On Thursday, Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel stopped by SportsNation to chat about the baseball season.
Kimbrel, @kimbrel46, has led the National League in saves the last two seasons. He set a rookie single season saves record in 2011 with 46, en route to the Rookie of the Year. He was the first pitcher to lead the league in saves in his first two years since Rawly Eastwick in 1975-76.
SAN FRANCISCO — When Craig Kimbrel struck out four of the six batters he faced while helping the Braves win Game 2 of the 2010 National League Division Series against the Giants, he was a highly regarded middle reliever who was showing signs of his great potential.
Visions of that memorable outing danced through Kimbrel’s head after he notched his 100th career save while standing on that same AT&T Park mound during the Braves’ 6-3 win over the Giants on Thursday night.
“It felt like it was yesterday when we were out here in the playoffs,” Kimbrel said. “It’s gone by really fast. I’m definitely taking it in a little bit. It’s definitely nice to get that milestone and just move on. We still have a long season to go and hopefully we can get a lot more.”
Last week, Kimbrel was in position to reach the century mark in the third-fewest appearances in Major League history. But that was before he allowed a two-out, ninth-inning home run to David Wright on Friday and two more home runs with two outs in the ninth inning of Tuesday’s loss to the Reds.
Still 17 days shy of his 25th birthday, Kimbrel is the second-youngest pitcher to reach 100 saves. Francisco Rodriguez became the youngest when he reached the century mark 246 days after his 24th birthday.
“I wanted to get back out there yesterday, but the guys scored too many runs,” Kimbrel said. “So it was good to get back out there. I’m still working on a few things. I still haven’t got it 100 percent back to where I need to be. But it felt good to go back out there and throw a scoreless inning.”
Making his first appearance since Tuesday, Kimbrel retired the first two Giants batters he faced and then surrendered an Brandon Crawford’s opposite-field double before ending the game with a Brandon Belt groundout. It was a solid rebound effort for the young closer, who had blown three of his previous five save opportunities.
This season, Kimbrel has not yet shown the same kind of dominance he displayed while notching a 1.01 ERA and striking out more than half of the batters he faced last year (116 of 231).
But among all Major League relievers who have ever totaled at least 175 career appearances, he ranks first in hits per nine innings (4.95), strikeouts per nine innings (15.66), strikeouts per batter faced (.446), opponent’s on-base percentage (.241) and opponent’s batting average (.157).
“It’s crazy,” Braves catcher Brian McCann said. “It just feels like yesterday that we were in the 2010 postseason and that was kind of like his come out party. That’s when he let everybody know that he’s for real. What he has done in his [three years], that’s hard to do. Nobody really does that.”
KISSIMMEE, Fla. — It cannot be detected by a radar gun, and it would not make sense to a physicist. But to the sharpened eyes of a major league hitter, one pitcher’s 98-mile-per-hour fastball can behave much differently from another’s. And when that pitcher is Craig Kimbrel of the Atlanta Braves, it does not seem fair.
“It’s weird,” said Justin Upton, the Braves’ new outfielder. “Some guys have a softer-looking 98 or 99. But his is explosive. It has extra life to it. It gets to the zone, and it almost looks like it speeds up. It’s got a little extra gear to it.”
Upton has faced Kimbrel four times and struck out only once. The Mets’ David Wright has whiffed three times in four tries. He called Kimbrel’s fastball electric, then apologized for the overused term. Kimbrel, it seems, harnesses the wattage of a power plant.
“His stuff is truly electric out there,” Wright said. “You don’t see too many guys throwing 98, and you definitely don’t see too many guys that make it look as easy as he does, with the life. And it’s not like he’s 7 feet tall out there.”
Kimbrel is listed at 5 feet 11 inches but appears smaller, especially on the mound. When he looks for the catcher’s sign, he bends at the waist and leans forward, with the ball in his glove on his left knee and his right arm hanging by his side, as if cuddling an invisible St. Bernard. Then he unleashes unprecedented fury.
Last season, Kimbrel struck out more than half the batters he faced. Let that sink in. Two hundred thirty-one hitters came to bat against him, and 116 struck out. According to Baseball Prospectus, Kimbrel was the first pitcher in major league history to fan more than half his batters in a season of at least six innings pitched.
Kimbrel worked 622/3 innings. He walked 14. His earned run average was 1.01. No pitcher had ever struck out so many hitters with so few walks and an E.R.A. so low. He led the National League in saves for the second consecutive season, converting 42 of 45.
