After being named the Red Sox’ president of baseball operations on August 18th, 2015, one of Dave Dombrowski’s first orders of business in his first offseason at the helm in Boston was to acquire a topnotch closer to supplement the back end of his bullpen.
That November, Dombrowski did just that, as the Red Sox acquired then-four-time All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel from the San Diego Padres in exchange for a package of four prospects.
With three years of club control remaining after signing a four-year, $42 million extension with the Braves that included a club option for a potential fifth year prior to the start of the 2014 campaign, the Sox were getting one of the best late-inning hurlers in the game in the form of the flame-throwing Kimbrel.
Kimbrel was an All-Star in each of the three seasons he donned a Red Sox uniform, and he capped off his tenure in Boston with his first World Series ring in October 2018.
For this piece specifically though, I’d like to focus on Kimbrel’s 2017 season.
2017 was a rather forgettable year for the Red Sox despite them winning 93 games and the American League East for the second straight year, but Kimbrel was as dominant as ever coming off a somewhat bumpy first year in Boston.
Appearing in 67 games in his age-29 season, Kimbrel posted a 1.43 ERA, a 0.68 WHIP, and a 1.50 xFIP over a nice 69 innings of work. He converted 35 of a possible 39 save opportunities, was named the Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the Year that October, and finished sixth in American League Cy Young voting that November.
To put those numbers into perspective, Kimbrel was worth 3.2 fWAR in 2017, per FanGraphs. Using that metric, that’s the best year any Red Sox reliever has had since at least 1901, which is as far back FanGraphs goes on its leaderboard page.
Out of the 254 batters he faced in 2017, Kimbrel struck out 126, or 49.6%, of them. That’s the highest mark for any reliever to work at least 60 innings in a single season since the turn of the century. In that same time frame, the Alabama native also posted the highest K/9 average in 2017 (16.43). Surprisingly enough, Matt Barnes, who averaged 15.4 punchouts per nine innings last season, is right behind him.
It probably would have been better to write something like this while Kimbrel was actually still on the Red Sox. But with the lack of things to write about lately and all, I thought what the former Sox closer accomplished in 2017 was worth taking another look at.
Now a member of the Chicago Cubs, Kimbrel may not be the dominating late-inning force he once was, but he’s still one of the best to do it in this era. That’s for sure.