Braves Stat of the Week: Craig Kimbrel Is A Strikeout God

Kimbrel strikes out batters at an unprecedented rate.

He's only appeared in weekday day games so far, so I'm sure some of you have yet to see Craig Kimbrel pitch in 2011. Those of you who have not seen him are missing out on something special. Kimbrel started the season by giving up a flyout to Adam LaRoche; since then, all 5 batters he's faced have struck out, and all of them have looked pretty hopeless in the process.

Since Kimbrel came up last year, counting the postseason, he's faced 94 batters, and he's struck out 45 of them. That's 47.9%. (I call this stat Total Strikeout %, or TSO%.) Even better: since his last call-up in late August 2010, Kimbrel has faced 53 batters and struck out 30 of them. That's a total strikeout rate of 56.6%. 

I'm going to repeat that because it is almost unbelievable: Craig Kimbrel has struck out 30 of the last 53 batters he's faced. (He also struck out 7 of the 13 batters he faced in the playoffs last year.)

Here's how Craig ranks in Total Strikeout % among all pitchers with at least 10 IP since the start of 2010:

Rk Player Tm TSO% SO BF
1 Craig Kimbrel ATL 47.9%   45   94
2 Carlos Marmol CHC 41.3% 142 344
3 Billy Wagner ATL 38.8% 104 268
4 Jordan Walden LAA 37.8%   28   74
5 Aroldis Chapman CIN 37.0%   20   54
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/4/2011.

Kimbrel blows away the competition, even Carlos Marmol. As you probably know, Kimbrel has often been compared to Billy Wagner. If these numbers are any indication, though, Kimbrel has a chance to be much better than even Wagner.

In fact, Kimbrel's 2010 TSO% of 45.5% was the highest of all time. The next-best is Eric Gagne's 44.8% during his record-breaking 2003 season. That should give you an idea of what will happen if Kimbrel keeps this up.

A bit more after the jump, including a great, simple graph.

Here's the stat that gets me the most. Kimbrel has given up only 33 fair balls in his career, out of 94 batters (78 if you don't count walks). That's a ball-in-play rate of only 35.1% (42.3% if you don't count walks). A hitter who merely puts the ball in play against Kimbrel has already beaten the odds.

Or to put it another way, here's a graph:

Kimbrel-strikeout-god_medium

Yup. Hitters put the ball in play off of Kimbrel at about half the rate that they do off of the average reliever. And he strikes out batters at well more than twice the rate of the average reliever. The average reliever had 71% fewer strikeouts than balls in play. Kimbrel, on the other hand, had 36% more strikeouts than balls in play.

He'll walk his fair share of batters this year (or more), and he'll probably even give up another run or two (so far in his young career, he's given up exactly one earned run, last May 15th). But I doubt that anyone will strike out batters at a higher rate than Kimbrel.

This kid is unlike anyone we've ever seen before. We're lucky to get to watch him.

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