The closer is the ultimate stopper, brought in during the most pressure-packed moments to shut the proverbial door.
Success as a closer remains a mystery. A strange combination of power, confidence, control and the ability to psyche out your opponent are all necessary, but in what measure remains unknown. Most closers have a period of dominance over the course of a few seasons. A tenuous walk on the tight rope, until they get touched, and their invincible status dissipates as they come crashing down to earth.
The presence of a dominant closer makes good teams great, and great teams legendary. The best we've seen is Mariano Rivera.
Games were all but over the moment "Enter Sandman" hit.
Rivera's current counterpart? Atlanta Braves pitcher Craig Kimbrel.
Through their first three seasons as a closer, Kimbrel has 14 more saves than Rivera, (138 compared to 124) and 185 more strikeouts, (341-156) while sporting a lower ERA (1.44 – 1.87) and WHIP (0.86 -1.04). Rivera is undoubtedly the gold standard, in no small part due to the longevity of his reign. But as you can see, Kimbrel's early numbers rival the man who is a mortal lock to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Opposing managers fear Kimbrel because he shortens the game unlike anyone we've seen. The mound is his workshop, and his confidence grows with each strikeout.
The fire in his arm is only matched by his command of the moment. Greatness is where he sets the bar for himself, and he expects to intimidate any batter despite being 60' 6" away.
Kimbrel's heavy reliance upon the strikeout (14.9 K/9) will be difficult to maintain as he ages. If the Braves closer can continue to develop his wicked slider as an out-pitch similar to Mo's cutter, Kimbrel's "Countdown to Cooperstown" may be just beginning.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Justin Van Wyen is a former sports columnist at Millersville University turned fantasy sports enthusiast. He currently lives in Lancaster, PA working as a Customer Service Supervisor at The Jay Group. You can follow him on Twitter @showmethejmoney.