Photo: Curtis Compton/AJC
It’s no secret the Braves bullpen has been very, very bad this year. Only two pitchers this year who have pitched over 10 innings in relief have had an ERA under 3.00 (Tyler Matzek and Luke Jackson). It has become almost a given that the bullpen will give up a run (or two) in innings 7-9. Fans everywhere (myself included) are frankly tired of seeing it, especially when this could have been avoided had we resigned guys like Darren O’Day or Mark Melancon, the latter of which is leading all of MLB in saves and has a sub zero ERA with the San Diego Padres.
There does seem to be some improvement happening. Chris Martin recently returned from the IL and has pitched to a 1.93 ERA in his few appearances, and veteran Shane Greene will be returning to the team at some point over the next couple weeks. However, if the Braves have any hopes of making a complete 180 with this bullpen, they are going to have to go to the trade market for some established Major League relievers.
A big name I’m sure would be high on the fan’s list and what other sites have buzzed about would be former Braves’ flame-throwing closer Craig Kimbrel. Since his debut in 2010, Kimbrel electrified Braves country with his blazing fastball that would range in the high 90s almost every time he threw it. From 2011-2014, Kimbrel was arguably the best closer in baseball, and he would record 186 saves with the Braves. He was ultimately traded in 2015 to the Padres, where he only spent one season before going to the Boston Red Sox for 3 seasons. In 2019, he signed a 3 year deal with the Chicago Cubs. Overall, Kimbrel is a 7-time All Star, the 2011 NL Rookie of the Year award winner, and won a World Series in 2018 as a member of the Red Sox. His 356 career saves is good enough for 12th all-time in MLB history, and at 32 years old, he could have a chance of possibly cracking the top 5 when it’s all said and done.
The Braves do have Will Smith as their current closer and he technically has not blown a save, but he has been rather inconsistent since signing with the Braves in 2019. His ERA has been over 4 in his Braves career thus far.
So, would Kimbrel even be worth trading for? This year, in 17 games, he has a 1.08 ERA with 8 saves and 27 strikeouts in 16.2 innings. As mentioned, he is known for being a hard thrower, and he mostly throws a 4-seam fastball and a curveball. According to Baseball Savant, his average fastball speed this season is 96.9 MPH and he has topped off at 99.2. This speed has been consistent with his fastball velocity as well, as he has averaged 96-98 MPH velocity from 2015 to today. A negative though is his increased walk rate, as it has increased slightly over the past few years.
This season though, Kimbrel looks like the elite closer he once was for the Braves. While he has had success outside of Atlanta, he hasn’t been able to capture that dominant form he once had while with the team. A return to Atlanta would not only boost the bullpen, it would rejuvenate the fan’s faith in a bullpen that many have lost completely. Kimbrel is still very popular among the fans, and seeing him wear the Tomahawk across his chest again while “Welcome to the Jungle” is blaring would be a dream.