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Cy Young Caliber Closers

Nasty. Filthy. Intimidating. Record breaking. It’s only the second full season Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman have played in the The Show and all of these words have been associated with them. No closers have won the Cy Young award since Eric Gagne did so with a 1.20 ERA in 2003.

It’s rare to ever see closers or relievers win the Cy Young for one main reason. They pitch no more than 80 innings in their teams’ long going season. In fact, I’ll do the math for you. Chapman has a mere five percent of the outs for the Cincinnati Reds and Kimbrel clocks in at a petite four percent for the Atlanta Braves. Compare those numbers to Jonny Cueto, Cy Young candidate for the Reds, who has thrown 203 innings and got 15 percent of the Reds outs. The impact the closers have on the overall success on their teams is slim.

Now, with that being said, the flamethrowers Chapman and Kimbrel 5% percent of outs are the toughest outs in their teams seasons. They’re closing the games in the toughest situations when their teams need them most. If they are dominating major league hitters like the Japanese pitchers do in the Little League World Series, then there’s no question they should be contenders for the Cy Young.

This is the year for a closer to win the Cy Young. Both Chapman and Kimbrel are in the same ballpark of Gagne’s 2003 season. Chapman has the highest strikeout per nine innings since…well anybody. He leads Randy Johnson’s all-time record, 13.41, at 15.6 strikeouts per nine innings. Although, Kimbrel seems to be keen on the phrase “anything you can do I can do better” as he leads Chapman with 16.4 strikeouts per nine innings. For comparison sake, Gagne was at 15.0 in the year he won the Cy Young.

There’s more that goes into a closer than just his strikeouts per nine innings, simply a statistic measuring his swing and miss stuff to strike people out over nine innings. In 2003, Gagne finished with 55 saves, nearly breaking the season-single season record at the time, 57. Kimbrel and Chapman are unfortunately in a lesser galaxy when it comes to breaking that record. Both have just nine games left and are nowhere close to breaking the saves record. Kimbrel ranks second in the NL with 40 saves, and Chapman ranks fifth in the NL with 35.

They may be far off  from repeating Gagne’s masterful saves totals, but, when the Reds and Braves play on TV you simply hope it’s a tight game so you can see either of them pitch. The ball looks like a bullet coming out of their hands and you can hear the pop of the mitt from your television set. Kimbrel also has one of the best pitches in the game right now to go with his power fastball, an 88-92 mph slider that hitters can’t read coming out of his hand. The off-balance swings hitters take on Kimbrel’s slider reminds me of Jerry Springer’s  balance in Dancing with the Stars.

Kimbrel is undoubtedly leading over Chapman in the Cy Young race, though Chapman is still worth talking about. The Braves closer has struck out fifty percent of the batters he has faced, a jaw dropping stat, and has a lower ERA, 1.08, than Gagne’s 1.20 in 2003. After looking at all of the numbers, it has been proven that Kimbrel has had the makings of a Cy Young caliber season.

There are certain things that must take place for a closer to win. He has no chance of winning Cy Young, assuming he’s not breaking records, unless a starting pitcher has shined brighter than all other starting pitchers. Fortunately for Kimbrel, this is exactly what has happened in 2012. R.A. Dickey is arguably the leader for starting pitchers but he is on a team with a losing record. Baseball writers have traditionally held the impact of a team’s overall success on the candidate’s shoulders. Until lately, that tradition has wore off like the phrase “Merry Christmas.”  In the past three years, Zack Greinke and Felix Hernandez both earned Cy Young honors for teams that won 65 games or less. If the writers can recognize the true dominance of a pitcher like Kimbrel and go back to their old ways, then the words “Cy Young” will be associated with Kimbrel when the last out is made in 2012.

*all stats up to 9/24

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