Kimbrel pitching in 2011
|Atlanta Braves – No. 46|
Born: May 28, 1988|
|Bats: Right||Throws: Right|
|May 7, 2010 for the Atlanta Braves|
|Career statistics |
(through 2013 season)
|Earned run average||1.39|
|Career highlights and awards|
Craig Michael Kimbrel (born May 28, 1988) is an American professional baseball pitcher with the Atlanta Braves in Major League Baseball (MLB). Kimbrel became the Braves' closer in his rookie year of 2011 season and subsequently set an MLB record for saves by a rookie with 46. He was awarded the National League's 2011 Rookie of the Year Award. He has been revered for the speed of his fastball, as well as his unique and intimidating pre-pitch stare.
Kimbrel was drafted by the Braves in the 33rd round of the 2007 draft, but elected to remain at Wallace State Community College in order to improve his draft position. He was then taken by the Braves in the third round of the 2008 draft, and was the 96th player chosen.
Kimbrel got his first call up from Gwinnett on May 15, 2010, to replace the injured Jair Jurrjens on the roster. He was called up for the second time in his career on June 4, 2010, to replace Takashi Saito, who was placed on the 15-day DL. He earned his first major league save on September 19, 2010 against the New York Mets. Kimbrel's record for the 2010 season was 4–0, with one save and a 0.44 ERA in 20⅔ innings. He recorded 40 strikeouts and 16 walks. In the 2010 playoffs, he shut down the eventual World Champion San Francisco Giants on several occasions; he had 7 strikeouts in a total of 4⅓ innings, appearing in all 4 games of the NLDS between the Giants and the Braves.
Kimbrel made the roster to start the 2011 season as the team's primary closer. He was successful in his first four save opportunities before blowing his first career save on April 21, 2011. On June 3, 2011 in a game versus the New York Mets, Kimbrel passed the record for most saves by a National League rookie before the All-Star break. He is the fastest Braves pitcher to reach 100 career strikeouts, doing so in 59⅓ career innings. His new record surpassed the previous record set by John Rocker in the 1998–1999 season, where it took Rocker 70 career innings to reach the 100 career strikeout mark. On July 5, his 26th save matched Jonathan Papelbon's record for most saves by a rookie before the All-Star break. On July 7, Kimbrel's 27th save of the year against the Colorado Rockies broke Papelbon's record.
On August 9, 2011 in a game versus the Florida Marlins, Kimbrel tied the National League rookie record for saves in a season (36 by Todd Worrell of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1986). He broke that record on August 17 in a game versus the San Francisco Giants. On August 21, 2011, Kimbrel recorded his 100th strike out which coincided with his 39th save of the season and a string of 30⅔ innings without yielding a run. On August 23, 2011, Kimbrel recorded his 40th save, tying the rookie save record of Neftalí Feliz. He subsequently broke this record with his 41st save on August 31 with two strike outs in a game against the Washington Nationals. At the time, he led the majors in saves and had not given up a run in his last 34 innings. The following night September 1, 2011, Kimbrel surpassed Cliff Lee's record of thirty four scoreless innings with 34⅔ scoreless innings for the longest scoreless streak in the majors in 2011. The scoreless inning streak came to an end after 38⅓ innings, on September 9, 2011.
The Braves season ended when he blew a save against the Philadelphia Phillies in the last game of the season. The loss knocked Atlanta out of playoff contention, completing a late-season collapse that squandered an early-September lead of 8½ games. Kimbrel's mediocre September (4.76 ERA) led to charges that manager Fredi González had overworked him over the course of the season.
Kimbrel ended the season tied for the National League lead with 46 saves—shattering the previous rookie record of 40, set by Feliz in 2010—and led the Major Leagues with 127 strikeouts in 77 innings of relief.
On November 14, the Baseball Writers' Association of America announced the results of their 2011 National League Rookie of the Year vote; Craig Kimbrel received all 32 first-place ballots — the first unanimous selection since 2001 winner Albert Pujols—for 160 points. Freddie Freeman finished second in the voting with 21 second-place votes and seven third-place votes, for a total of 70 points — making the pair the first team-mates to take the top two spots since 1989, when the Chicago Cubs' Jerome Walton and Dwight Smith came in first and second in the balloting. The only other time two Braves finished in the top five, the organization was still located in Milwaukee—Gene Conley was voted third-best rookie of the 1954 season; Hank Aaron came in fourth.
Kimbrel was thoroughly dominant throughout the 2012 season. He led the National League with 42 saves (in 45 opportunities) and Win Probability Added among pitchers. He struck out 116 batters in 62 ⅔ innings, producing a K/9 rate of 16.7. In so doing, he also became the first pitcher in history to strike out at least half the batters he faced during a season. He also went to an 0–2 count on 56% of the batters he faced. Kimbrel allowed only 3.9 hits and 2.0 walks per 9 innings he pitched, giving him a WHIP of 0.65 and a batting average against of .126. He finished with an ERA of 1.01. He won the NL Rolaids Relief Man Award. Kimbrel finished fifth in the 2012 National League Cy Young award voting, and eighth in the 2012 National League MVP voting.
Kimbrel began the 2013 season with a total of three blown saves during his first nine save opportunities, tying his personal record for blown saves during the entire 2012 season. Nonetheless, on May 9, 2013 in a game against the San Francisco Giants, Kimbrel earned his 100th save making him the second youngest player in MLB history to reach 100 saves. He became only the second Atlanta pitcher after John Smoltz to have three 30-save seasons on July 27, 2013 with a save against the Cardinals. Kimbrel surpassed John Smoltz's Braves record of 27 consecutive saves on August 17, 2013.
On September 27, Kimbrel recorded his 50th save of the season in a game against the Philadelphia Phillies. In doing so, he became the 11th different pitcher in Major League history to have a 50-save season.
Kimbrel was named the closer for Team USA in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. Despite not surrendering one lead off double all year with the Braves in 2012, Kimbrel gave one up to Nelson Cruz of the Dominican Republic in their round two matchup. Kimbrel would go on to give up two runs in the game, and be the losing pitcher in Team USA's 3–1 loss to the eventual champions.
Kimbrel uses a devastating combination of a four-seam fastball and a power curveball to get outs. He throws his fastball exceptionally hard, averaging 96–97 mph and occasionally topping out at 101 mph. His curve, thrown with a "spike" grip, stays in the mid-to-upper 80s. Both of his pitches have extraordinary whiff rates: the four-seamer at 33% and the curve at 52%. This overwhelming combination contributes to a strikeouts per nine innings rate of 15.08 over Kimbrel's career so far (as of 6 October 2013[update]). He is also tied for third among all pitchers from 2002–2012 in the highest percentage of pitches that resulted in swinging strikes.
Kimbrel's four-seam fastball was the 12th-fastest among Major League relievers in the 2011 season. In addition, he threw the hardest curveball, averaging 87 mph. His fastball had the fifth-highest whiff rate among relief pitchers' fastballs (32%), and he also had the highest whiff rate of any reliever's curveball, at better than 55%. His intimidating pre-pitch stance (pictured above) has also been widely recognized, and has been dubbed "Kimbreling". 
- List of Major League Baseball pitchers who have struck out four batters in one inning
- List of Major League Baseball saves champions
- Career statistics and player information from Baseball-Reference (Minors)