Craig Kimbrel

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Craig Michael Kimbrel

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Biographical Information[edit]

Craig Kimbrel debuted in the majors in 2010. Because of his small size and explosive fastball, he has been compared to Billy Wagner.

Kimbrel was taken by the Atlanta Braves in the third round of the 2008 amateur draft and signed with scout Brian Bridges for a $391,000 bonus; he was the 4th straight pitcher taken by Atlanta in that draft. He made his pro debut with the Danville Braves and did very well (1-2, 6 saves, 0.47, 5 H, 27 K in 19 IP). Promoted to the Rome Braves (2-0, 4 saves, 0.71, 6 H, 26 K in 12 2/3 IP) and Myrtle Beach Pelicans (0 R in 3 2/3 IP), he wrapped up an excellent first summer in pro baseball. He allowed a .131 average overall with a 0.51 ERA and 56 K in 25 1/3 IP. Baseball America rated the man fresh from junior college as Atlanta's #10 prospect and possessing the best fastball in their system. They also ranked him the Appalachian League's #14 prospect.

Kimbrel jumped up three levels in 2009, going 2-3 with 18 saves in 18 opportunities, 103 strikeouts in 60 innings and a 2.85 ERA. His big problem was control, as he threw 14 wild pitches and issued 45 walks. He pitched for the Pelicans (0-2, 2 saves, 5.47, 28 BB, 45 K in 26 1/3 IP), Rome (10 saves, 0.90, 9 H, 38 K in 20 IP), the Mississippi Braves (2-1, 6 saves, 0.77, 3 H, 17 K in 11 2/3 IP) and the Gwinnett Braves (0 R in 2 IP, 4 BB, 3 K). He was named the top pitcher in the Atlanta chain. Despite pitching solely in relief, he was 9th in the Braves system in Ks. Only one minor league reliever topped his 15.45 K per 9 innings (Dan Remenowsky, 15.49). He allowed a .150 average, 7th-lowest in the affiliated minors. Baseball America rated him as having the best fastball in A ball that year and Atlanta's #5 prospect. He struggled with the Peoria Saguaros in the Arizona Fall League, with a 0-1, 10.45 record. He whiffed 18 in 10 1/3 innings but walked 16.

Craig began 2010 with the Gwinnett club and had a 1.20 ERA and six saves after 11 games, with 21 strikeouts in 15 innings and only 7 hits allowed. When Jair Jurrjens went on the disabled list, the Huntsville, AL native was called up to The Show. In his major league debut on May 7, he relieved fellow rookie Jonny Venters in the bottom of the 7th with a 7-0 deficit against the Philadelphia Phillies and Jamie Moyer (over twice Kimbrel's age). Jayson Werth greeted Kimbrel with a double. He struck out Raúl Ibáñez and threw a wild pitch, sending Werth to third. Carlos Ruiz whiffed, then Wilson Valdez grounded out. Jesse Chavez would relieve Kimbrel in the 8th. The two strikeouts in his first outing were a harbinger of things to come for Kimbrel: in 22 games, he faced 88 batters and struck out 40 of them. He went 4-0 with a sparkling 0.44 ERA and 1 save. In the NLDS against the San Francisco Giants, he was charged with a loss in four appearances, even though he gave up only 1 hit and 1 walk in 4 1/3 innings while striking out 7.

