Craig Kimbrel: What is Wrong?

Atlanta Braves closer Craig KimbrelBraves closer Craig Kimbrel has been so dominant in his career, that when he struggles like he has recently, it comes as a shock.

Kimbrel has blown three of his last five save opportunities, including last night when he gave up back-to-back jacks with two outs in the ninth, while trying to preserve a one run lead.  So is something wrong with Kimbrel?

“I feel like those are three wins we should have under our belts,” Kimbrel said.  “It’s just frustrating.  I just feel like I can’t get it done. I can’t get it done right now.”

The tying home run was given up to some scrub named Devin Mesoraco, on a 3-2 count.  Mesoraco has been in the big leagues  three years, and entering last night had hit seven home runs in 273 at bats.  His career batting average is .212.  When Kimbrel is throwing like Craig Kimbrel can throw, he blows the bat out of the hands of guys like Devin Mesoraco.

The past couple seasons Craig Kimbrel was throwing his fastball 97-99 and occasionally 100 miles per hour.  This season Kimbrel has thrown 95-97.  That is a big difference.

What is perplexing is that last season when Kimbrel was throwing his fastball at maximum velocity, he was throwing it in the neighborhood of 66% of the time.  This season he has thrown his fastball right around 80%.  You would think that with his velocity down, he would be mixing in his curveball more, but he’s done just the opposite.

Batters are now sitting on Kimbrel’s fastball.

Whether it is mechanics, some fatigue from his participation in the World Baseball Classic, or an undisclosed physical problem, at this point we don’t know.  But if Craig Kimbrel continues to struggle, the Braves are no longer playing eight inning games like they have in the past, and Braves fans will have to sit there with their hearts in their throats until the last out is recorded.  Honey, pass the Maalox.

Craig Kimbrel’s Career Stats:

Year W L ERA G SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
2010 4 0 0.44 21 1 20.2 9 2 1 0 16 40 1.210
2011 4 3 2.10 79 46 77.0 48 19 18 3 32 127 1.039
2012 3 1 1.01 63 42 62.2 27 7 7 3 14 116 0.654
2013 0 1 3.38 14 10 13.1 11 5 5 3 3 21 1.050
4 Yrs 11 5 1.61 177 99 173.2 95 33 31 9 65 304 0.921
162 Game Avg. 4 2 1.61 68 38 67 36 13 12 3 25 117 0.921
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/8/2013.
About Jim Hart

Jim has covered the Atlanta Braves since 2008 for local and national broadcast news organizations. He also appears regularly talking Braves baseball on WCCP-FM in Clemson, South Carolina, and the ESPN Radio affiliate, 1420 Sports in St. Augustine, Florida.