“I saw more weak swings than I’ve ever seen against one pitcher in one year,” said Tim Kurkjian, a veteran ESPN reporter, who gave Kimbrel his first-place vote for the N.L. Cy Young Award. “History played into this for me, and I’m just not sure we’ve ever seen a National League reliever dominate quite like that. I know I’ve never seen a relief pitcher as un-hittable as he was.”
Yet Kurkjian was Kimbrel’s only supporter, and none of the other 31 voters even placed him second. R. A. Dickey, then with the Mets, was the runaway winner, and Kimbrel finished fifth. He had, perhaps, the most quietly overpowering season any pitcher has ever had.
Kimbrel never allowed more than one run or one hit in a game. He seemed most surprised that he somehow avoided the bad outing or two that would have normalized his numbers.
“Towards the end of the season, looking back on it, I was pretty amazed at what I was able to do,” he said. “Because it’s not something where I could say, ‘I want to go and do this this year.’ It just worked out that way.”
For now, he remains mostly a local phenomenon. The team recently filmed a commercial with other pitchers doing their versions of Kimbrel’s prepitch stare — known, naturally, as Kimbreling.
“I did a Karate Kid-looking stance,” Medlen said. “We all had our own imitation of it. They’re going to say, ‘Looks like it only works for him,’ or something.”
That sounds about right. Anyone can imitate the way Kimbrel looks on the mound. A few can even match the speed of his fastball. But nobody else can make a fastball gain on a hitter in quite the same way, with such devastating results.
Full article at: The New York Times
•on February 19th, 2013
KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Atlanta Braves closer Craig Kimbrel was almost unhittable in 2012. He has bigger plans this season.
He got off to a great start on Monday when with a hole-in-one at the tough ChampionsGate Golf Club. Kimbrel lost sight of the ball on the 180-yard second hole, and figured it fell into a greenside bunker. He looked everywhere except the hole.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Kimbrel said. “I think it went in on the fly. It was my first one.”
Kimbrel got a break after the round when he was made aware that it was up to anyone shooting an ace to buy a round of drinks for everyone.”
“It was a charity event,” Kimbrel laughed. “There was an open bar. I paid for it all.”
He had a terrific 2012 season, striking out more than half of the batters he faced during the regular season. No one had ever done that in baseball history. Kimbrel said he knew he was close to the record as the season wound down. He captured the record by striking out the final three batters he faced in the regular season finale against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
It was a nice follow-up to Kimbrel’s 2011 performance when he was named the National League rookie of the year. He pitched in 79 games that season, posting 46 saves, then followed it up last season with 53 saves in 63 games while putting up a 1.01 earned run average.
Despite the workload, Kimbrel said he didn’t think it was any big deal.
“I only pitched in 63 games or something,” Kimbrel said. “I could have pitched in more, but the bullpen is so deep. Those 63 games were nothing.”
With former Braves stars like John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, and Greg Maddux, Kimbrel has a ways to go, but he’s only 24, and he said he has plenty of innings left in his arm.
“I could have done more last season and I feel great now,” said Kimbrel, who will be pitching for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. “I can go one inning whenever. Everything is going great.”
On and off the golf course.
Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/02/19/3242562/braves-closer-craig-kimbrel-scores.html#storylink=cpy
•on January 25th, 2013
Braves closer Craig Kimbrel has established himself as the elite closer in baseball after saving 42 games in 45 chances with a 1.01 ERA, 0.65 WHIP and 116 strikeouts in just 62 2/3 innings last season. He finished fifth in the Cy Young voting and made his second All-Star game. And he’s only 24.
This March, Kimbrel will join Team USA to compete in the World Baseball Classic. All games will be broadcast on MLB Network. Pool play will begin on March 2, but the U.S. squad doesn’t play until 9 p.m. on March 8 against Mexico at Chase Field in Phoenix.
On Thursday, Kimbrel and I talked on the phone and he discussed the WBC, the one-game wild-card playoff format, playing without Chipper Jones this year and the new (potential, at the time of the interview) addition of Justin Upton to the Braves’ outfield.
Matt Snyder: Being a first-timer for the World Baseball Classic, are you gonna approach this season any differently in terms of how you prepare yourself?
Craig Kimbrel: Of course. I have to be ready to go a month earlier. Around March 1 every year is about the time I prepare myself for the season. Around March 1, I’m out there, ready to go and ready for the spring season. But this year, with the World Baseball Classic, there’s definitely a different approach with having to throw in front of big crowds. It’s not something we’re used to doing in spring training. I’m looking forward to it. I love being out there in the exciting situations late in the game. I think that the WBC is only going to help me be more ready to go at the start of the year.
