Posted: 11:18 am Sunday, February 16th, 2014

Kimbrel’s value as closer obvious to Braves 

By Jeff Schultz

kimbrel

Craig Kimbrel has 138 saves in his first three seasons as the Braves’ closer. (AP photo)

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — There is a disturbed segment of the baseball populace that has come to believe closers are overrated. This group of fans and some team executives mostly are followers (lemmings?) of Sabermetrics, a pure, 100-percent statistical evaluation of baseball that allows no room for trivial things … like brains and heartbeats.

“All innings are created equal,” Braves general manager Frank Wren said with a smile Sunday, tongue firmly planted in cheek.

Statistical evaluation can be a valuable tool for judging athletes and teams. But there’s also something to be said for the mindset of a pitcher who can come out of the bullpen in the ninth inning with no outs and two runners on base in a one-run game and not spontaneously combust.

Which brings me to Enter Craig Kimbrel. The Braves signed their closer to a four-year contract with $42 million guaranteed. A fifth-year option and incentives can bring the value of the contract to nearly $60 million.  That is a lot of money for a closer, who generally are the biggest injury risk on the roster. But Kimbrel, who was scheduled to go to arbitration Monday, has put up improbable and illogical numbers: 138 saves in his first three seasons, including 50 last year. He was a commodity the Braves could not afford to lose.

UPDATE: Here’s a link to today’s subscription column on why Jason Heyward was left out of the mega-contract extravaganza.

“It’s a special day for us because we know we have the back end of the game locked down,” Wren said.

“If you can have that piece in place with solid starting pitching, we can figure out the rest of it (in the middle). I’m not in thee camp that thinks anybody can close games, that anybody with a good arm can go back and pitch in the ninth. … There’s a lot of people in that camp, unfortunately. Well, I say unfortunately but that’s their preference. It doesn’t bother me.”

Wren continues to lock up the team’s core. That’s three big deals in the last two weeks given to Kimbrel, starter Julio Teheran and first baseman Freddie Freeman. Jason Heyward was signed for two years. Shortstop Andrelton Simmons and pitcher Mike Minor are other members of the identified team core that could be signed to long term deals.

“I feel like this is a core we can win with for a long time,” Kimbrel said.

And that doesn’t happen without a closer.

Some recent ramblings …
– Poll time: Can Braves’ Uggla or Upton turn it around? (vote)
– MyAJC ($): Dan Uggla: ‘I was a mess’ last season
– MyAJC ($): Braves about to find out if no move was right move
– Blog: Braves’ signing of Teheran another risk worth taking
– Blog: The Braves, spring training and travel issues…
– MyAJC ($): Dimitroff says he’ll judge Michael Sam on talent, not sexual preference
– Blog: Missouri’s Sam says he’s gay; how will NFL react?
– MyAJC ($): How They Really Stand: Annual rankings of Atlanta sports teams
– MyAJC ($): Paul Johnson: Perception of Tech not reality
– Blog: Tech’s talent level (just the facts, no spin)
– Blog: Signing Day advice: Proceed with caution
– MyAJC ($): Manning can’t even outscore Seattle’s defense
– Blog: Super Bowl Short Takes on Seattle’s rout of Denver
– MyAJC ($): Elway sent message when nobody on Falcons did
48 comments
Dusty2
Dusty2

Braves on the move!  Freeman, Teheran, Kimbrel !  What a summer it is going to be.. 

WhopperDawg
WhopperDawg

Great and astute move. Yes, the chance if injury adds risk, but thus far he has been pretty healthy. Every game just got shortened to 8 innings. That is important overall, but especially important to the manager and the other pitchers - what a security blanket, yes?


As to the critics of paying this money for a player that only is in ~60 innings a year, let's put his role into an everyday player perspective.


Let's say you have a guys that can't field any position and can't run a lick. But he can hit. Either hit of miss, homer or strikeout. And let's say he homers on 30% of his ABs, (300 BA). That would be 50 HRs a year and about 100+ RBIs. What would you pay that guy?


Kimbrell's success % is about 90% (saves). Pretty good IMO.

Jetiredo
Jetiredo

Craig Kimbrel has at the moment the all time lowest ERA for any pitcher to have pitched 200+ career innings with a 1.38 career ERA

EdStone28
EdStone28

The Braves will finally get Bruce Sutter paid off this year so they'll have a little extra to throw at a closer. Good move.