After Billy Wagner retired, Kimbrel was anointed the Braves' closer heading into 2011. Setting the tone for the season, he earned a save in his first two outings in his new role, facing the minimum 6 batters in 2 innings and striking out 5 of them. His excellence continued over the following months, as he set a rookie record by recording his 27th save before the All-Star break on July 7th, besting a mark established by Jonathan Papelbon in 2006. The National League record was 16, and he had surpassed that easily. He had successfully converted 27 of 32 opportunities at the time and was named the NL's Rookie of the Month for June, but it was his teammate, set-up man Jonny Venters who was selected for the Midsummer Classic. Kimbrel was later added to the NL roster as a replacement for Matt Cain. On August 23rd, he tied the rookie record set the previous year by Neftali Feliz by recording his 40th save of the year in a 5-4 win over the Chicago Cubs. He set a new record on August 31st, preserving Derek Lowe's 3-1 win over the Washington Nationals. He was an obvious choice to be named the NL's Rookie of the Month for August, also picking up his first Delivery Man of the Month Award after having notched 10 saves in as many opportunities, not allowing a run and striking out 23 batters in 12 2/3 innings. Between June 14th and September 8th, he set a major league record with 38 consecutive scoreless appearances. He finished the year with 46 saves and a 2.10 ERA in 79 games, but faltered on the last day of the season, unable to hold a 3-2 9th-inning lead against the Philadelphia Phillies on September 28th as the Braves were passed by the St. Louis Cardinals for the wild card spot. Still, after the season he was honored with the 2011 National League Rookie of the Year Award. He was the first unanimous selection in the NL since Albert Pujols in 2001. The runner-up was Kimbrel's teammate, first baseman Freddie Freeman.

Kimbrel continued to be dominant in 2012, as the Braves made a successful bid to return to the postseason. Craig kept his ERA around 1.00 all year and on September 26th, became only the fourth Braves pitcher to strike out four batters in an inning, performing the feat against the Miami Marlins in preserving a 3-0 lead in the 9th inning for his 40th save of the season. Finishing the season strong, he won the Delivery Man of the Month Award in September. He finished the year 3-1, with a 1.01 ERA and a league-leading 42 saves, winning the 2012 Rolaids Relief Award while being named again to the All-Star team. Most impressively, he was the first pitcher in major league history to strike out over half of the batters he faced in a season, recording 116 Ks in 62 2/3 innings and 231 batters faced, while giving up a ridiculous 27 hits and 14 walks in an utterly dominant performance. He pitched a perfect inning in the inaugural National League Wild Card Game, but did not record a save as the Braves were already trailing the St. Louis Cardinals, 6-3, when he took the mound in the top of the 9th inning and were unable to score any more runs.

Kimbrel was the closer for Team USA in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, going 0-1 with a 4.91 ERA and no saves in four games. In his first appearance, he closed out a 9-4 win over Team Canada. Relieving Steve Cishek, he fanned Tyson Gillies, retired Taylor Green then set down Joey Votto on strikes. He wrapped up a 7-1 win over Puerto Rico, retiring Carlos Beltran, giving up a hit to Yadier Molina but then getting Mike Aviles to hit into a twin killing. With a trip to the semifinals at stake, he entered against the Dominican national team with a 1-1 tie in the 9th, again succeeding Cishek. Nelson Cruz doubled (Kimbrel had allowed only one double in the majors in 2012) then retired Carlos Santana. Erick Aybar singled in Cruz with the winner, then stole second. Alejandro De Aza struck out but Jose Reyes singled in Aybar for insurance. Mitchell Boggs relieved Kimbrel. In his last game, Craig came on with a 4-3 9th-inning deficit against Puerto Rico with the other semifinal spot still a possibility. Relieving Heath Bell, he allowed a Luis Figueroa single but retired Angel Pagan, Jesus Feliciano and Beltran to escape further harm.

His 2013 season got off on the right foot, as he managed a hole-in-one in a charity golf tournament at the ChampionsGate Golf Course in Kissimmee, FL on February 18th. On May 9th, he recorded his 100th career save in a 6-3 win over the San Francisco Giants. He won a Delivery Man of the Month Award for the third straight year in August, when he was successful in all 12 of his save opportunities, also picking up a win in 16 1/3 scoreless innings. He finished the year with his now usual sparkling numbers, a 1.21 ERA in 68 games and 50 saves to go along with a 4-3 record. While his strikeout rate went down a little from its tremendous heights of previous years, it was still over 13 batters per 9 innings, with 98 Ks (and only 20 walks) in 67 innings. In his only appearance in the NLDS, he pitched one and a third innings in Game 2 against the Los Angeles Dodgers on October 4th, walking 2 and striking out 2 while giving up no hits to save a 4-3 win credited to Mike Minor.

