The Atlanta Braves knew they had one of the best closers in baseball at the beginning of the season. What they didn't know was that Craig Kimbrel would be putting the finishing touches on one of the most dominant seasons for a reliever in MLB history.
Kimbrel has appeared 61 times this season, facing 226 batters in the process. He's fanned 113 of those batters, which equates to a 50% strikeout rate, where his closest peer is Aroldis Chapman of the Reds with a 44.4%. If he finishes the season with his current percentage, he'll obliterate the current record held by Eric Gagne, when he won the Cy Young award with a rating of 44.7%.
While two full seasons is too small of a sample size, his numbers are comparable to some of the great closers in MLB history. Currently regarded as one of the greatest relievers to ever take the mound, Mariano Rivera, of the New York Yankees, recorded 79 saves with 104 strikeouts and an 1.90 ERA during his first two seasons in the MLB. Trevor Hoffman, who most argue should be in the MLB Hall of Fame, recorded 51 saves with 120 strikeouts and a 3.21 ERA, albeit his numbers are lower than they should be due to a strike shortened season in 1994. Kimbrel's numbers jump out past both of these all-time greats. In two seasons, Kimbrel has recorded 89 saves, with 280 K's and a 1.47 ERA.
Craig also currently sits at the top of a number of categories for pitchers during their first three seasons in the majors. Kimbrel sports a 15.71 strikeout-per-nine-innings rate, which is three K's higher than Brad Lidge, who sits in second place. If his ERA would remain the same, he'd sit at number one all-time in ERA through his first three seasons at 1.47, which is nearly half a run higher than Rob Dibble of the Cincinnati Reds.
Considering that Kimbrel hovered around the lower half of Baseball America's top-players for most of his time in the minors due to questions regarding his control, his numbers are even more impressive. The Braves have been nearly unhittable with a lead after the seventh inning, a stat that separates the contenders from the pretenders. Hopefully, Kimbrel ushers in a new era of Braves pitchers that lead Atlanta to the World Championship!
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