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Entries in Craig Kimbrel (4)


Receding Stuff Makes Craig Kimbrel (More) Expendable

Craig Kimbrel got the short end of the monetary stick this week when the Atlanta Braves elected to sign Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward to contract extensions. Just six years into a 20-year local TV contract that has and will assuredly limit the team's cash assets for the foreseeable future, the organization has been put in a difficult financial situation this offseason, and these limitations have manifested through not being able to sign players to long-term deals, such as Kimbrel.

In a perfect world, the Braves would extend each of their three budding superstars. But we don't live in a perfect world, which meant Atlanta essentially had to decide whether Heyward or Kimbrel was more valuable for the organization moving forward (since Freeman seemed a near guarantee to get his extension after a career-best 5.4 bWAR 2013 campaign). With three consecutive 40-plus save seasons and a 1.48 ERA that ranks best among pitchers with 200 innings since 2011, one could certainly make the argument that Kimbrel deserved to get paid -- not Heyward, who owns an underwhelming career line of .259/.352/.443.

But for as dominant as Kimbrel has been since his rookie 2011 season, he actually regressed in several areas in 2013, which more than likely had a big say in Atlanta's decision not to extend him.

Craig Kimbrel
  AVG wOBA K/BB Zone% Miss% Chas% ClStk% InPl%
2012 .126 .170 8.29 52.9% 41.6% 34.1% 40.9% 21.0%
2013 .166 .222 4.90 50.5% 32.5% 30.7% 34.0% 28.7%


Across the board -- both in terms of opponents' weighted on-base average against him and in "miss-ability" of his offerings -- Kimbrel's stuff depreciated significantly. And while it seems silly to expect anyone to consistently perform at a level he did in 2012 (where he posted a 1.01 ERA, league-best 0.65 WHIP and 16.6 strikeouts per nine innings en route to a 3.3 bWAR), regressions such as these shouldn't go unnoticed. Of course, now the question becomes: Why did he take a step back last season?

Erractic Release Point

Kimbrel's Release Point Frequency, 2012


Kimbrel's Release Point Frequency, 2013


As a true two-pitch reliever (fastball and slider), deception is of the utmost importance for Kimbrel, whose gaudy strikeout numbers have been more of product of his ability to generate swings-and-misses (accounting for 89% of his career strikeouts), rather than called strikes (11%) in order to punch out batters. While wacky deliveries and varying arm slots can be deceptive, Kimbrel's traditional 3/4 arm slot makes vital the repetition of his release points between fastball and slider, as a more limited arsenal makes pitch recognition easier for batters if release points aren't consistent.

Surely enough, this was Kimbrel's downfall last season. Take a look at the first image shown above, which depicts the release point frequency of Kimbrel's offerings two seasons ago. Looks to be very consistent, no? Now take a gander at the bottom image, showing his release point frequency in 2013. While the red and yellow areas of his release points remain nearly identical as two seasons ago, his overall release points were much less defined.

Evidently, batters picked up on this lack of consistency and capitalized off it, increasing their in-play rate against his stuff by 7.7% over the last two seasons while generating a .222 wOBA against him, up from .170 in 2012. What's more, Kimbrel's inconsistent release point caused opponents to swing at roughly 5% less, chase at 4% less and swing-and-miss nearly 10% less in 2013 than two seasons ago.

For Kimbrel, deception is the name of the game. Last season, he didn't have it (as much), which is probably a main reason why Atlanta chose to extend Heyward over him.


Craig Kimbrel's fastball dominant once more

The Atlanta Braves have all but run away with the National League East title with just two weeks and change remaining in the regular season, putting themselves in prime position to capture the league's No. 1 overall postseason seed in the process. To no surprise, a key reason for their success has come from the recent resurgance of 25-year-old phenom closer Craig Kimbrel.

A season ago, Kimbrel made a legitimate run at NL MVP honors in posting a 1.01 ERA, 0.65 WHIP and 50.2 percent strikeout rate over 63 appearances -- each of which ranked No. 1 among NL relievers with at least 40 innings pitched. One could argue (though probably not convincingly) he is having an even better 2013 campaign, holding true to a 0.91 ERA and 0.84 WHIP and 38 percent strikeout rate in 60 appearances.

