On my home Wednesday afternoon, I was listening to local sports talk radio as two personalities discussed the recent struggles of Atlanta Braves closer Craig Kimbrel.
He has blown three of his last five save opportunities, including a loss Tuesday night in Cincinnati — the only loss of the series for the Braves. In his last five appearances, Kimbrel’s ERA has skyrocketed from 0.00 to 3.38, an astronomical number in Kimbrel numbers.
Worst of all, his velocity seems to be dipping slightly. Kimbrel made his money by throwing a fastball that is routinely in the 99-100 mph range, whereas this season, it’s commonly hovering around 95 mph. It doesn’t seem like much, but it can certainly be the difference between being a closer that’s untouchable and a closer that gets touched up far more often than normal.
So the question was raised: On a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being no worries and 10 being an immediate demotion from the closer role, how worried are you about Craig Kimbrel? I thought about it during their debate that featured callers, both overreacting and super-conservative, and came up with my own number.
Closers are a funny breed. They can be the most overconfident athletes on the planet, but if you shake their routine and they stumble once, they could be done for life. Case in point: Brad Lidge in the 2005 NLCS against Albert Pujols. Sure, this was a much bigger moment than a mid-May blown save in Cincinnati, but it doesn’t have to be. It can be any blip on the radar that causes a closer to go off the deep end.
On the other hand, I’m not worried about the same thing happening to Kimbrel, at least not from these three early-season blown saves. I believe he’s a stronger pitcher than that, and he’ll work through his problems.
The only reason why that 3 isn’t a 1 is because of the fall in velocity. If his fastball is truly dropping off and will never return to the triple-digits, this could become an issue. That doesn’t mean it will for sure, because Kimbrel has other pitches that he can use to dominate a hitter. Thus, the worry level is slightly elevated, but not through the roof.
Three games in the middle of a regular season just isn’t a big enough sample size to know for sure, in my opinion.
Where would your “Craig Kimbrel Panic Meter” be set?