The dominant Craig Kimbrel that the Boston Red Sox thought they were getting from the Padres finally came through in 2017.
After a relatively disappointing 2016, Boston Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel returned to vintage form in 2017, reminding fans why he is one of baseball’s all-time relievers.
Through 69.0 innings, Kimbrel registered 126 strikeouts, good for a mind-boggling 16.43 K/9. He was absolutely unhittable, getting opposing batters to swing and miss at a career-high 19.8 percent rate.
His season culminated into a deadly 1.43 ERA, 1.42 FIP and a 0.68 WHIP, reminiscent of Koji Uehara’s dominant 2013 campaign. Racking up 35 saves, Kimbrel was a stabilizing force in the back of one of the best Red Sox bullpens in recent memory.
What changed from Kimbrel’s decent 2016 season when his ERA stood at an unusual 3.40?
He has always been nasty; he struck out 14.09 batters per nine innings in 2016. What clicked for Kimbrel this year was location.
He hit the strike zone 47.4 percent of the time, up from 42.1 percent from last year. Hitters could no longer feel safe taking a pitch and hoping it fell outside the zone, causing their swing percentage to rise from 44.3 percent to 48.7.
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As previously mentioned, opposing swings were largely unfruitful, as even when the ball was in the strike zone, hitters only connected 70.3 percent of a time, nearly a career-low for Kimbrel. He was ahead in the count in 31.6 percent of plate appearances, constantly keeping hitters guessing and in danger of the punchout.
A year after the base on balls haunted the 29-year-old – his 5.09 BB/9 represented a full walk over every other year except his rookie campaign – Kimbrel harnessed his pinpoint control to compile a career-low 1.83 BB/9. Hitters could never hit Kimbrel, and now they couldn’t get on base.
He was especially dominant against righties, who registered a .109/.156/.180 slash line with 66 strikeouts in 136 plate appearances. Only walking six, his K/BB ratio of 11.00 was nearly that of Phil Hughes’ all-time record of 11.6. Lefties fared hardly better, compiling a .178/.254/.318 line with 60 strikeouts in 118 plate appearances.
Reigning in his control while maintaining his utter nastiness, Kimbrel concocted an untouchable combination of dominance on the mound. Playoff ineffectiveness aside (where he allowed a key run in the elimination Game 4 of the ALDS), it would have been hard-pressed for Kimbrel to have put together a better season for Boston.
Once again staking his claim as one of the best closers in the game, Craig Kimbrel has the stuff to post eye-popping numbers each year. The question is, can he maintain his pinpoint control? If he can, put baseball on notice.