The dominance of Craig Kimbrel
September, 2, 2011
By Buster Olney | ESPN.com
Jonny Venters could be a closer but really doesn't care about it, partly because he's in awe of the guy who has the job for the Braves, Craig Kimbrel. See, Venters once played catch with Kimbrel and was overwhelmed by the pure stuff. "The guy is ridiculous," Venters said earlier this season, grinning.
Kimbrel's surface-level numbers are staggering: 110 strikeouts in 66⅔ innings, with a 1.62 ERA and only one homer among 40 hits allowed; he's pitched 87⅔ innings in the big leagues and allowed one home run. His save on Thursday was his 42nd, a record; with each save the rest of the year, he will set a new record for rookies.
But peek a little deeper and you get an even greater understanding of just how overwhelmed hitters are when they face Kimbrel, who mixes his 98 mph fastball with a finishing slider.
Twelve batters have managed to put the ball in play against him on the first pitch of their at-bats this year, and among those, there were eight hits, and no extra-base hits.
But there have been 118 at-bats that have started with a strike -- and thereafter, opposing hitters have 13 hits, including just one extra-base hit, for splits of .110/.145/.136. So in other words, if you're standing in the batter's box against Kimbrel this year and you fall behind in the count 0-1, then you've just been reduced to Wandy Rodriguez as a hitter.
Well, not really. Rodriguez is actually a little better, because he doesn't strike out as much as the hitters who fall behind in the count 0-1 to Kimbrel: Of those 118 at-bats that start 0-1 with Kimbrel on the mound, 70 have ended with a strikeout.
Some more: With runners in scoring position and two outs, hitters are 2-for-25 against Kimbrel, with 13 strikeouts and one walk. So half the time in that situation, the hitters are punched out.
When Kimbrel has pitched on zero days of rest, there have been 73 at-bats against him. And 37 have resulted in strikeouts. Hitters are batting .137 against him when Kimbrel is pitching with zero days of rest.
David Ross would be the first one to tell you that it really doesn't matter whether Brian McCann or Ross is catching, but this is just an interesting stat: Ross has caught Kimbrel for 15⅔ innings this year, and in those, Kimbrel hasn't allowed a run -- or much of anything else, for that matter. Opponents have three singles in 48 at-bats, for an .063 batting average. And 23 strikeouts.
According to baseballreference.com, there have been 345 plate appearances against Kimbrel in his career -- and exactly twice in his career have hitters pulled the ball against him for extra-base hits.
Which is really kind of scary.
We had the Rangers and Angels on Sunday Night Baseball earlier this week and Josh Hamilton had a big game, guessing correctly that Jered Weaver was about to throw him an off-speed pitch and hammering his first homer off the right-hander, among three hits. It was an important victory for the Rangers, for Hamilton, and we intercepted him as he came off the field and prepared to do the postgame interview on camera.
"Let's do it over here," Hamilton said sharply, turning his body so that he was facing the Rangers' dugout.
For an instant, it was confusing. Hamilton -- who is uniformly laid-back -- suddenly insisting on a particular camera angle? Was it the backdrop? A diva move by an All-Star center fielder?
And then it dawned on me.
"You're worried about the sneak [pie] attack," I said.
He smiled, and said, "You got it."
• No particular player deserves the blame for the ridiculous amount of time required for the Yankees and Red Sox to play baseball. Josh Beckett takes a lot of time between pitches, but sometimes he does it to counter the pace of the Yankees' pitcher, and sometimes the New York hitters are intent on combating Beckett's tempo by stepping out of the box. The situation has escalated to the point that 27 innings of baseball between the two teams this week required 11 hours, 36 minutes.
When they actually pitched and swung bats and fielded the ball, it was good stuff, from the power of Jacoby Ellsbury to the precision of Mariano Rivera to the deft glove work of Mark Teixeira and Dustin Pedroia. But players like Teixeira are saying publicly what some players had been saying privately -- that the games are just taking too damn long.
And somebody needs to step in and do something about it. The rules are on the books to speed up the game; the rules need to be enforced.
So, to call attention to it, a suggestion for fans: Chant out the time between pitches, as fans used to do for Karl Malone's free throws. If you think a pitcher is taking too long, let him know how long, with a count up of seconds. It can help in three ways:
A) You might get inside the pitcher's head.
B) You call attention to a problem that Major League Baseball should address, by compelling umpires to enforce the rules.
C) It'll give you something to do to pass the time between pitches.
The Yankees took two of three games in the series, in Fenway Park; these two teams seem to be mirror images of each other, with powerful lineups and bullpen weapons and rotation questions. A.J. Burnett looked completely different on Thursday: Using a more compact delivery, he stayed composed, pitched through some adversity, stayed in tempo; that may well be enough for him to beat out Phil Hughes for the final spot in the Yankees' rotation for the rest of the season. This was a statement by Burnett, writes Bob Klapisch.
