Craig Kimbrel was named the National League Rookie of the Year, unanimously.
Posting 46 saves, a NL rookie record, a 2.10 ERA and 127 strikeouts in just 77 innings, Kimbrel is poised to anchor an Atlanta Braves bullpen for years to come.
The Achilles heel for the Braves, minus Mark Wohlers and John Smoltz, has been their bullpen and inability to close out games, that is, until the advent of Jonny Venters and Kimbrel.
Venters and Kimbrel are a one-two punch you rarely see in today’s game. A lefty/righty, 8/9 combo that has the talent to strikeout the final six batters (any six batters) they face. Kimbrel has been groomed in the Braves minor league system to become the next closer. In three years spent between Danville, Rome, Myrtle Beach, Mississippi and Gwinnett, Kimbrel had 51 saves in 121 appearances while posting a 1.85 ERA and averaging 14.4 strikeouts per nine innings.
In 2010 Kimbrel got a brief taste of the closer role and appeared in four postseason games despite tossing only 20 innings in the regular season. While I'm not exactly sure it’s a confirmed fact, but some guys can close out games while others can’t. It's most definitely an attitude that guys are born with and Kimbrel appears to be one of those guys that will get the job done.
Even though a full season as the Braves closer came to a near historic collapse, Kimbrel faltered, specifically,five-for-eight in save opportunities in September, and in the final 10 games he just didn’t get it done. But this does not mean he can’t hold his own. In Game 3 of the 2010 Division Series, Kimbrel had the chance to close out the game but could not convert the save and took the loss. Instead of imploding, he bounced back in the next game completing a flawless ninth to give his squad one last chance.
Not bad for a 23-year-old.
As the new closer, Kimbrel will no doubt be relied upon in 2012. Will he have the same workload or will that increase? Venters has appeared in 164 games over the past two seasons and the questions that will arise if they falter late in the season is, if Venters can continue to pitch that much out of the pen? Does Kimbrel have to pick up the slack in the eight or is he a strictly a one-inning guy?
The Braves are in a position most teams would kill for; an almost automatic one-two punch that can close out games (reminiscent of Rivera/Wetteland). The team of the 90’s is on the verge of regaining lost glory with Kimbrel, who has the ability to become the greatest Braves closer of all-time. I am confident the power shift in the NL East is in the capable hands of the 2011 Rookie of the Year.
Devon is the founder of The GM’s Perspective