For the second straight season Atlanta Braves closer Craig Kimbrel has put up silly numbers. This season the flame-throwing reliever has 43 saves, is 3-2 and has a microscopic ERA of 0.97.
Last year he finished the year with 42 saves and a 1.01 ERA. If he finishes the year with a sub-1.00 ERA this season, he’ll be one of just three relievers to ever record 40-plus saves with an ERA below 1.00 in MLB History (Dennis Eckersley, 0.61 in 1990 and Fernando Rodney 0.60 in 2012).
MLB.com’s Mark Bowman writes that Kimbrel has a shot at becoming the first closer with a sub-1.00 ERA during a year in which he records 50 saves or more.
Kimbrel also may have a shot at more baseball history this season as he looks like a legitimate Cy Young Award candidate. Just nine relievers have ever won the award, most recently Eric Gagne of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2003 (55 saves, 1.20 ERA).
Kimbrel’s 43 saves are the most in baseball, and opponents are hitting just .161 off him this season. In 55 2/3 innings pitched so far this season, Kimbrel has faced 213 batters, striking out 80 of them (37.5 percent). According to Bowman only Aroldis Chapman (41.0) and Kenley Jansen (38.3) have higher rates among NL relievers.
After blowing two saves early in May, Kimbrel has rebounded to convert 33 straight save opportunities. In his last 42 1/3 innings pitched, he has only allowed 1 run (and that came in a non-save situation on July 4 against the Marlins).
The one thing that may hurt Kimbrel’s Cy Young campaign is the fact that he’s only pitched 55 2/3 innings this year, compared to fellow contenders like Clayton Kershaw’s 204 innings or Adam Wainwright’s 200 2/3. I hope Braves fans can enjoy the irony in the fact that an Atlanta reliever might not have enough innings pitched to win the Cy Young.
According to ESPN.com’s Cy Young Predictor, Kimbrel will finish second to Kershaw for the award.
The Dodgers ace is 13-8 this season with a 1.72 ERA. He’s struck out 197 batters, while walking just 46. Opponents are hitting just .186 against him. Kershaw has a chance to finish the season with the lowest ERA-title qualifying ERA since Greg Maddux’s 1.63 in 1995. He would be just the third pitcher to have an qualifying ERA of 1.72 or lower in the last 30 seasons, joining Dwight Gooden (1.53 in 1985 for the Mets) and Maddux (1995 and 1.56 in 1994).
Wainwright will also command his fair share of the votes, even with Wednesday’s awful start against the Reds, as he is 15-8 with a 2.96 ERA this season. He’s thrown five complete games this season and has ridiculous K/BB ratio with 184 strikeouts and just 27 walks.
Still if Kimbrel and the Braves can finish the season with the best record in the National League and he gets to 50 saves with a sub 1.00 ERA, then he’ll really give the voters something to think about.