When the Atlanta Braves sealed Thursday night’s 6-3 victory over the Giants, Craig Kimbrel was standing on the mound. This was significant (more so than normal) because it was the 100th save of Kimbrel’s young career, and with that, he became the 2nd-youngest pitcher in MLB history to achieve the milestone.
At 24 years old, Kimbrel is in the midst of his 3rd full season as the Braves closer, and he has frankly been absolutely unbelievable in the role. He has blown only 14 of his 114 save opportunities (an overrated stat, but still), put up one of the most impressive strikeouts in history (career 15.66 per 9), and has thrown 174.2 innings with an ERA of 1.60, a FIP of 1.41, and an xFIP of 1.62.
If those numbers aren’t staggering enough on their own, his 2012 season is probably the most statistically dominant season by a reliever in MLB history. 62 innings with a 1.01 ERA (1.01!!!!), and 116 strikeouts is patently absurd, and honestly, that type of line may never be duplicated. If it wasn’t for the early-career dominance of Francisco Rodriguez (who came up to the big leagues significantly earlier than Kimbrel), he would be “on pace” to break every relief record that exists.
With all of the positives said (and there are a ton), Kimbrel is still a closer. The term “closer” has taken on a new (and worse) meaning in the sabermetric era, but none of that is Kimbrel’s fault, and it has much, much more to do with management than it does with player performance. Braves fans have just watched one of the best relief-pitching eras in the history of the game, and to be honest, everything from this point forward is gravy. There are sure to be discussions about his future (contract-wise, etc.), but as long as Kimbrel is pitching at anywhere near this level, it is something to behold.