• Exclusives

    3 reasons why Craig Kimbrel is the only choice for NL Rookie of the Year

    By Kent Covington

    A little more than a week ago, I stated my case that Craig Kimbrel is, thus far, the runaway choice for the NL Rookie of the Year award.  It seems most fans agree, but there are those who still contend that others—namely, Freddie Freeman—are more deserving. So if I may, I would like to reprise my argument for those who still aren’t quite sold. Cool? Thanks. Here goes.

    Braves first baseman, Freddie Freeman

    Let’s start with the runner up, Freddie Freeman. Freddie has given the Braves everything they could have asked for from the rookie. He is on pace to top 20 homers, while hitting .293 with a respectable .356 on-base percentage. The 21 year-old first baseman has also made fast friends around the infield by snaring errant throws and preventing would-be errors with the best of ‘em.

    As it stands, Freeman is the clear runner-up for the ROY award.  He won’t win it, though, and he has his teammate to thank for that.

    Craig Kimbrel, the only all-star among probable NL ROY candidates, has assumed–and aced–the imposing role of closing ballgames for one of baseball’s top postseason contenders. Not to mention the fact that the rookie reliever is filling the shoes of future-Hall-of-Famer, Billy Wagner, who retired over the winter.

    3-2, with an ominous 1.75 ERA, Kimbrel has converted 38 of his 43 save opportunities this season, striking out 98 hitters in 61 innings. Toss in a nifty 0.99 WHIP, while you’re at it.

    His recent performance is even more remarkable.  In his past 30 appearances: 30.2 innings pitched… 0 runs, 50 K,10 H, and a perfect 20-for-20 in save opportunities.

    Craig Kimbrel hasn’t allowed an earned run since June 11 in Houston. More than 2 months (1/3 of the season) have passed since Kimbrel last allowed an earned run.  Let that soak in.

    But if you’re STILL not convinced, here again are three reasons why Craig Kimbrel is the only choice for the NL Rookie of the Year award:

    1.  Closing for a team that boasts MLB’s fourth-best record, Kimbrel serves in a more pressure packed and pivotal role than any other NL rookie.

    2.  A convincing argument could be made that Kimbrel, MLB’s current saves leader, is already the best closer in baseball.  Could a similar case be made on behalf of other ROY candidates?  Anyone ready to call Worley MLB’s top starting pitcher?  Is Freeman the best all around first-baseman in the game?

    3.  Kimbrel is almost certain to not only break the rookie saves record (40), set by the Rangers’ Netfali Feliz last year, but obliterate it. He is presently on pace for 49 saves in his first year as Braves closer.

    Braves closer, Craig Kimbrel

    Some are quick to point out that position players battle for 9 innings every night, whereas a closer pitches only one inning every other night. They contend that for this reason, a position player is more deserving of the award.

    Yes, a closer logs far less time on the field than a position player. That does not necessarily mean, however, that he plays a far lesser role in the outcome of the game.  Ever take a commercial flight? Landing gear doesn’t see as much action as an engine, but is it any less critical?

    There is a reason why top end closers are among the better paid players in the game.  Nothing suffocates a team’s spirit quite like spending night after night watching 3 hours of sweat and tears flushed down the black hole that is a 9th inning without a reliable closer.  Any fan with a memory long enough to recall the Braves’ desperation-driven carousel of failed closers a few years back should appreciate this. Do the names Chris Reitsma, Ken Ray or Jorge Sosa ring a bell?

    It's difficult to compare the value of offense with the value of a save, but I'll simply pose the following question: How many hitless at-bats does it take to match the negative impact of a single blown save?  Preventing heartbreaking final-inning losses is fairly important; wouldn't you say?

    If you still wish to argue that a position player SHOULD win the Rookie of the Year award over a closer, so be it.  I hope, however, you’re under no illusion that anyone other than Kimbrel WILL win it.

    Netfali Feliz was rewarded for setting the soon-to-be short lived rookie saves record by being named the AL Rookie of the Year.

    Feliz’s ’10 numbers: 2.74 ERA, 40 saves and 71 K’s in 69 innings.

    Kimbrel’s projected ’11 stats: 1.75 ERA, 49 saves, and 126 strikeouts in 78 innings.

    Bottom line: Kimbrel has shut down the NL Rookie of the Year race… just like everything and everyone else who gets in his way these days.

    P.S.  Check out brand new SOUTHERN FRIED BASEBALL Radio right now on our podcast page.

    Follow Kent and BravesWire on Twitter: @FriedBasballATL and @TheBravesWire

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