On February 16, 2014, the Braves signed Kimbrel to a four-year contract extension worth $42 million, with an option for a fifth season at $13 million. On May 18th, he became the youngest pitcher to record 150 saves, 10 days shy of his 26th birthday; he needed fewer appearances (248) than any other pitcher to reach the mark. On May 31st, he became the Braves' all-time leader for saves, tied with John Smoltz, when he recorded #154 over the Miami Marlins. He set a new mark with his next save on June 6th. He made the All-Star team for the fourth straight year. When he saved his 40th game of the year on August 29th, he became only the third pitcher to register that many in four consecutive seasons, after Trevor Hoffman and Francisco Rodriguez. He ended the season with a record of 0-3, 1.61 and a league-leading 47 saves. After the season, he was named the first winner of the Trevor Hoffman Award, created to honor the National League's best relief pitcher.

On the eve of the 2015 season, on April 5th, the Braves traded Kimbrel, along with OF Melvin Upton, to the San Diego Padres for outfielders Carlos Quentin and Cameron Maybin, prospects Matt Wisler and Jordan Paroubeck, and the 41st overall pick in the 2015 amateur draft. He had a streak of 35 consecutive save opportunities converted from June 2014 until he suffered his first blown save with the Padres on May 9th, after being successful in his first nine with his new team. He recorded his 500th career strikeout on May 25th, in his 305th inning. That made him the fastest pitcher to reach the mark, although he only held the record for two months, as Aroldis Chapman recorded his 500th strikeout in his 282nd inning on July 19th. Kimbrel had 23 saves at the All-Star break but was not picked for the game, a victim of a disappointing first half by the Padres. He went 4-2, 2.58, in 61 games and recorded 39 saves while striking out 87 in 59 1/3 innings. On November 13th, he was traded to the Boston Red Sox in return for four prospects: OF Manuel Margot, SS Javy Guerra, IF Carlos Asuaje and P Logan Allen.

Kimbrel had a sold first half for the Red Sox in 2016 as he saved 17 games with a 3.55 ERA and 50 K's in 33 innings. He was named to the All-Star team for the fifth time, his first as part of the American League squad. On July 8th, however, he hurt his knee while shagging fly balls in the outfield and had to undergo surgery for a torn meniscus, putting him out for a number of weeks. Boston immediately traded for Brad Ziegler from the Arizona Diamondbacks to fill the gap. he went 2-6, 3.40 in 76 games, with 31 saves. He set personal highs fro both losses and ERA, and his total of saves and strikeouts (83) were both the lowest since his initial season. The Red Sox won a division title, but he never had a lead to save in the postseason as Boston was swept by the Cleveland Indians in the Division Series; he did make a couple of scoreless appearances, totaling an inning and a third.

In 2017, he became the first pitcher to record both an immaculate inning and a four-strikeout inning in the same season. He accomplished the first feat on May 11th against the Milwaukee Brewers and the latter on May 25th, when he completed a record-tying 20-strikeout performance by Boston's pitchers in a 5-2 win over the Texas Rangers. It was the second time he had struck out four batters in an inning, the first time having come in 2012 with the Braves. In 67 appearances, he recorded 35 saves with 126 strikeouts and a 1.43 ERA in 69 innings. He was the winner of the Mariano Rivera Award, given to the best reliever in the American League, having won the equivalent award in the National League in 2014, and the two awards predecessor, the Rolaids Relief Award, making him the first pitcher to have won all three. In the postseason, he was not as dominant as during the regular season, but then again, he never had the opportunity to close a game, as both of his appearances in the Division Series against the Houston Astros came with Boston trailing. He gave up 1 run on 4 hits and a walk in 2 innings.

