This week’s spotlight is on the closer of the San Diego Padres, Craig Kimbrel. It was just hours before first pitch on Opening Night of the season this year, when the Padres landed Kimbrel in a blockbuster trade with the Atlanta Braves. Beginning Monday night, Kimbrel makes his return to Atlanta when the Padres and Braves duel in a four-game series. It is almost certain that Kimbrel will make at least one appearance during the four-game set in front of his once hometown fans, but this time as a visitor.
Kimbrel spent his first five seasons as a member of the Braves. During his 2010 rookie season, Kimbrel broke through as a set-up man for then Atlanta closer Billy Wagner. That season was the final year of Wagner’s career, and the following season Kimbrel was named as his successor to finish out games. Since then, Kimbrel has not looked back or really faltered in the closer’s role. With the retirement of Mariano Rivera, Kimbrel is often viewed as the best premier closer in the game today. When many teams often have question marks at the back-end of a bullpen, Kimbrel has been a constant staple in the role.
In Atlanta, Kimbrel’s lowest save total was 42 in single season. All together, he was 186 for 205 in save conversions. When the ninth inning hit, with the Braves leading, it was generally over for the opposition. What also speaks to his impressive dominance as a reliever, Kimbrel was in the top 10 of Cy Young voting all four seasons, and even cracked the top 5 twice.
When closing out games, Kimbrel generally gives his defense the inning off as well with an incredibly high strikeout rate. You can usually pencil in 100 strikeouts for Kimbrel during a given season. In comparing Kimbrel to Rivera, Rivera had an 89.1% save percentage with a 8.2 strikeout per 9 inning ration. Kimbrel has a 90.9% save percentage with an astounding 14.7 strikeout per 9 inning ratio.
This season, Kimbrel is just one of the many new faces on a revamped Padres team. While his current ERA is a bit high compared to his career numbers, still Kimbrel has been his dominant self more times than not while wearing a new uniform. The bar that Kimbrel has set has been so impressive that even the slightest slip up makes him appear to be struggling. In just a third of the season this year, Kimbrel has already allowed 10 earned runs. Last season he allowed all of 11 earned runs. Still when in the ninth inning of a game, is there anyone else that you would want closing out a victory? It could be fitting that with his next save, Kimbrel will reach the 200 career save mark. Might that milestone come against his former team, in his former park this week? Craig Kimbrel will be in the spotlight to see if he can continue his dominance against his old team, and for the remainder of the season with his new team.