Coming into the season, as I talked about this morning, Pablo Sandoval represented the biggest question mark on the Red Sox. Another name that had people worried was Craig Kimbrel. It’s not that I don’t understand why people were worried, because that’d be stupid. His control was a legitimate problem this year and you don’t want that kind of trouble handling the most important parts of a game. With that being said, he was still very good on the whole in 2016, and there wasn’t too much reason to believe he was done being a high-tier reliever in the game.
Early on in 2017, he’s letting people know that he still wants to be considered part of the highest tier of relievers. He’s already appeared in seven of Boston’s first 13 games, and he’s done spectacularly in them. Throwing an inning in each outing, he’s converted all six of his save chances — including one on Monday — and is showing off his dominant stuff in the process. Kimbrel has struck out 12 of the 27 batters he’s faced, giving him a K-rate of 44 percent. That seems bananas (and it is), but he has two seasons under his belt with a rate higher than that and is consistently in the high-30’s.
More encouraging, though, has been his control. As I said above, it was a major problem for him last year. He walked over 13 percent of his opponents in 2016, which was the fifth-highest mark of any pitcher who tossed at least 50 innings. Through his first seven games, he’s walked just two batters for a rate of just 7.4 percent. According to Baseball Prospectus, he’s hit the zone 58 percent of the time, an increase of 14 percentage points over last year’s rate.*
*This is through Sunday’s action, as the numbers from today’s outing won’t be included until tomorrow morning.
The Red Sox bullpen has been mostly good this season, and Kimbrel being at the back is a huge part of it. Teams need more than just their closer to succeed, but having a great one makes everything that much easier. Obviously, there is still a long way to go, but Kimbrel is working hard to put his first-year struggles (relatively speaking) behind him and put together another elite season in 2017. His performance deserves more in-depth coverage, which will undoubtedly come at some point, but for now I felt he deserved a little love in the form of a short post.