Red Sox: Craig Kimbrel named to AL All-Star team
Craig Kimbrel has taken his game to a whole new level in 2017, adding pinpoint control to an already un-hittable arsenal.
Aside from ace Chris Sale, closer Craig Kimbrel was arguably the easiest Boston Red Sox All-Star to predict. Selected to the 2017 All-Star team and anchoring the American League bullpen, Kimbrel will represent his team in the midsummer classic for the sixth time in his eight year career.
And boy, did he earn it. The 29-year-old fireballer utterly dominated whoever was unlucky enough to find himself in the batter’s box in what was one of the most dominant first halves from a Red Sox reliever in franchise history.
Here are some stats to boggle your mind. 1.01 ERA, 0.42 FIP, 0.477 WHIP (less than one base-runner every other inning), 3.0 H/9, 0.3 HR/9. Opponents have slashed .100/.143/.150 against him; righties are 2 for 67 with 36 strikeouts. Oh, and he has a league-leading 23 saves and the franchise record for most consecutive saves at Fenway Park (30). The guy has been simply untouchable; seemingly everything he has thrown has found its way to the catcher’s glove and preceded a punchout from the umpire.
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The punchouts came in bunches, as Kimbrel racked up a 16.1 K/9 and a major-league-leading 20.1% swinging strike rate. When throwing in the strike zone, opponents would only make contact on 68.1% of swings. When throwing outside the strike zone, that rate drops to 42.4%.
But perhaps the biggest development for Kimbrel that has separated the 2017 season from his first season with Boston in 2016 is the walks, or lack thereof.
Kimbrel underwhelmed for the most part last season, turning in a 3.40 ERA and 31 saves. The strikeout stuff, as always, was there; he punched out batters at a 14.1 K/9 rate. But holding him back was the 5.1 BB/9. Even though hitters couldn’t touch him (4.8 H/9 in 2016), too often all they had to do was not swing to get a runner on base.
In fact, walks have always plagued Kimbrel throughout his career, at least relative to the amount of hits that he gives up. His career 3.4 BB/9 tells the tale, as prior to 2017, he had only two seasons below 3.3 BB/9.
2017 has been a different story. Kimbrel has taken his unhittable stuff and mixed in a new element: pinpoint control. His first-pitch strike percentage is a career-high 71.4%, constantly putting hitters in the hole, and he has thrown a career-high 51.4% of pitches inside the strike zone. Combine that with a career-high swinging strike percentage and you get the absolute dominance that Kimbrel has shown this season.
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No matter your stance on relievers, Craig Kimbrel has undoubtedly proven to be one of the most fearsome and complete pitchers to toe the rubber across the league in 2017. His All-Star candidacy is well-deservingly sealed, now he will try to close out the All-Star Game in Miami and give the Red Sox a chance for home-field advantage in the World Series.