Craig Kimbrel, last year’s unanimous National League Rookie of the Year and the Braves’ star closer, might just be the next best thing since sliced bread. Not only did he break the overall Major League saves record for rookie pitchers last year, but he also recorded his 27th save on July 7, 2011, breaking the Major League record for most saves by a rookie before the All-Star break. Jonathan Papelbon held the previous record of 26 saves. Then, this past Sunday, during the Braves victory over the Washington Nationals, Kimbrel hit another milestone, becoming the fastest player ever to record 200 strikeouts, doing so in 117.2 innings. As much as it pains me to say, none of this would be possible if it weren’t for Fredi Gonzalez.
I have been a Braves fan since I was a little girl. The only manager I ever knew was Bobby Cox. Needless to say, getting used to the Frediot philosophy has been a struggle. Last year, when Kris Medlen was on the DL rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, the Braves were somewhat short-handed in the bullpen. Though Gonzalez could have used relievers Scott Linebrink, George Sherrill, Scott Proctor and Cory Gearrin more often, he overworked his “O’Ventbrel” trio – Eric O’Flaherty, Jonny Venters and Kimbrel. While that decision likely led to Kimbrel’s implosion on the mound last September, none of his aforementioned accomplishments would have been feasible otherwise.
By the end of June last year, Kimbrel appeared in 42 games, more than any other closer in baseball. Serving as the set-up man for Kimbrel, Venters worked 46 games. Kimbrel ended the season with 46 saves and 127 strikeouts in 77 innings pitched. Those are astonishing numbers for any closer, let alone a rookie closer. At 24, Kimbrel, who has a wickedly effective fastball-curveball combination, still has many quality years left as a closer … if Frediot doesn’t continue to work him to death. Hopefully, drafting Lucas Sims, who would make an exceptional closer, is a good indication that the Braves will eventually give Kimbrel some relief. After all, even God rested on the seventh day.