In my mind, there’s no doubt he’s the number one closer in the National League. He trails only Hanrahan of Pittsburgh in saves, but his ERA and WHIP are each about half of the Pirate’s hurler. Kimbrel has twenty-three more strikeouts and half as many walks. Only Aroldis Chapman leads Kimbrel in K/9. Chapman is right behind Kimbrel in my book, and has the potential to be the most dominant closer in the majors for several years to come. But the Reds have used him in different situations this year, with only thirty-two of his fifty-three appearances being save situations. He’s blown four saves, one more than the Craig Machine.
The Braves season has been one of peaks and valleys, winning streaks and painful slides. The starting rotation has been completely transformed since April, and the lineup has seen plenty of adjustments. We’ve had four different starting shortstops, three different catchers, and it seems Martin Prado has played every position, including batboy and grounds crew. Recently Fredi’s been going with a pretty consistent batting order, but for much of the season it felt like he filled in the lineup card by throwing darts at the roster. Freeman, McCann, and Heyward: they’ve all been huge offense assets, but also experienced serious slumps. Even Bourn went through a short dry spell or two. The bullpen has suffered several injuries, most notably the injury to Kris Medlen’s sense of direction. Is he supposed to start? Relieve? It’s a guessing game with no right answer!
Kimbrel has been the mainstay for our club. I’m never sure who Fredi plans on bringing out for the sixth, or seventh, or eighth, but if we’ve got a lead going into the ninth, I feel at ease knowing we have an excellent chance at winning the game. The image of Craig’s hanging right arm is synonymous in my mind with a win.
While I’d put Bourn ahead of Kimbrel for our team’s most valuable player, the Craig Machine has been our most valuable pitcher, not just reliever. Of course he’s pitched far fewer innings than our starters, but he’s appeared in twice as many games (44) as Hanson and Minor (22 each), who are tied for the most starts on the team. His 2.4 WAR is higher than any Braves pitcher.
Relievers hardly ever get the honor of the Cy Young Award. No reliever has won it since Eric Gagne in 2003. I suppose it’s true that a closer can only get the job done if he’s set up by the starter and middle relievers, as well as supported with runs from the offense, but to be able to get the final outs of a close game with consistency is an invaluable skill. If the Braves had lost just a quarter of the games Kimbrel has saved so far this season, their record would be 59-57, behind Pittsburgh, LA, San Fran, and St. Louis in the wildcard race.
Several starting pitchers are worthy of the honors, such as RA Dickey, perhaps Gio Gonzalez, but no starter is truly having an outstanding season. If Kimbrel, as well as Chapman and Hanrahan, finish the season strong and help carry their teams into the playoffs, the Baseball Writers Association of America will have a difficult time denying a closer the Cy Young.