I know there’s a different subject in the headline, but I want to take a step back and ask a broader question. Who is the best reliever in baseball this season? It’s a question I asked myself over the weekend. Obviously, there’s no way to have a completely definitive answer, but to get a facsimile of one, I headed over the FanGraphs’ leader boards and sorted all relievers by fWAR. A simple way to at least get an idea.
However, once I had the chart all set up and after reading several names I figured would be there (Josh Hader, Edwin Diaz, Adam Ottavino), I was stunned that I had to keep scrolling to get to Craig Kimbrel. The Red Sox closer is currently ranked No. 22 among relievers in fWAR, putting him even with teammate Matt Barnes and a step behind the Mariners’ Juan Nicasio and his 5.34 ERA. How could this be? If you look at Kimbrel’s bWAR mark, he’s at 1.4, which is twice as high as his fWAR reading (0.7). He’s somewhere in the middle for Baseball Prospectus (1.0) so what gives?
The way all three sites calculate the WAR metric is different, of course. Here’s a pretty good explanation.
But let’s assume FanGraphs is right and that he is not the same guy who ranked No. 2 in fWAR among relief pitchers in 2017. There’s certainly evidence to support that notion. His base line run prevention numbers are all elevated (1.93 ERA, 3.25 FIP, 2.49 xFIP), after he had sub-2.00 readings in all three last year. He is also allowing a few more home runs and striking out fewer batters, with 13.18 K/9 compared to 16.43 a year ago.
The odd statistical variations continue. Kimbrel may not be striking out guys as frequently, but he is still giving up less hard contact. In fact, the 26.3% of hard contact he has allowed is just a roughly 13 percent under the mark he posted last season. Those 13 points have pretty much all been transferred over to soft contact. That has helped make sure most balls hit in play don’t go anywhere, with opponents at a .192 BABIP prior to last night’s game.
The spike in home runs seem to be the biggest problem. He is allowing more than 1.5 per nine innings and already has surrendered six so far, following a year when he allowed 14 total.
So what does all this mean? I’m not sure, but probably nothing. Kimbrel has been a little worse this season, but not overly so. Really, this was just an exploration of interesting statistics that I found, well, interesting. I hope you did, too.
The Red Sox remain at the top of the MLB power rankings despite dropping two of three to the White Sox. (Levi Weaver; The Athletic) ($$)
Even with that paper title, the Red Sox are struggling against some bad teams, which might be a bad sign. (Nick Cafardo; Boston Globe)
Rafael Devers is not having as much success as expected right now, but his double yesterday and strong defense was critical in a win. (Chris Cotillo; MassLive)
Steven Wright pitched well again last night. (David Schoenfield; ESPN)
Maybe he should be slotted back into the rotation permanently. (Logan Mullen; NESN)
Tyler Thornburg is learning to trust the process. (Christopher Smith; MassLive)
Here’s your introduction to the newest members of the Red Sox organization. (Alex Speier and Mia Berry; Boston Globe)