Closer Look at Closers: Aroldis Chapman and Craig Kimbrel

by Michael Theed | Posted on Wednesday, June 19th, 2013
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Chapbrel

When people talk about young, hard-throwing closers, the first names in their heads are Aroldis Chapman of the Cincinnati Reds, and Craig Kimbrel of the Atlanta Braves. These two have come in over the last couple of years and taken over as two of baseball’s most dominant closers, with Kimbrel taking away the rookie saves record in 2011 away from Texas Rangers closer-turned-starter Neftali Feliz, who set it just the year previous.

Both pitchers debuted for the proverbial “cup of coffee” in 2010, with Kimbrel coming up in May and splitting time between the Braves and their AAA team in Gwinnett, and Chapman being called up just before the September roster expansion that year. While Chapman had much more fanfare for his debut, having signed a six year, $30.25 million contract just prior to the 2010 season, Kimbrel made a name for himself quickly, striking out 40 batters in just 20.2 innings pitched. While Kimbrel had a slight issue with control in his time in the Bigs in 2010, walking 16 in that span, he’s been able to straighten himself out, and, along with Chapman, strike batters out at ridiculous rates.

Kimbrel was handed the full-time closers role in 2011, which he turned into a record-setting Rookie of the Year campaign, unanimously beating out teammate Freddie Freeman. During that year, Kimbrel saved 46 games, a record for rookie-eligible pitchers, and struck out 127 batters in just 77 innings while walking 32 and posting an ERA of 2.10 with a 1.039 WHIP. Chapman was not given the closer’s spot that year, but was able to notch his first career save in the year, while attempting to figure out some control issues as he walked 41 in 50 innings while striking out just 71, culminating in an ERA over 3.50 and a WHIP of 1.300.

When 2012 rolled around, there were talks of making Chapman a starter. In the end, the Reds went against it, and Chapman became their full-time closer, notching 38 saves and punching out 122 in 71.2 innings while walking only 23 and sporting an ERA of 1.51 with a WHIP that ended up just a touch over 0.800. Kimbrel, however, had an even better season, saving 42 games while striking out 116 in 62.2 innings while walking just 14 batters with an ERA of 1.01 and a WHIP of 0.654. Both pitchers ended up in the top 10 [Chapman eighth, Kimbrel fifth] in the Cy Young Award Voting, as well as the top 15 [Chapman 12th, Kimbrel eighth] in MVP voting for the National League, while both made the All-Star team.

So far in 2013, these two closers are pretty much neck and neck with each other. Kimbrel has the advantage in saves, ERA, BB/9, and K/BB, while Chapman has a hold of WHIP, strikeouts, K/9 and H/9. Kimbrel’s strikeout rate is a bit down compared to years passed [currently sitting at 12.6 K/9 against a career 15.4] while Chapman’s is up slightly from last season.

Both pitchers have, for the most part, dominated since they made their debuts in 2010. However, looking at the stats, which one is really better?

Kimbrel’s career stats:

Year Age Tm Lg W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB IBB SO
2010 22 ATL NL 4 0 1.000 0.44 21 0 7 0 0 1 20.2 9 2 1 0 16 1 40
2011 23 ATL NL 4 3 .571 2.10 79 0 64 0 0 46 77.0 48 19 18 3 32 1 127
2012 24 ATL NL 3 1 .750 1.01 63 0 56 0 0 42 62.2 27 7 7 3 14 0 116
2013 25 ATL NL 2 1 .667 1.71 27 0 23 0 0 19 26.1 20 5 5 3 7 1 37
4 Yrs 13 5 .722 1.49 190 0 150 0 0 108 186.2 104 33 31 9 69 3 320
162 Game Avg. 5 2 .722 1.49 68 0 54 0 0 39 67 37 12 11 3 25 1 115
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/18/2013.

Chapman’s career stats:

Year Age Tm Lg W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB IBB SO
2010 22 CIN NL 2 2 .500 2.03 15 0 3 0 0 0 13.1 9 4 3 0 5 0 19
2011 23 CIN NL 4 1 .800 3.60 54 0 13 0 0 1 50.0 24 21 20 2 41 0 71
2012 24 CIN NL 5 5 .500 1.51 68 0 52 0 0 38 71.2 35 13 12 4 23 0 122
2013 25 CIN NL 3 2 .600 2.03 33 0 25 0 0 18 31.0 18 7 7 3 13 0 54
4 Yrs 14 10 .583 2.28 170 0 93 0 0 57 166.0 86 45 42 9 82 0 266
162 Game Avg. 6 4 .583 2.28 68 0 37 0 0 23 66 34 18 17 4 33 0 106
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/18/2013.
As can be seen, Kimbrel holds a few edges over Chapman. Chapman gets the slight luxury of being a lefty, but overall numbers favor Kimbrel. Over the two careers, Kimbrel leads this pair in ERA, games pitched, games finished, saves, runs and earned runs allowed, walks, strikeouts, ERA+, WHIP, HR/9, BB/9, K/9, and K/BB. This all could change, of course, considering Chapman was not a full-time closer until last season and had some control issues up to that point, but going forward, with the closer’s role locked down for Chapman up in Cincinatti and his pitches under more control, look for some of these statistics to sway in Chapman’s favor in the next season and a half. However, for right now, to answer the question, Craig Kimbrel is the better pitcher, and probably the best closer in baseball right now, but Chapman is right on his heels.
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Michael Theed
About the Author

Michael is a Marlins fan covering Marlins Baseball. Civil Engineering Student at University of Central Florida. Follow him on Twitter @MTheed4.







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