The Atlanta Braves may have the biggest weapon in MLB on their roster, and he is one of the most seldom-used players on the team. Craig Kimbrel is an elite relief pitcher; in fact, there is no question that he is the best bullpen arm in baseball.
I hate the term “closer”. I really do. Instead of calling them closers, call them “high-leverage specialists” or something like that. Why do managers feel obligated to only use their closer in the ninth inning? We all know that reason — it’s the save statistic.
One way to make sure teams can start to get the most out of their best relief pitcher is to get rid of the entire save stat. Managers clearly feel like they need to save their closer until the ninth inning just so they can get their chance at the save. In some cases, a manager will have a lesser pitcher on the mound in the eighth inning trying to preserve a three-runs-or-less lead, and by the time the ninth inning comes around, the closer won’t be needed anyway because they lost the lead in the eighth inning.
Teams should their best pitcher on the mound when the best pitcher is needed. Isn’t that what baseball is all about? I can promise that Kimbrel is needed more in a two-run game in the seventh inning with runners on first and second base with no outs than in the ninth inning with a three-run lead and no runners on. Use him then!
Just in case you haven’t heard of Kimbrel or you haven’t seen his numbers, let’s take a look at some of his dominance over the past few seasons. Oh, and by the way, if you haven’t heard of him, you need to start watching baseball more closely.
In four seasons, Kimbrel has pitched 227.1 innings with a 1.39 ERA and a 1.44 FIP. His 9.2 fWAR in four seasons in ridiculously high for a closer that pitches about 65 innings per year. If his ERA wasn’t enough to prove to you how great he is, how about his career 15.08 K/9? That is literally unheard of.
Look, if the Braves want to continue using Kimbrel the conventional way, that’s fine. I’m just saying they would benefit much more by using him in high-leverage situations rather than solely in the ninth inning. Unfortunately, until baseball removes the save, that’s just not going to happen.