Kimbrel has positioned himself to enter another select group
Craig Kimbrel positioned himself to join an exclusive club when he exited Wednesday night’s win over the Indians with a 0.99 ERA. The only pitchers to ever post a sub 1.00 ERA while recording at least 40 saves in a season were Dennis Eckersley (0.61 in 1990) and Fernando Rodney (0.60 in 2012).
Kimbrel nearly made himself a part of this select company when he notched 42 saves with a 1.01 ERA during last year’s incredibly dominant season. Having already matched that saves total this year, he has a chance to become the first pitcher to post a sub 1.00 ERA during a 50-save season.
When Kimbrel allowed a pair of two-out ninth-inning solo shots during a May 7 loss in Cincinnati, the knee-jerk reaction was, “what is wrong with him.” Four days earlier, he had surrendered a game-tying solo shot to New York’s David Wright. So within a span of three appearances he allowed as many home runs (3) as he had all of last year.
Through this year’s first 14 appearances, he matched last year’s blown saves total (3) ,compiled a 3.38 ERA and struck out 40 percent (21 of 52) of the batters he faced. His stats, which were marred by Justin Upton’s inability to catch a two-out fly ball at Coors Field on April 24, were still pretty respectable. But they simply did not live up to the ridiculous expectations produced last year, when he became the first pitcher to ever strike out more than half the batters he faced (116 of 231).
Kimbrel’s lack of consistent sharpness through this season’s first five weeks was a product of the altered offseason preparations he made to participate in the World Baseball Classic and still have enough in the tank to be effective during the final stages of this season. As things currently stand, it appears his plan was sound.
Kimbrel has converted 32 consecutive save opportunities and allowed just one earned run in the 41 1/3 innings (41 appearances) he has completed since allowing those back-to-back two-out home runs in Cincinnati. He has limited opponents to a .142 batting average and .234 on-base percentage during this span.
In the 23 appearances Kimbrel has made since allowing that one earned run during a non-save situation in a July 4 loss to the Marlins, he has worked 23 1/3 scoreless innings and limited opponents to a .114 batting average and .176 on-base percentage. During this stretch, he has most closely resembled the pitcher he was last year when he allowed a .126 batting average and .186 on-base percentage — both the lowest marks ever surrendered by a National League pitcher with at least 40 appearances.
Kimbrel has struck out 38.1percent (80 of the 210) batters he has faced this year. While this percentage represents a decline from last year’s ridiculous pace, it still ranks third among Major League relievers, trailing only Aroldis Chapman (41.1) and Kenley Jansen (38.3). Kimbrel’s 13.17 strikeouts per nine innings ranks second only to Chapman (15.19).
Odds and ends: I sent David Ross a text this morning to inform him that his franchise record for bunt hits by a catcher was eclipsed last night when Brian McCann notched the ninth of his career. This is obviously a weapon that was only recently added to the arsenal of Braves catchers. Johnny Oates, who played in Atlanta from 1973-75, ranks third on the list with three.
The response from the always witty Ross: “Tell Mac he learned from the best.”
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said he expects just small group of players will join his club when rosters expand next week. Todd Cunningham, Jose Constanza and Freddy Garcia will all likely get the call to Atlanta. Another likely candidate is right-handed pitcher David Hale, who is already on the 40-man roster.
Top catching prospect Christian Bethancourt is also already on the 40-man and stands as a top candidate to replace Brian McCann as Atlanta’s starting catcher next year. Bethancourt could benefit from the opportunity to be around the big league scene for a month. But Gonzalez did not provide indication Double-A Mississippi’s young catcher would definitely be among the players added next week.