His daughter Lydia Joy was born in November 2017, but with serious heart problems and had to undergo two operations during the first four months of her life. Kimbrel stayed with her in the Boston area when spring training started in 2018, but his teammates were very supportive, wearing tee-shirts inscribed with the motto "Lydia Strong" in her honor, among other gestures meant to show their support. He arrived in spring training on March 19th, with a third surgery still needed to secure his daughter's long-term health, although she was now doing a lot better. Kimbrel called the ordeal "the toughest thing (he) had ever experienced." On May 5, 2018, he recorded the 300th save of his career in pitching a perfect 9th inning in a 6-5 win over the Texas Rangers. That made him both the youngest pitcher to reach the mark, at 29, and the one who had needed the fewest appearances - 494, respectively beating Francisco Rodriguez and Mariano Rivera in those two categories. He also did so in the fewest save opportunities - 330, ahead of Joe Nathan, who needed 335. He was the 29th pitcher to reach the mark. He went 5-1, 2.74 during the season, returning to the All-Star Game for the 7th time while recording 42 saves. He struggled in the Division Series against the New York Yankees, as he gave up 3 runs in 2 1/3 innings, even though he recorded a save in both of his appearances. His problems continued in his first two appearances of the ALCS against the Houston Astros, resulting in 2 more runs, even though once again he notched the save in both games. It was former All-Star closer Éric Gagné, a longtime friend of Boston manager Alex Cora, who helped him out, as he figured he was tipping his pitches and informed Cora. He made a change to his delivery and saved the clinching Game 5 with his best outing of the postseason, and as a result got a chance to play in the World Series for the first time of his career. He pitched 4 times in the World Series as the Red Sox defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers in five games. He picked up a save with a scoreless 9th inning in a 4-2 win in Game 2 and was on the mound when the Sox won Game 4, but he gave up a pair of runs on a two-run homer by Kiké Hernandez; they were pretty meaningless, as they turned a 9-4 lead to 9-6 win, but in the clinching Game 5, it was starter Chris Sale who was called on to pitch the 9th with a 5-1 lead.

Kimbrel became a free agent after the 2018 World Series, but he did not find any takers. Teams were shying away because of his second-half struggles, and because analytics departments, which were now run by just about every team, had begun to point out that closers were generally overpaid. Craig and Dallas Keuchel were the two most prominent free agents remaining unsigned in mid-March. It took until June 5th, after the 2019 amateur draft, for him to find a home. The Chicago Cubs offered him a three-year deal worth $43 million, now that they no longer had to worry about giving up a top draft choice in compensation. The Cubs were one of a number of teams badly in need of a closer - a group that also included his former team, the Red Sox. In an abbreviated first Cub season, he battled through knee inflammation and scuffled to a 6.53 ERA with 13 saves in 23 games. Things started off badly in 2020 as well, as in his first outing on July 27th, tasked to protect an 8-5 lead in the 9th against the Cincinnati Reds, he walked four batters and hit another one with a pitch, allowing two runs in just a third of an inning before being bailed out by Jeremy Jeffress. In his next outing on July 30th, he allowed solo homers to Josh Bell and Colin Moran of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 9th inning of a 6-3 win, then on August 4th had another melt-down, as he was tasked to preserve a 5-2 lead over the Kansas City Royals and allowed two hits while striking out one batter before giving way to Kyle Ryan, who allowed both runners to score before recording the save. The Cubs managed to win all three games and were off to a great start, but to say there was concern over their nominal closer's form would be a major understatement. But in spite of his terrible start, he managed to turn things around, finishing at 0-1, 5.28 in 18 games, with 2 saves, losing the closer's job to Jeffress, but showing enough that he was used in a close postseason game, tossing 1 1/3 scoreless innings in a 2-0 loss to the Miami Marlins in Game 2 of the Wild Card Series on October 2nd.

