Playing in his second full season as the closer for the Atlanta Braves, Craig Kimbrel has already made a lasting legacy on the sport. He has been dominant in his career and is one of the top choices from the National League to win the 2012 Cy Young Award. With his team already in the playoffs, there were some (myself included) who called for him to be the play-in game starter if the Braves win the wild card. He has put up amazing numbers and could be the only threat to reach 500 saves, putting him in great company with Mariano Rivera (608 saves), Trevor Hoffman (601 saves) and Lee Smith (478 saves).
Rivera didn't begin his career as the closer for the New York Yankees, but after two seasons as a backup, he took control of the role in 1997 and never looked back. Hoffman began closing out games on a regular basis in his second season with the San Diego Padres, while Smith began closing in 1982 with the Chicago Cubs. Kimbrel didn't start his career as the closer for the Braves; as he played in 21 games in 2010 before earning the closer spot in spring training the next season.
For the most part, Kimbrel has been dominant in his career. In 161 games, he has recorded a 1.47 ERA with 88 saves and just 11 blown opportunities. While many considered his rookie season to be spectacular, he has been far better this season and has made the opposition look terrible and weak at times. He has a 0.65 WHIP, .124 BAA and has 113 strikeouts in 61 1/3 innings. He has just 14 walks and is hoping to secure a few more strikeouts to finish with 100 more strikeouts than walks, which is something that is almost unheard of.
There hasn't been this much talk about a young closer in years, but where does Kimbrel stand when compared to the greatest ninth-inning guys in MLB history?
In his first two seasons as a closer, Rivera recorded 79 saves with 104 strikeouts, 37 walks and a 1.90 ERA. During his first two seasons as a closer, Hoffman had 51 saves with 120 strikeouts in 109 1/3 innings and a 3.21 ERA. His saves total is lower because he was pitching in the strike-shortened 1994 season. Smith recorded 62 saves in his first two full seasons as a closer from 1983-84. While he recorded 17 saves in 1982, he also started some games, so I didn't count that season as his first year in the ninth inning. He had a 2.64 ERA with 177 strikeouts and 76 walks in 204 1/3 innings.
All three performed well in their first two seasons as the closer, but none of them can compare to what Kimbrel has done. We have seen other pitchers play well in the past like, only to falter later on like Eric Gagne or Billy Koch, but from what Kimbrel has shown the baseball world, I don't see that happening.
For a look at articles on the great career of Chipper Jones, click here .
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Hobson Lopes has been a life-long Atlanta Braves fan, thanks to TBS, and can be followed on Twitter @HobsonLopes .
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