MLB Network released their top 10 relievers ranking, with Craig Kimbrel rounding out the bottom of the list. What does that mean for the Boston Red Sox?
Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe reported MLB Network’s list of the top 10 relievers:
- Wade Davis, Kansas City Royals
- Dellin Betances, New York Yankees
- Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees
- Andrew Miller, New York Yankees
- Zach Britton, Baltimore Orioles
- Mark Melancon, Pittsburgh Pirates
- Ken Giles, Houston Astros
- Tony Watson, Pittsburgh Pirates
- Darren O’Day, Baltimore Orioles
- Craig Kimbrel, Boston Red Sox
While as much as people would credit MLB Network as having baseball experts, the purposes of their rankings and the Red Sox bringing Kimbrel on board are entirely different. This list has much to do with quantitative numbers, regardless of the qualitative situations that each man was placed into last season.
Kimbrel played for the San Diego Padres in April 2015, after being traded by the Atlanta Braves with Melvin Upton for Cameron Maybin, Carlos Quentin, Matt Wisler, a minor league player and a 2015 competitive balance round A pick. Considering the amount of assets coming back to Atlanta for Upton and the four-time All-Star reliever, Kimbrel’s value was at its peak and the Braves wanted to take advantage to help their rebuilding process.
Kimbrel played five seasons with the Braves, winning the Rookie of the Year Award in 2011 and leading the majors in saves four years in a row, before taking his talents to California. To earn that award, let alone leading the league in consecutive years, Kimbrel’s skills as a reliever far outperformed many other players, both pitchers and position players, making him an elite arm.
To say that his skills have diminished would be foolish and, depending how one looks at the MLB Network ranking, his position on the list could be one of compliment than insult.
On the Padres, a team with a losing record of 74-88 and finishing a good 13 games back of the National League West divisional title, Kimbrel had 39 saves in 43 opportunities. That was good enough for sixth place for all relievers in the majors, just behind the leader Melancon’s 51 saves in 53 opportunities. Most of the names on the ranking list above Kimbrel, except for Melancon, appear much lower down the list of saves while having the relative same amount of opportunities.
While home runs get fandom for positional players, strikeouts are the alluring element to any pitcher’s game for the general masses. Here is where Kimbrel falls a bit short of the rest of the field. His 87 strikeouts puts him tied for ninth with Giles and A.J. Ramos, with Betances leading with 131, Chapman in second with 116, and Miller with 100. However, ESPN takes a closer look at the statistics and reveals that, although Kimbrel’s strikeouts per nine innings is behind those pitchers, he sits fourth in the majors in that category. The numbers suggest that when he is finally in a save situation, Kimbrel can get the job done, with strikeouts or not.
Besides, Kimbrel’s .185 opposing batting average for closers is the third best, behind Miller (.151) and Kenley Jansen of the Los Angeles Dodgers (.176). With numbers like that, not many teams were able to mount a late comeback once Kimbrel took the mound.
Now, the question should be: what about Wade Davis?
There lies the issue for Kimbrel and the Red Sox with the MLB Network ranking. Davis only had 17 saves, but that was because his team only put him in those many opportunities. Davis had 78 strikeouts in only 67.1 innings of work, usually only in the eighth inning. Remember, this ranking was for relievers, not closers. Davis’ performance in the postseason, taking over the closer job for the injured Greg Holland, proved to be historic. Davis did not allow a run in just under 11 innings, while striking out 18 batters, earning him the Babe Ruth Award for being his team’s most valuable player in the playoffs.
Can Davis repeat that display in the long-term of a full season in 2016? Maybe. Did the Kansas City Royals utilize him, and the rest of their bullpen, the same way as the Padres did with Kimbrel? No.
In fact, every reliever on the ranking list was used differently by their club, or will in the future. Especially when it comes to Miller, Betances, and Chapman for the Yankees, having to share the spotlight disproportionately with the starting rotation.
In Kimbrel’s case, he’s going to be the closer with former Red Sox closer Koji Uehara getting the eighth frame to hold down the fort.
MLB Network’s ranking seems to do more to highlight Davis’ accomplishment in 2015 than being an accurate prediction of skill in 2016. When you group all relievers together, it would be hard for anyone to give a truly accurate list, as there are too many variables to consider.
One thing is for certain though: the Red Sox are much better off with Kimbrel than without him. He looks to be as ‘automatic’ as he did in Atlanta, and that’s just what the Red Sox need. Koji did his job, but he needed help. Boston finally got the help that the aging veteran needed, and them some.