Craig Kimbrel is currently a counted upon, highly important mainstay at the back of the Braves' bullpen. However, it's taken some solid work for him to get to that point. Kimbrel has improved his command since his days in the minor leagues and has become more than just a power arm with a good breaking ball.
"His stuff is as good as any pitcher in his role in baseball," said one scout regarding Kimbrel. "Try to find a pitcher with two more explosive pitches to end a game than what he has. There's not many guys out there like that."
That, right there, sums up pretty well what the Braves have in Kimbrel. But, they didn't always have that in the hard throwing righty. In fact, I was lucky enough to scout Kimbrel back in 2009 while he was pitching for the Low-A Rome Braves and, needless to say, he was not the same pitcher then that he is today.
The raw ability and pure stuff was the same, as Kimbrel worked at 94-99 mph with his fastball and flashed a knockout slider. On the other hand, he had trouble keeping his mechanics consistent and, in turn, his command was wildly inconsistent as well.
"Because there is some effort involved in that delivery, I don't think he'll ever be a command guy," another scouted commented. "But, he's come a long way from where he was. Look at his command when he first got to the big leagues or back when he was in the minors and it was a big problem. He's vastly improved in that department."
One of the biggest advancements in Kimbrel's game has been his improved slider command. It isn't just his walk numbers that have benefited from his better command. It also has allowed Kimbrel to have a better mix between his fastball and slider. He now throws more sliders, and fewer fastballs, and simply keeps hitters off balance a little better.
In the past, while the slider was a devastating offering for the Braves' right-hander, it wasn't a pitch he located well enough. Now, because of his further confidence in locating the slider, he can go to it in hitter's counts. And, hitters now have a lot more to think about than just his 95-98 mph fastball early in counts.
What Kimbrel has going for him now is a far more consistent delivery. His release is more consistent as well, and therefore that slider is far easier for him to spot consistently.
"His slider has such hard bite, it's a difficult pitch to throw for strikes," another scouted added. "But, he's done a better job spotting it and making it more tempting for hitters."
So, while Kimbrel may never be known for his command, he's now at a state in his development as a big league closer that he can comfortably spot his two plus pitches. And, if a hitter has to play a guessing game between those pitches, it's a nearly impossible position to hit in.