Jesus Montero looked composed in his at-bats and, writes Anthony McCarron, had an immediate impact.
Mark Teixeira got hit by a pitch. Russell Martin has proven he's the right guy for the Yankees, writes Joel Sherman.
Adrian Gonzalez is certain that the last pitch of the game was low, and he should still be hitting. The Yankees did what they needed to do in the series, writes Steve Buckley.
• The tentative deal that David Einhorn had reportedly negotiated with the Wilpons always seemed one-sided, like something out of "the Sopranos." And, on top of that, Einhorn angered high-ranking executives with how ostentatious they perceived him to be, showing up at Citi Field and making himself available to reporters before he actually had a finished deal for a piece of the Mets.
• Frank McCourt has a $1.2 billion offer from folks interested in buying the Dodgers, writes Bill Shaikin. And everybody is assuming that there are smoke and mirrors involved.
1. Stephen Strasburg was dominant in his final start in the minors, Dave Sheinin writes.
2. Devin Mesoraco joined the Reds, but didn't play.
3. Scott Proctor is ready to pitch for the Yankees, writes Anthony Rieber.
4. The Orioles called up a couple of guys, and more are on the way.
5. The Pirates added a pitcher and a catcher.
6. The Rangers added some bullpen depth.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Rumors of Billy Beane taking over the Cubs might be on the money, writes Gordon Wittenmyer.
2. The Mariners cut a longtime member of their organization.
3. The Brewers and Mets finished the K-Rod trade.
4. Tsuyoshi Nishioka hasn't worked out for the Twins, and here's why, from La Velle Neal.
5. The more that I think about it, the more I think there's close to zero chance that Andrew Friedman would leave the Rays to take over the Houston Astros. He's got a great situation with Tampa Bay and a shift to Houston would mean a moderate climb on the budget scale; the Astros are in a better position than the Rays with their ballpark situation, but will never be a financial superpower. If Friedman were to leave Tampa Bay, it would seem more likely that he would do so in order to take on a completely different challenge, like that of the Chicago Cubs -- a team that should be the Yankees/Red Sox of the NL Central, in its financial power.
Dings and dents
1. Hanley Ramirez is thinking about surgery.
2. J.D. Drew's return to the Red Sox has been delayed.
3. Jason Kipnis could be back next week. The Indians are not wasting their time complaining about injuries, writes Terry Pluto.
1. C.J. Wilson flirted with perfection, before departing with what appears to be a minor injury. From ESPN Stats & Info, how Wilson dominated:
A) Wilson was able to keep Rays batters off balance. Wilson threw fewer fastballs and cutters on Thursday. Of all of his pitches on Thursday, 58 percent were fastballs or cutters, down from his normal 65 percent.
B) Instead of relying on his fastball, Wilson mixed in his slider. His average percentage of sliders in a game this season has been 14 percent, but on Thursday, 23 percent of his pitches were sliders.
C) Mixing up his pitches was effective for Wilson, as his miss percentage of 38 percent was considerably higher than his season average of 20 percent. All eight of his strikeouts were swinging strikeouts. Four of the strikeouts came on his fastball and cutter and the other four came on his slider.
2. Brett Lawrie is drawing raves. Says Jim Palmer in this Bob Elliott piece: "He reminds me of Jeff Bagwell." Lawrie powered the Jays on Thursday.
From Elias: Lawrie's 17 extra-base hits are tied for the most through a player's first career 26 games since 1940.
He's just the third player 21 or younger since 1940 to have 17 extra-base hits through his first 26 career games (Jeff Francoeur and Albert Pujols are the others).
3. Phil Coke and the Detroit bullpen got lit up, writes Vince Ellis. Jim Leyland officially anointed the Tigers as a contender, Tom Gage writes.
4. The Indians were dominated.
5. The Cardinals aren't dead yet, having swept the Brewers with a bunch of homers. Pujols now has 442 HRs, tied with Dave Kingman for 37th all-time. He has 42 career multihomer games, third most among active players behind Alex Rodriguez and Jim Thome.
6. Yovani Gallardo had another bad day against St. Louis.
7. Vance Worley got it done again for the Phillies; he never loses, Matt Gelb writes.
8. Ichiro had two more hits, and has 156 for the season.
9. The Marlins have been eliminated from the NL East race.
10. The Reds now know exactly how far they are from being among the elite, after getting crushed at home.
11. The Nationals had their usual luck against Tim Hudson.
12. Miguel Batista reached a milestone.
13. The Orioles clinched another losing season.
14. The Pirates' losing streak has reached five games.
15. Eric Hosmer and the Royals pounded Detroit.