In 2021, as if the previous two seasons had been just a blip, he was back to being one of the best closers in the majors. On June 15th, he was leading the major leagues with 18 saves with an ERA of 0.66 in 28 games. Not coincidentally, the Cubs were having an outstanding season. On June 17th, he recorded career save #367, with tied him with Jeff Reardon for 10th on the all-time list. On June 24th, he added another feat to his already impressive resumé when he closed out a combined no-hitter against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Zach Davies pitched the first six innings, and was followed by Ryan Tepera and Andrew Chafin, who pitched an inning each. Kimbrel then took over in the 9th, and even though it was not a save situation as the Cubs held a 4-0 lead, the pressure was still on. He started off the inning by walking Chris Taylor - the 8th walk allowed by the Cubs' four pitchers, but then struck out Cody Bellinger, Albert Pujols and pinch-hitter Will Smith to complete what was already the 7th official no-hitter of the season. Unfortunately, the Cubs went on a bad losing streak right after that game, putting them out of the postseason race, and while Craig was named to the All-Star team for the 8th time, it was clear that the team would be stripping down at the trading deadline. But what happened was more a fire sale than a re-tooling, as the Cubs got rid of half of their starting line-up and most of their bullpen in the two weeks between the All-Star Game and the deadline on July 30th. In Kimbrel's case he was traded on that day to the crosstown Chicago White Sox in return for 2B Nick Madrigal (out for the rest of the year with an injury) and P Codi Heuer. He was 2-3 with a minuscule 0.49 ERA at the time, with 23 saves and 64 strikeouts in just 36 2/3 innings. Shortly after the trade, on August 16th, he recorded his 1,000th career strikeout. But the White Sox already had Liam Hendriks to act as their closer, so Craig had to change roles, and he did not thrive as a set-up man, going 2-2, 5.09 with 1 save in 24 games with the Sox. That left him with a combined mark of 4-5, 2.26 and 24 saves in 63 games. he also struck out 100 batters in 59 2/3 innings. In the Division Series against the Houston Astros, he pitched in 3 games, giving up 3 runs in 2 innings.

Following his struggles with the White Sox and Hendriks' continued presence on the roster, it wasn't clear what role there would be for him in 2022. that question was answered just before the season started, on April 1st, as he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in retrun for OF A.J. Pollock, a trade that filled needs for both teams: the Sox were missing one starting outfielder, and the Dodgers did not have a true closer following the departure of Kenley Jansen via free agency a couple of weeks earlier.

Notable Achievements[edit]

NL Rookie of the Year
2010 2011 2012
Buster Posey Craig Kimbrel Bryce Harper

Further Reading[edit]

  • Jordan Bastian: "Sources: Cubs have multiyear deal with Kimbrel",, June 5, 2019. [1]
  • Jordan Bastian: "Kimbrel 'on his way right now' to Wrigley",, June 27, 2019. [2]
  • Ian Browne: "Kimbrel amped to pitch in front of Fenway faithful: New Red Sox closer thrives on pressure, loves when crowd gets loud",, February 19, 2016. [3]
  • Matt Kelly: "High heat helped Kimbrel rediscover his mojo: Red Sox closer embraced high fastballs with resounding success",, January 18, 2018. [4]
  • Gabe Lacques: "Dodgers acquire closer Craig Kimbrel from White Sox, deal outfielder A.J. Pollock to Chicago", USA Today, April 1, 2022. [5]
  • Bob Nightengale: "Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel was tipping his pitches. Eric Gagne let Boston know.", USA Today, October 21, 2018. [6]
  • Bob Nightengale: "The Cubs finally got their closer in Craig Kimbrel. But after seven months off, how good will he be?",, June 6, 2019. [7]
  • Juan Toribio: "Dodgers land Kimbrel from White Sox for Pollock",, April 1, 2022. [8]

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