Hemmorid_Sufferer_2
Hemmorid_Sufferer_2

With all this money they are spending, they won't have any left to re-sign Uggla!


Oh wait....

Codex
Codex

Sign Simmons to a long term - 5 years max! Wren knows Uggla's salary is coming off soon and if BJ doesn't turn it around this year, he'll be gone in 2 years as well

pbond3
pbond3

"But there’s also something to be said for the mindset of a pitcher who can come out of the bullpen in the ninth inning with no outs and two runners on base in a one-run game and not spontaneously combust."

  Huh? Since when does Kimbrel (or ay closer) come in with runners on base in any inning? You must have already forgotten last years elimination game, when with no outs in the 8th and a 1 run lead and an LA runner on 2nd, Kimbrel was intentionally left in the pen. Most of the time a reliever comes in with that scenario is in the 6-8th innings, and its not the closer.

   Without question (or any Sabermetrics), the save stat is the most overrated stat in the game. In fact,

back in 2007 a pitcher actually got a save in a 30-3 Rangers win over the Orioles, which pretty much explains what a useless stat it is.

GeorgeStein
GeorgeStein

Terrible contract. Why anyone would advocate signing a pitcher - even one as good as Kimbrel - is beyond me. He will pitch 75 innings or so. For a team with limited resources, a closer is a luxury. The money should have been applied towards retaining Simmons, Heyward, or Minor long-term.

seminoleking
seminoleking

everybody getting all excited over what? that the braves have signed the SAME players who have brought them nothing? its about the chips, not selling out cobb county if you are a true baseball fan.........

Hodor
Hodor

This is not so much Wren's doing as it is Hart's.

GoGeorgiaTech
GoGeorgiaTech

Can I get a link to a single "sabermetrician" who doesn't think Kimbrel is a great player? Because as far as I know, none exist, so I'm confused by this article's tone.


Thanks.

58Supersports
58Supersports

Great move by Braves. I don't believe for a second that  this is Wren's doing. If so why now and not in past. Maybe there is more to the story.  I believe all of these signings has to do with Braves move to Cobb Co. and the Complex of business, hotels, and food est. for year round fun  and income for Braves. Braves also plan to put a winner on the field to fill the park every game like the Phillies, Red Sox, NYY and Dodgers. This is great for fans, Atlanta, Cobb Co, and everyone . Thanks Braves!


Simmons is the heart of Braves "up the middle" get him signed....Go Braves.


Phillipdj
Phillipdj

They're creating their "Mount Rushmore" for the 2017 stadium opening season. Young, homegrown talent signed long term to sell out the Cobb.

RoyalDawg
RoyalDawg

If we had had a closer like Kimbrel in the 90's we would have won at lease 5 World Series, IMHO.

It is good to see Wren buck "traditional wisdom" and pay for the 9th inning. It is really illogical NOT to.

Well done, Frank, well done.

C-Kirk
C-Kirk

Only a few Closer's in the last 20 years has every sports analyst agreeing that " light out " when they enter a game. Rivera was one Kimbrel has been another. He was a huge piece of Atlanta's puzzle going forward . Great job Wren and thank you Liberty Media for finally making a financial commitment to bring a Championship to Atlanta. 

Now get Simmons signed to a long deal.  

reckingball
reckingball

Now Minor and Simmons, and probably Beachy and Medlin. They should have tried to keep Heyward longer than 2 years, imo.

reckingball
reckingball

And who said that the Braves weren't doing anything this winter?

mdet
mdet

wow... that is great. Wren did a great job. I think Kimbrel is worth way more.

legalbuzz
legalbuzz

Good stuff!!  Now let's stay healthy and get back to the postseason!

bigbobbles1
bigbobbles1

Great signing........Good luck from injuries

GoGeorgiaTech
GoGeorgiaTech

@WhopperDawg  That analogy only begins to be remotely comparable if said player is only able to play in 2-3 games a week. And even then, hitting a HR on 30% of his ABs would give him about 100+ HRs a year, so I'm confused by your math. That player would make a fortune and would be much more valuable than a relief pitcher, Kimbrel or Rivera included, by anyone's metrics.

