Key Stats: Craig Kimbrel had one of the most impressive rookie seasons in history. He led the NL with 46 saves, posted the 6th highest mark for K/9 in the history of baseball (with at least 25 IP) at 14.84 and won the NL Rookie of the Year Award. He did it with a fastball that averaged 96.2 mph and a slider, excuse me power curve the leaves batters looking stupid.
Skeptics Say: There isn't much bad to say about him. Baseball News Hound scouted him back in March of 2011 and noted "He throws his hard-slider —a pitch notorious for causing elbow injuries— almost a third of the time and he could be an injury risk moving forward." Fangraphs PitchFx data shows the breaking ball being offered 30.3% of the time. Despite that comment though, he has no injury history in the minors and Baseball Prospectus doesn't have him flagged as an injury risk. His walks per nine were closer to four than they were to three which is a concern, but when you strike out 41% of the batters you face and manage a WHIP of 1.04, it's something we can let slide. I would expect as he gets older (he will still be 23 when the season starts) he will start to sacrifice some velocity for control and the control problems will become less of a problem.
Peer Comparison: It's really hard finding someone to match up with Kimbrel. As mentioned above, his slider behaves more like a curve, or his curve behaves more like a slider, and he only uses the fastball and his 'power curve' exclusively. Brian Wilson, of the best-commercials-featuring-a-beard-ever fame, and Chris Perez also rely exclusively on a fastball/slider repertoire. Since Perez, despite having the best alter-ego on twitter, took a pretty big step back last season from 2010, we'll leave him out the discussion. I really just wanted to get the alter ego thing in here somewhere.
So Wilson and Kimbrel, Kimbrel and Wilson...Wilson IS KIMBREL!!! Not really. They both throw fastballs and "sliders" exclusively...that along with their names is really where the similarity ends. Despite Wilson's success, his career high WAR is 2.3, Kimbrel came in at 3.2. Their career high K/9 favors Kimbrel by more than 3, and Brian's career ERA is 1.42 runs worse than Craig's.
Team Outlook: Kimbrel is still really young and has Johnny Venters lurking in the shadows should he falter any. That being said, Freddie Gonzalez was quick to pull Kimbrel from the closers role for a small stretch last season when he started to struggle a little. Based on the rest of the year success that Kimbrel had one would assume he would have a slightly longer leash this year, but it's something to keep an eye on going forward.
What They're Saying: CBS Sportsline - #1 Relief Pitcher; Tristan Cockcroft of ESPN.com - #1 Relief Pitcher & #47 Overall; RotoChamp - #57 Overall; Mock Draft Central - #1 Relief Pitcher and #58 Overall
Projection: When reaching out to Ben Duronio for comment 146 characters of Kimble commentary or less he stated "Best reliever in the game in '11. I expect an increase in the walk rate, but also in the save percentage. Best K/9 ever." Yeah... he might not be too far off there.
3 Wins, 41 Saves, 1.60 ERA, 120 K's, 1.00 WHIP in 70 innings