No. 268 Craig Kimbrel (Number 9 Relief Pitcher)

When I redid my formula Kimbrel jumped from the 15th best relief pitcher in MLB history to 9th. I wonder how much he jumped in 2022. I found out that he didn’t have a very good season in 2022. However, he was just short of passing Joe Nathen for 8th place. He is two points behind Nathen now and should pass him in 2023. Relievers have one way of moving up fast late in their career and that is using Bill James relief points which I estimate. I would have Kimbrel passing Red Ruffing for 225th place just short of Bill Terry.

One thing I will not do is move people up unless I redo my ratings. I don’t plan on ever doing it again, so Kimbrel is stuck here. However, I believe that Kimbrel is Hall of Fame eligible.

After a brief appearance with an ERA of 0.44 in 20.2 innings, Kimbrel led the league in saves four straight years. Now that is a great beginning to a career. Since then, he hasn’t been as great on  a consistent level, but he is doing very good every year, excellent some years and is 8th on the all-time save list.

Kimbrel was the Boston Red Sox relief ace in 2018 when they won the World Series. His ERA in those playoffs and his WHIP (number of base runners per inning), the number of players on base weren’t good, but Kimbrel is shown as positive in adding win probability (WPA) and Championship WPA in every round. I decided to look at his nine post season games that year and see how that happened.

The Red Sox played the Yankees in the first season best of 5. Kimbrel saved games 1 and 4, with four clutching the series. However, his ERA for the series was 11.57 and those were the two games he pitched. Let us take a look at the two games.

In game 1 the Red Sox won 5-4. Kimbril came into the bottom of the eighth with a man on first and two outs and got Andrew McCutchen to fly out. The Red Sox kept their 5-3 lead. Aaron Judge cut the lead to one with a homerun to lead off the top of the ninth. However, Kimbrel then struck out the side.

The Red Sox won game 4 and the series 4-3. Kimbrel came into game 4 in the ninth inning with a 4-1 lead. He really struggled with 4 of the first 5 batters getting on base. The bases were loaded, and the game was 4-2, when Kimbrel got Gary Sanchez to fly out, but a run scored. However, Kimbril got a ground out to end the game.  He got a lot of win probability for getting out of bases loaded situation with one out, by giving up only one run.

Next the Red Sox faced the defending champs the Houston Astros. The Red Sox won the series 4 games to 1 to go to the World Series. Kimbrel pitched in 3 games saving all three. After Houston won game 1, Boston won game 2 7-5 and Kimbrel got the save. Kimbril came into the game in the top of the ninth with a 7-4 lead. He got the first two batters, but the top of the lineup got to him. George Springer doubled, and Jose Altuve singled him in. However, Kimbril got Alex Bregman to fly out for the win.

The Red Sox won game 3 easily but Kimbril came into game 4 in the eighth inning with an 8-5 lead. Tony Kemp led off with a single but was thrown out at second. He then hit Alex Bregman with a pitch and George Springer doubled off him again. However, Jose Altuve grounded out, which scored a run, but was the second out. Kimbrel struck out Marwin Gonzalez to end the inning. In the ninth Kimbril got 3 outs working around 3 walks to end the game. Luckily he got Alex Bregman for the last out because George Springer was on deck. His performance was more clutch than good in this game. He let 6 batters get on base in 2 innings. Only one scored.

Kimbrel did better in game 4. He came in with a 4-1 lead gave up only a walk and struck out 2 in his third save on the series to clinch the pennant for the Red Sox.

The World Series was different. Kimbrel only had one save, but pitched in four games. In game 1 he came into the top of the ninth with a 8-4 lead, so it was a non-save situation. Kimbrel retired the side, striking out the last two batters.

The Red Sox had a 4-2 lead. Kimbril retired the side again, this time in a save situation.

Game 3 was one of the great games of all time. Kimbrel entered the game early in the 9th inning. The 9th inning was early because the game lasted 18 innings with the Dodgers winning 3-2. David Price came in to start the ninth. He left with two out and a man on first. Kimbrel came in walked the first batter, but got the next to end the 9th. In the 10th Kimbrel gave up a ground rule double to Max Muncy with two outs. Muncy would later hit a homerun in the 18th to win the game 3-2 for the Dodgers. Kimbrel got the next batter to keep the Red Sox alive. This was the end of Kimbrel’s performance in game 3.

Kimbril next pitched in game 5. The Red Sox came down from a 4-0 lead and scored 5 runs in the top of the ninth. Kimbril came into the bottom of the ninth in a non-save situation. He gave up a walk and a homer to start the inning, making the score 9-6. Then he settled down giving up only a single to Justin Turner while retiring 3 batters. He never faced the tying run had the tying run on deck.

In game 5 the Red Sox had a 5-1 lead in the bottom of the ninth. Chris Sale was originally going to start game 5, but the Red Sox manager Alex Cora announced after game 4 that David Price was starting tomorrow. In this case tomorrow was game 5. Cora said that he thought Price would feel more comfortable in a National League Park. He did feel comfortable giving up 1 run in 7 innings. Sale was still recovering from a stomach illness where he lost 10 pounds. Since the Red Sox had a comfortable 5-1 lead in the ninth, Cora had Chris Sale go out to the mound to complete the game and the series. He struck out the side. In the 8th Price walked the leadoff man and Joe Kelly came in relief. He struck out the three batters he faces. So, the last 6 Dodger batters didn’t even hit a fair ball to end the series.

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