MS: Do you think that being a closer, or in any short-relief role, better lends itself for taking part in the World Baseball Classic?
CK: Oh, it definitely does. We don’t have to put in as long of work. It doesn’t take us as long as starters to get to where we need to be. And a lot of times as a starter, they count their innings — like how many they’re gonna pitch in a certain year — and things like that. It makes it more beneficial [in the WBC] to be in the bullpen. We’ll probably get five or six innings extra in the World Baseball Classic, whereas a starter might get quite a bit more. It’s definitely easier for a reliever, I feel like, to be able to participate in the WBC than it would be a starter.
MS: I don’t think this would happen, but what if they hypothetically did something like used only relievers in the WBC because it lends itself better to being able to take part and still prepare for the regular season? Do you think it would be weird for you to start the game and pitch only the first inning? Would that get you out of your comfort level at all?
CK: I guess it would. I’m used to watching the game a little bit and seeing how it progresses before I even think about pitching. You have to have a starter to go out there and establish things. I don’t think the whole “just relievers” thing would work. If they did do it, it would be a little different, but it’s still pitching and going out there and getting outs.
MS: What most made you wanna take part in this?
CK: Just having the chance to represent my country. The last two WBCs, the U.S. hasn’t gone out and done what we feel like we should do and I feel like I could help Team USA win at the back end of games. The mindset going in is not just to participate and just say “I played.” It’s to go in and win. I feel like that’s the mindset of our team, just hearing from the guys who are playing. We wanna win, not just participate.
MS: Shifting to the Braves, after going through the one-game playoff and seeing the weird way that it unfolded — infield fly rule and everything — heading into this year, do you feel like there’s an additional pressure now to win the division because one game can be so fluky?
CK: Yeah, of course. Your goal every year is to win the division. Whenever you put yourself in a situation like we did last year, where we had a obviously good year, but didn’t win the division, so we had to play the one-game playoff. It’s a little different. It’s something that I feel like everyone’s going to have to get used to, but it’s a part of baseball now. There’s nothing we can do about it but go out and play. And, like you said, we win the division and we don’t have to worry about it.
MS: Are you OK with that format, the one-game playoff?
CK: I think it’s fun for baseball. It makes baseball interesting. It’s fun for the fans and makes that one game that much more exciting. It’s not my choice to play that one game, but it’s something we have to do now and there’s nothing we can really do about it at the moment.
MS: When you walk into the locker room this year, you’re gonna look around and not see Chipper Jones. What’s that going to be like?
CK: It’s definitely gonna be different. He’s been the face of the franchise forever. There’s definitely going to be a different feel headed into the spring — not to have that voice of leadership that he had last year in the clubhouse. It’s gonna be different, but it’s also gonna be time for different guys to step up, guys to take responsibility of our team and go out there and play. It will definitely be a transition period, but I don’t think it’s anything that we can’t handle.
MS: Have you heard anything about Justin Upton this morning and, if so, any thoughts on that?
CK: Yeah, I heard that we made a trade for him. I don’t know all the logistics of it, but if he does join our team, it’s definitely going to help our outfield. We’ll have one of the more powerful and better defending outfields in Major League Baseball and with that group of guys it’s gonna be a dangerous combination.
•on January 23rd, 2013
ATLANTA — Craig Kimbrel understood the historic opportunity that he had when he took the mound to pitch the ninth inning of last year’s regular-season finale against the Pirates at PNC Park. Through his first 62 appearances of the season, the Braves closer had struck out 113 of the 227 batters he had faced.
There was no need for quick math or the simple use of a calculator. Eric O’Flaherty and Jonny Venters had made sure Kimbrel realized that there was still a chance for him to become the first Major League pitcher to strike out at least half of the batters that he faced over the course of an entire season.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Kimbrel said. “I knew it toward the end of the season when O’Flaherty and Jonny were saying, ‘There is no way you’re going to be able to strike out half.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, you’re right.’ But things played out right.”
After opening his final appearance by allowing Travis Snider to single to right field, Kimbrel fittingly concluded his season by striking out the next three batters he faced. This was nothing new. He recorded at least three strikeouts in 27.4 percent (17 of 62) of the one-inning stints he completed during his dominant 2012 season.
As he shook hands with his teammates in Pittsburgh that afternoon, Kimbrel could display his confident smirk with the satisfaction of knowing he had indeed struck out more than half (116 of 231) of the batters he had faced during the season.