Flacons_go_2-14
Flacons_go_2-14

@MummyHead  Fist just how dum RU? The that last thin We need is 4 the Barves 2 resigh Struggla


Nex Why R my posts bein delted? 

reckingball
reckingball

@MummyHead They will still have BJ for a couple more years to take up the slack after Dan's departure. No worries.

JeffinRaleigh
JeffinRaleigh

@pbond3  I agree. It's not necessarily that closers are overrated, it's that they are used in the ninth inning, which may or may not be the critical inning the bullpen will face. Last year's playoff game against LA is a perfect example of how a resource like Kimbrel is misused in critical situations, all in pursuit of a made-up stat that has questionable value. 

Columbus68
Columbus68

You must be pretty young to think a closer or saves in close games are overrated. Leave out the extreme cases of a 30-3 save in your argument please. Gi a season without a closer...then get back to us ok?

reckingball
reckingball

@pbond3 Kimbrel came into the game in the 9th with runners on at least once last season, I think that it happen more than once.

Kimbrel comes into the game with a 1 run lead, facing the heart of the opponents batting order, and ends the game with a Braves win, which is also a Save for him, and that is overrated and not important?

I  don't think that you have to be a Sabermetrician expert to comprehend, that is not overrated.

rogersjam
rogersjam

@GeorgeStein  the highest paid relievers in MLB last year made $14-15 million per year. they are overpaid. Kimbrel out performed all of them. We are getting a good deal for a record setting reliever based on market value. The money for the other kids will be applied accordingly, for the players wanting to be Braves and willing to work to build a championship team, not greedy players looking to maximize their contracts. We could have had Kimbrel at arbitration rates for 3-4 years and know he was going to leave a free agent and probably get $20 mill a year then, but he chose to compromise and stay close to home. Quit yer bitchin 

reckingball
reckingball

@GeorgeStein Having Kimbrel as a closer is a luxury that the Braves can't afford?

He had 50 saves last year, the Braves should just go out and get a bottom of the barrel closer and see if he can save 50 games?

If that had been the case last season and the other guy would have blown half of those save opportunities that could have been 25 of those 96 wins turned to Ls.

BannedPoster
BannedPoster

@seminoleking  This is a young team that has improved each season the core has been together (blowing WC and winning 89 in 2011, Winning WC spot and 94 games in 2012, and winning NL East in 2013 and 96 games). They are on a natural progression and should continue to improve.  Locking up the core was the best thing for the Braves this offseason given the limited amount of lock down #1 starters available.  Like the team going into 1993, this Braves team is a true #1 away from putting it all together.  My money is on them getting that person this year or going into next season....either as one of their pitchers stepping up his game or Wren pulling a great trade.  

BannedPoster
BannedPoster

@tazmanian  I believe it is a little of both.  Hart and Wren have probably discussed locking up core players much like Hart did in Cleveland and in Texas when those teams made World Series runs.  Wren is the man making it happen and signing the checks, so I will give him the credit.  

reckingball
reckingball

@58Supersports You answered your own question. It is an investment by Liberty Media to make as much profit from the Braves new stadium complex, as possible, that is for sure.

bfred
bfred

@reckingball @pbond3 That elimination game debacle was on Fredi, not Kimbrel.  No reason not to send him out to face the meat of the order in the 8th and whatever he could handle in the 9th, then look to someone else to pick up the last out or two in the 9th against the back end of the lineup.

rogersjam
rogersjam

@reckingball @pbond3  you say that he got a save with a 30-3 score, but you leave out the important facts in that game. it was a 3 inning save, the score was not 30-3 when he entered the game. etc etc etc

GeorgeStein
GeorgeStein

@rogersjam There's no such thing as a player that wants to be a Brave.   They want to get paid, end of discussion.  My problem with the contract is that it is not a good value.  There are enough other guys who can perform at 75% of what Kimbrel is who will make 15% of what he will make.   This is about resources, and the Braves don't have many.

GoGeorgiaTech
GoGeorgiaTech

@PeterNapa That article calls Kimbrel "otherworldly", "terrific", and "great". It is also not written from a sabermetric perspective, but one of the Braves' perceived budget. 


Any other examples?

rogersjam
rogersjam

@reckingball @pbond3  not that i agree that every save is equally as hard or easy, just saying that your invalidation of the save stat based on one argument is irrelevant