When someone easily sets a new rookie record for saves and unanimously wins the NL Rookie of the Year, little else can be done to cement his reputation as a dominant pitcher...unless you're Craig Kimbrel.
To the surprise of no one, Kimbrel continued to strike everyone out who dared take hacks against him. By the All-Star Break, Kimbrel had notched 25 saves with 56 strikeouts and a 1.36 ERA, easily earning him his second straight All-Star selection. In addition, he had only walked 10 hitters at the Break compared to 18 in 2011.
Walks were less of an issue for Kimbrel this time around. Post-ASB, Kimbrel only walked four hitters and from May 18 to July 28, a period covering 26 innings, he didn't issue a single free pass. The reduced number of walks also contributed to fewer blown saves. Of his three blown saves, two came via home run.
Kimbrel, though, was racking up insane strikeout numbers. 17 times did all outs he recorded come via strikeout, eight of those times he struck out the side in order. On September 26, he struck out four hitters in a single inning, making him the fourth Braves pitcher to accomplish the feat (Wohlers, Assenmacher, Niekro) and the 57th overall.
For the second straight year, Kimbrel broke the 40-save plateau; he shared the NL lead with 42 saves and was second in all of MLB with 116 strikeouts to Aroldis Chapman's 122. To put Kimbrel's dominating season in perspective, feast your eyes on these numbers compared to pitchers with at least 50 IP:
16.6 K/9: best strikeout ratio ever
.126 opponent batting avg.: lowest vs. any pitcher since 1900
.358 opponent OPS: lowest vs. any pitcher in expansion era
0.65 WHIP: best for any NL reliever since 1900
4.3 strikeout/hit ratio: (116 K, 27 hits) best ever
50.2% of hitters struck out: best in live ball era
A high total of strikeouts combined with a low number of walks equaled a K/BB ratio of 8.29, a number that topped the NL. Kimbrel also generated the highest swinging strike percentage (19.2%) of all qualified pitchers. He allowed a grand total of seven runs in 2012, three of them after May 4, none in September.
Craig Kimbrel's 2012 season is certainly one to remember. His astonishing numbers are certainly Cy Young-worthy: 116 strikeouts, 42 saves, 1.01 ERA. Even though Kimbrel didn't win the award, this was a season for the history books and he should be primed and ready for more in 2013.