Craig Kimbrel has dominated like no closer in recent memory, and maybe like no closer in distant memory. Using advanced stats like WAR, his value to Atlanta is measurable (3.6 WAR last year). Using advanced stats like PSR, his value to your fantasy team is measurable as well (5.03 PSR last year, 85th in the league).
But unfortunately, his value in fantasy is limited because of the amount of innings he throws. There’s no doubt that his 42 saves last year were great, but there were four other pitchers who had at least as many (Jim Johnson, Fernando Rodney, Rafael Soriano, Jason Motte).
His 121 strikeouts were astounding, but plenty of closers finished the year with 60+ Ks, and it’s not that hard to make up the other 40-60 strikeouts by picking up 8-10 good starting pitching options over the standard 22-26-week fantasy season.
His 1.01 ERA and 0.65 WHIP were downright dominating, but their impact was limited by the 62.2 innings he threw. Our handy ERA Conversion Table lets you look at what that 1.01 ERA would equate to over different innings pitched, and Kimbrel’s performance was worth as much as a starting pitcher with a 2.93 ERA over 180 innings, a 3.08 ERA over 210 innings, or a 3.18 ERA over 240 innings. There’s no doubt all of those rates are hugely valuable, but it’s not like his ERA equivalents are unheard of by starting pitcher standards. Last year there were nine starters who posted an ERA of 3.08 or better in at least 210 innings.
At a Glance
Strengths: SV, K, ERA, WHIP, K/9, OBA
Neutral: W, IP
Best-case scenario: repeat of 2012
Likely scenario: better than Jonathan Papelbon (PHI), Jason Motte (STL), Joe Nathan (TEX)
Worst-case scenario: repeat of 2011
Craig Kimbrel 2013 Fantasy Projection
It’s not Kimbrel’s fault that he only pitches 60-70 innings, and it’s not our fault that we value him so low. The math tells us exactly how much value his ERA and WHIP bring, and fantasy baseball is a numbers game, pure and simple.
Despite being the dominant pitcher he is, it’ll be tough — almost impossible — to replicate his 1.01 ERA and 0.65 WHIP next year. Our projected 1.44 and 0.79 marks are doable for a player of his caliber, though, and you’ll notice he’ll only need a 3.63 BB/9 and .133 OBA to reach that WHIP. Maybe you think those are conservative projection, and maybe they are, but I feel comfortable with them.
When you draft Kimbrel depends a lot on your draft and team management philosophies. Some people are more active during the season than others and can pick up closers easily as the season progresses. Some people don’t operate that way and need to pursue reliable closing options to shore up the game’s most volatile fantasy category (saves). If you fall into the latter, go get your man around pick 60-75. His value won’t fall very short of that, and it’s a totally defensible pick. Just make sure you’re not an active manager who can find saves yet you find yourself drafting Kimbrel that early. Know your strengths and play to them.
Kimbrel is in his prime and he’s the surest bet I can imagine as far as relievers go, so I say go ahead and target him. In deep leagues (16+ teams or NL-only) I’d actually be a little more aggressive when drafting Kimbrel because there aren’t a lot of stable closing situations around the league and there aren’t enough closers for each team to get two. If you get Kimbrel you can either fortify saves with a mid-to-low-tier option like Greg Holland or wait to see what develops for teams like Minnesota or the New York Mets.