But it's taken a prolonged herculean effort on Kimbrel's part to maintain such impressive numbers once more this season. After posting a 1.72 ERA from the beginning of the season through July 4, a span in which opponents batted .198/.288/.324 against him, Kimbrel has yet to relinquish a run -- earned or unearned -- since his first appearance following his Independence Day outing.

You can look up the game logs on your own, if you so wish, but I'll save you some time and tell you that comes out to be a stretch of 28.1 innings in which opponents have yet to cross home plate against Kimbrel. Over that span, he's held batters to a paltry .115/.167/.135 slash line, punching out 41 percent of his competition in the meanwhile.

A number of things have helped contribute to Kimbrel's ridiculous two-month scoreless run, but none offer a more thorough explanation than opponents' plate discipline regressions against his fastball.

Comparing opponents' plate discipline rates vs. Kimbrel's fastball in 2013





In play%

Well-hit avg.

April 1- July 4






July 8 - Sept. 10






The most prominent lapse in opponents' plate discipline against Kimbrel's fastball has been their significantly increased willingness to A.) swing at the offering more frequently, shown by a 6.1 percent swing rate increase and B.) offer at it more often when located out of the strike zone -- evidenced through a 16.4 percent increase in chase rate from his pre-scoreless streak to his current scoreless rampage.

To that end, it should come as no surprise that opponents' well-hit average has dipped to nearly the .100 mark against his fastball since his scoreless streak began back on July 8. Generally speaking, it is much more difficult for a batter to place quality contact on an offering that is located out of the strike zone than it is to do so on one that is placed within the zone. In fact, the league average WHAV for fastballs in the zone this season is .258; the league average WHAV for fastballs out of the zone is a mere .103. You get my point.

But raw numbers only paint a portion of the picture. A visual representation is necessary to understand why opponents' plate discipline issues have increased.

Kimbrel fastball pitch frequency, April 1 - July 4

Opponents' chase rate vs. Kimbrel's fastball, April 1 - July 4

Kimbrel fastball pitch frequency, July 8 - September 10

Opponents' chase rate vs. Kimbrel's fastball, July 8 - September 10

What we can take away from the chase rate heat maps pictured above is that opponents have been much more willing to swing at Kimbrel's fastball, particularly when located above the strike zone. This is a surefire product of his changing fastball command, which has shifted to the upper and inner portion of the zone, the latter portion applied especially against right-handed batters.

  • Prior to his current scoreless streak, Kimbrel threw his fastball in the upper half of the zone at a 33.5 percent clip, increasing it to 37.3 percent during his streak. He's also thrown more fastballs on the inner half of the plate -- 28.9 percent from April 1 to July 4 compared to 33.2 percent from July 8 to September 10.
  • Notably, Kimbrel's fastball has also added a tick in velocity onto it during his streak, clocking in at 97.2 MPH on average juxtaposed to his 96.5 MPH average prior to his streak. This increase in velocity, coupled with his command adjustments, are the likely culprits for opponents' plate discipline issues. Locating higher in the zone with increased velocity is a definite recipe for his fastball success.

Best of luck if you're facing Kimbrel in the ninth inning from here on out. You'll need it.


Now it's time to pay attention to Craig Kimbrel's struggles

Craig Kimbrel did not earn his 100th career save last night.

He did pick up his fifth career loss.

He also gave up his second and third homers of the season after allowing just three last year.

Facing the Reds, the stellar Atlanta Braves closer allowed a tying two-out homer to Devin Mesoraco and then Shin-Soo Choo hit his second home run of the game, this one a walkoff as Cincinnati topped the Braves, 5-4.

"All around, it's frustrating," Kimbrel told the AP, who is 10 for 13 in save chances. "I've blown three saves. Those are wins we should have had."

But the Braves need to be concerned not just about those three homers and three blown saves, but how effective Kimbrel will be the rest of this season.

Take a look at what 2012 looked like


  • Hit .126
  • OBP .186
  • Slugged .172
  • OPS .358 

Take a look at what 2013 looks like


  • Hit .224
  • OBP .269
  • Slugged .449
  • OPS .718 

Kimbrel is going more to his fastball this season and moving away from his slider

In 2013, batters are hitting .235 against Kimbrel's fastball and .200 against his slider

Both good numbers, but...

In 2012, batters hit .137 against Kimbrel's fastball and .100 against his slider

It may just be a bad start for Craig, but it's not too early for the Braves, and their fans, to start paying attention now

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