the closer in 2011, and he WILL be a damn good one. A worthy successor to Billy Wagner in my mind.
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