• Rookie of the Year

    Kimbrel on the verge of ANOTHER big league record

    By Kent Covington

    On August 31, 2011, Atlanta Braves closer, Craig Kimbrel, chiseled his name into the history books when struck out Washington’s Michael Morse on a 100-mph heater to set a new rookie saves record (41).  What must it have felt like for the rookie to not only break the saves record before September 1,  but to then get a phone call from the Hall of Fame?  “Hall” officials asked him to donate the spikes he wore during his record-breaking performance, and of  course, he gladly granted their request.

    Now, just a week after shipping his shoes to Cooperstown, Kimbrel may once again be on the verge of making history.

    Braves closer, Craig Kimbrel

    Turn back the clock to June 11th of this year.  The Braves were playing the second game of a 4-game set at Minute Maid Park in Houston. Kimbrel was called upon in a non-save situation to pitch the bottom of the 10th inning after the Braves had taken a 6-2 lead.  Astros outfielder,  Carlos Lee, hooked a Kimbrel offering into the left field corner, doubling home Hunter Pence.

    That would be the last time anyone would score on Craig Kimbrel for at least 12 weeks.

    Kimbrel has now pitched a remarkable 37 and 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings.  He’s got to be zeroing in on some sort of record with a streak like that, right?  Indeed he is.

    The record for most consecutive scoreless innings in relief is 39.  It was set by Cleveland Indians relief pitcher, Al Benton, in 1949 and tied by Oakland reliever, Brad Ziegler, in 2008.

    If Kimbrel can record another 1 and 2/3 innings without yielding a run, he will break the second noteworthy Major League record of his extraordinary rookie season.

    Just as impressive as his streak of 113 scoreless outs is the manner in which he’s recorded them.  It could be argued that there has never been a 12-week stretch of dominance like this by a reliever in the history of the game.  In fact, I can’t imagine how anyone could argue otherwise.  Have a peek at these numbers:

    Inn R H BB SO
    36.2 0 8 8 64

    For comparison, over the first 37 innings of Ziegler’s scoreless innings streak in ’08, Zielgler allowed 20 hits and 11 walks, while striking out 17 batters.

    Kimbrel is, by all accounts, a down to earth, mild mannered kid.  Ironic, given that everything he accomplishes on the field is punctuated with such flair.  It’s not enough to break the rookie saves record… he breaks it with a month left in the season.  It’s not enough to shut hitters down for 37+ straight innings… he has to make them look bad in the process.

    Even if Kimbrel fails to pass Benton and Ziegler in the record books this month, it matters not.  This will still be the single greatest season ever turned in by a rookie reliever, and it will almost certainly be recognized with NL Rookie of the Year honors.

    Will the Braves closer break a second MLB record in the span of 2 weeks?  We’ll have to wait and see.  Either way, enjoy what’s left of this kid’s first big league campaign.  Because it’s safe to say,  Kimbrel’s epic rookie season is history in the making.

    SOUTHERN FRIED BASEBALL RADIO – August 20, 2011

    Braves are winning, but must be concerned about their two young aces

    In this week’s edition of Southern Fried Baseball radio, Kent Covington breaks down the Braves’ postseason outlook, Chipper playing one more year, Kimbrel’s Rookie of the Year chances and the fate of starters Jair Jurrjens, Tommy Hanson and Derek Lowe.

    (NOTE: Please notice “play in popup” link under flash player. This is often a more convenient way to listen.)

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    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.

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    And the runaway choice for the NL Rookie of the Year award is…

    By Kent Covington

    Braves first baseman, Freddie Freeman

    There are a handful of deserving candidates for the National League Rookie of the Year award.

    Rookie first-baseman, Freddie Freeman, has developed into a middle-of-order hitter for an Atlanta Braves ballclub that boasts the NL’s second-best record.  Freeman is on pace to top 20 homers and 80 RBI this season, while hitting .294 with a commendable .362 on-base percentage. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s smooth with the leather. As it stands, Freeman is the clear runner-up for the ROY award, but he’s not the winner.

    Philadelphia’s Vance Worley is a recent addition to the Rookie of the Year discussion. In 13 starts, Worley is 8-1 with a 2.35 ERA. Impressive to say the least. The problem with his candidacy is that he was a mid-season insertion into the Phillies’ rotation, who will make fewer than 25 starts this year.

    Phillies RHP, Vance Worley

    Braves’ fifth starter, Brandon Beachy, has turned heads with 105 strikeouts in 97 innings, while posting a solid 3.43 ERA through 16 starts. But like Worley, Beachy will fall well short of a full season’s workload, after an oblique injury sidelined him for him for more than month.

    Danny Espinoza, Washington’s young second baseman, was considered by many to be an early ROY favorite. Espinoza is a skilled defensive middle-infielder, and he is on track to hit 20 or more homeruns in his rookie season. However, after a recent slump, Espinoza’s batting average has fallen to .226, and his on-base percentage has been reduced to a meager .311.

    All of these candidates deserve at least some measure or ROY consideration, but none of them deserve to win the award. Not this year. Not when there is another rookie lifting and separating from the pack at a breakneck pace.  Ladies and gents, the runaway choice for the 2011 NL Rookie of the Year Award is…

    Craig Kimbrel
    .

    Kimbrel, the only all-star among this group of top rookie performers, has shown no signs of intimidation after assuming the Braves’ closer role in his first full big league season.  That’s saying something, given that he’s filling the shoes of future-Hall-of-Famer, Billy Wagner, who retired over the winter, and closing high-pressure ballgames for a top postseason contender.

    3-2, with an imposing 1.87 ERA, Kimbrel has converted 36 of his 41 save opportunities this season, striking out 89 hitters in 57 innings. Toss in a nifty 0.99 WHIP.

    His recent performance is even more remarkable.  In his last 24.2 innings pitched: 0 runs, 6 walks, 40 strikeouts, .089 opposing average. 18 of 18 in save opportunities. Take a moment to think about those numbers.

    Braves closer, Craig Kimbrel

    If you’re still not convinced, here are three reasons why Craig Kimbrel is the runaway choice for the NL Rookie of the Year:

    1.  As the closer for one of the top-4 teams in baseball, Kimbrel performs in a more pressure packed and pivotal role than any of the other finalists.

    2.  A realistic argument can be made that Kimbrel is the best closer in Major League Baseball at this moment.  As gifted as the other candidates may be, could a similar case be made on their behalf?  Are we ready to say Worley might be baseball’s top starting pitcher?  Is Freeman the best all around first-baseman in MLB?

    3.  Kimbrel is poised to blow past MLB’s all-time rookie saves record (40), set by the Rangers’ Netfali Feliz, who won the AL Rookie of the Year award last season.  In fact, Craig Kimbrel is on pace to finish his rookie campaign with the following numbers:

    1.87 ERA, 50 saves, and 123 strikeouts in 79 innings pitched.

    There is still approximately 1/4 of the 2011 season still ahead of us. So, of course, everything is subject to change. But as it stands right now, the case is closed and the choice is clear. It’s Craig Kimbrel.

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