Kimbrel justifying comparisons to Wagner
When Braves general manager first described Craig Kimbrel as a right-handed Billy Wagner, it seemed appropriate to simply smile and nod. This young Kimbrel kid had just proven dominant in his first full professional season and he just happened to be getting ready to be introduced to Wagner, who had recently signed with the Braves.
There are countless comparisons made every day in the baseball world and they oftentimes prove comical a few years down the road. When Kelly Johnson was adapting to the second base position, Bobby Cox said something like “he looks like Maz (Hall of Fame second baseman Bill Mazeroski) out there.” Sparky Anderson once described Barbaro Garbey as another Roberto Clemente.
Well it’s still far to early to say Kimbrel is Wagner’s right-handed equal. But the Braves 22-year-old closer has obviously already proven the comparison won’t be deemed as ridiculous as the two mentioned in the above graph.
Any lingering doubts about Kimbrel should have been erased when he notched four strikeouts in the two perfect innings he tossed in Game 2 of last year’s National League Division Series against the Giants. The kid showed nerves of steel while pitching in enemy territory that night.
In a far less stressful setting in front of Milwaukee’s home opener crowd yesterday afternoon, Kimbrel completed yet another jaw-dropping inning. He needed just 15 pitches to record three strikeouts in a perfect ninth that resulted in his second save of the young season.
Kimbrel opened the first of this year’s two perfect innings by getting Adam LaRoche to end a seven-pitch at-bat with a weak fly ball to left fielder Martin Prado. He has since struck out each of the five batters he’s faced within a span of 26 pitches.
It might not mean a lot to simply say just one of the 33 pitches Kimbrel has thrown this year has been put in play. But I think the sample size is large enough to at least be impressed that just 7.9 percent of the 417 pitches he’s thrown in his career have been put in play.
Cubs closer Carlos Marmol set a record for all Major League pitchers in 2008, when just 12.4 percent of his pitches were put in play.
Because Kimbrel has made just 23 career appearances, it’s still a little too early to anoint him with greatness. But while limiting opponents to a .115 batting average and allowing just one earned run, he’s certainly moving in that direction.
Kimbrel has recorded 17.9 strikeouts per nine innings in his young career. Since being rejoining Atlanta’s roster in September, he has struck out 28 of the 48 batters he’s faced and this doesn’t account for the fact that he struck out seven of the 13 batters he faced in the NLDS.
Marmol set a Major League record for relievers last year when he struck out 15.99 batters per nine innings. Eric Gagne ranks second with the 14.98 mark he posted in 2003. Wagner owns three of the top seven marks — 14.95 in 1999, 14.55 in 1998 and 14.38 in 1997.
With his career now consisting of about a quarter of a third of a normal season, Kimbrel has struck out 47.9 percent of the batters he’s faced. He’s struck out 58.3 percent of the batters he’s faced since rejoining the Braves in September.
Wagner set a Major League record for relievers in 1999 when he struck out 43.4 percent of the hitters he faced. Gagne bettered that mark in 2003, when he retired 44.8 percent of the batters he faced via strikeouts.
Who knows what the future holds for Kimbrel. But the present is telling us it’s at least fair to label him as a “right-handed Billy Wagner.”
Odds and ends: Chipper Jones needs four hits and seven RBIs to join Hall of Famer Eddie Murray as the only Major League switch hitters to record 2500 hits and 1500 RBIs in a career…Earlier this week, I wrote Dan Uggla has now hit his first homer in the second game of four consecutive seasons. While he is a slow starter in Spring Training, Uggla has now totaled two homers in the first four games of two of the past three seasons.
If you haven’t seen the Braves’ funny new commercials, check them out here. I thought the AJC’s David O’Brien was very charitable to allow them to use his car in the spot featuring Jason Heyward.
Tonight’s lineup will be posted later this afternoon.