The Contender To Aroldis Chapman's Throne

Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel pitches in the ninth inning against the Miami Marlins at Turner Field. The Braves beat the Marlins 6-1. Credit: Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

Aroldis Chapman is having a nonsensical season in relief, but he's not alone.

Henderson Alvarez has struck out 49 batters out of the 559 he's faced this season. Aroldis Chapman has struck out 100 of the 205 batters he's faced. Chapman has exactly 100 strikeouts in 53 innings, and he's struck out the side in roughly a fifth of his appearances. Chapman has recorded a strikeout in 49 of his 50 appearances this season -- the only time he didn't, he pitched a third of an inning.

You can go on all day with Chapman factoids. Pitchers are throwing harder, and hitters are striking out more. This is leading to insane strikeout records being set. Kenley Jansen set a relief record with a 16.1 strikeouts-per-nine-innings mark last season; Chapman is on pace to break that record.

Chapman, Chapman, Chapman. Everyone's agog about Chapman. He's clearly the best reliever in the game, right? Let's move on and anoint him the best r …

Wait. There is another. From David O' Brien

After striking out all three Houston batters he faced in the ninth inning Friday, (Craig) Kimbrel had an absurd 50 strikeouts and one walk in 28 innings over his past 28 appearances.

Craig Kimbrel is 24 years old. He came up to the majors in 2010, where he walked 16 and struck out 40 in 20 innings. The strikeouts were absurd, but so were the walks. In the minor leagues, he averaged 5.7 walks for every nine innings he pitched. He was the classic "If he ever figures out his control, boy oh boy oh boy" prospect. There are a dozen of those kinds prospects floating around the minors right now, I'd reckon. Some of them turn into Nick Neugebauer. Some of them turn into Craig Kimbrel.

Very few of them turn into Kimbrel, actually. The idea that an arm like his is suddenly paired with plus command is terrifying. O'Brien sets the cutoff at 28 appearances because that's the period that starts directly after May 15, when Kimbrel walked two batters in a non-save situation. Since then, Kimbrel has:

  • struck at least two batters in 17 of those 28 appearances
  • gone over 20 pitches in an inning just once
  • struck out the side with 13 or fewer pitches in four different outings.

Here's one of those outings, in which he needed 13 pitches to strike out the Mets in order:


This was much better than his shameful outing the day before, in which he labored through 18 pitches to strike out the side.

How close is Kimbrel to Chapman? The stats:

Aroldis Chapman Craig Kimbrel
IP 53 42
H 24 17
K 100 73
BB 14 11
HR 3 2
ERA 1.34 1.29

Chapman still has the edge in strikeouts, and he's also used in multi-inning situations. That probably gives him the edge for now. My first inclination was to give an edge to Kimbrel as the reliever I'd want going forward because he's only 24, but Chapman is also just 24. They could get better. It's the era of the CGI reliever, and these two are the silliest and most fictional of the bunch.

Chapman's had the better season, but if Kimbrel can maintain his stretch of preternatural control, he could be just as good. We've already pulled up lawn chairs to watch the Trout/Harper debates for the next couple of decades. But if both pitchers keep throwing strikes like a 100-m.p.h. Bob Tewksbury, the Chapman/Kimbrel debates might be just as lively going forward.

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