“It’s pretty cool,” Kimbrel said. “If I’d have been sitting here and you would have told me all that has been said about me and all that I’ve done the past two years, I’d have said, ‘No way.’ But really I’m just working hard and hoping to keep things going. The last thing that I want is to sit back and be satisfied.”
During his first two years at the Major League level, Kimbrel has overcome a few rough patches and arguably established himself as the game’s best closer. In the 120 appearances he has made since the start of the 2011 season, he has converted 88 of 99 save opportunities. Kimbrel has limited opponents to a .155 batting average and a .231 on-base percentage during that span.
When Kimbrel introduced himself to the Major Leagues for some stretches during the 2010 season, there were concerns about his command. Those concerns were reduced as he issued 32 walks in 77 innings during the 2011 season. Then last year, the hard-throwing 24-year-old hurler issued just 14 walks in 62 2/3 innings.
The improved command combined with a sharper curveball enabled Kimbrel to produce ridiculous numbers last year. On the way to posting a 1.01 ERA, he limited opponents to a .126 batting average and .186 on-base percentage. The only comparable numbers were posted by the Reds’ Aroldis Chapman, who allowed opponents to hit .141 with a .225 on-base percentage.
“You could say if we get to the ninth inning with a lead, the odds are great,” Braves right fielder Jason Heyward said. “That is what it is. The numbers speak for themselves. You can really appreciate things like that. When you hand it over to [Kimbrel], you know it’s going to be over.”
Despite this early success, Kimbrel has shown no signs of being content. He was one of the few veterans who were present when the Braves opened their voluntary early throwing program at Turner Field on Tuesday morning. Some of the others present included Brandon Beachy, Cory Gearrin, David Carpenter, J.R. Graham, Alex Wood and David Hale.
“It’s a game where if you quit trying to learn and get better, then you’re not going to get better,” Kimbrel said.
Kimbrel’s preseason preparations will be altered by the fact that he will be competing with Team USA in this year’s World Baseball Classic. But while this will potentially take him away from the Braves’ spring camp for much of March, he does not believe his daily activities will be significantly altered.
Having already mapped out a plan with Atlanta pitching coach Roger McDowell, Kimbrel believes he will pitch in three Grapefruit League games before going to Arizona to join Team USA in early March. Like in Spring Training, he will not be asked to pitch on back-to-back days during the early portion of the Classic.
“The fact that he’s a one-inning guy, I’m not that concerned,” Braves general manager Frank Wren said. “He knows what he has to do and he knows he’ll have to do it a little earlier.”
Everything has recently seemed to be a little accelerated for Kimbrel, who married his girlfriend Ashley on Dec. 1. His bachelor pad, which essentially consisted of a bed, couch and TV, now includes marital extras like a new dining room table.
While Kimbrel has seemed to enjoy this new chapter in his life, he is ready to return to the familiarity of the mound with the hope that he can somehow prove to be even better than he was during last year’s record-setting season.
“I am more comfortable because I’ve done it,” Kimbrel said. “You learn from experience.”
•on December 4th, 2012
NASHVILLE — Craig Kimbrel is planning to pitch for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic in March, meaning the All-Star closer could miss a couple of weeks of Braves spring training if Team USA advances to the championship round.
Braves pitchers and catchers report to spring training Feb. 11, and their Grapefruit League opener is Feb. 22. Team USA’s players will have a March 4-6 training camp before playing first-round games March 8-10 in Phoenix.
Braves general manager Frank Wren said he didn’t think it would be a problem, and that there would be plenty of communication with a Team USA staff that includes manager Joe Torre and three former Braves as coaches: Dale Murphy, Greg Maddux and Gerald Perry. Maddux will serve as pitching coach.
“I think we’re coming in early enough [for spring training] that by the time they have to actually perform [in the WBC], you feel pretty good about it,” Wren said. “And I probably feel better about a closer than a starter in this case. Because he’s going to be able to have enough [Grapefruit League] outings that he can go one good inning and help a team like that.”
As for innings and appearances, Kimbrel’s workload with Team USA probably won’t differ much from what he’d be doing in Grapefruit League games if he stayed with the Braves all spring.
“The intensity is going to be different, and that’s what we all worry about,” Wren said. “It’s not the workload. There’s enough restrictions from a standpoint of pitch counts and usage that we’re very well protected in that area. The intensity level that they’re throwing at at that point in the spring — that’s the unknown.”