Sunday, September 24 2023

Craig Kimbrel, who recently recorded his 400th career save, is one of the best closers in MLB history. 

That said, the 35-year-old’s production has tapered off in the latter half of his career, which has many speculating if the drop-off is enough to keep him out of the Hall of Fame.

FOX Sports MLB analyst John Smoltz explained why he believes that Kimbrel indeed faces a bumpy road to land his name in Cooperstown, New York on the latest edition of “Flippin’ Bats with Ben Verlander.”

“He (Kimbrel) falls into the [Billy] Wagner discussion,” Smoltz said. “I don’t know why closers don’t get as much [publicity] and run in the Hall of Fame. Wagner, he was as nasty of a left-handed closer as you’ll ever see and maybe didn’t amass the years and the quantity that Mariano [Rivera] did, but a lot of it also has to do with who you played for and what you’ve done.” 

“I think the discussion always comes down to: Is the length of dominance enough for Hall of Fame voters to see past the struggles? Because at the end of your career, if you struggle pretty much for two years, it clouds over the amount of greatness that you’ve had. I’ve seen that through a couple [of] players already who had a 10-year period offensively as a player like Andruw Jones. And I maintain he’s a Hall of Famer, hands-down, but the last couple [of] years of his career clouded the voters in my opinion of how he finished. I’ve always had this discussion, if injury weren’t to take Andruw Jones after the 10 years that he had, he’d be a first ballot [Hall of Famer], but because he went five more years after that, then it’s a little tougher.

“I think the same thing can be said for some of these guys who have amassed numbers that we may never see again in the closer’s role,” Smoltz added. “There’s so much volatility in the closer’s role. I don’t think we’re going to see anybody amass these numbers again.”

Kimbrel signed a one-year deal with the Philadelphia Phillies last offseason and has struggled mightily this year; he entered Saturday’s matchup against the Washington Nationals having surrendered five home runs and sporting a 5.57 ERA.


Kimbrel spent the first five seasons of his MLB career (2010-14) with the Atlanta Braves, leading the sport in saves for four consecutive years from 2011-14. He had a 1.51 ERA in that span and a strikeout-to-walk rate of 4.74:1. After a one-year stint with San Diego Padres, Kimbrel spent the next three seasons with the Boston Red Sox, culminated by winning the World Series in 2018.

Kimbrel signed with the Chicago Cubs the ensuing season but not until June, and he went on to post a career-worst 6.53 ERA across 23 appearances, which was followed by posting a 5.28 ERA in 2020. 

He was traded to the Chicago White Sox midway through 2021 

After an electric start in 2021, Kimbrel underwhelmed down the stretch and was subsequently traded to the Chicago White Sox midway through season. He spent 2022 with the Los Angeles Dodgers, posting a 3.75 ERA across 63 appearances.

Across his 14-year MLB career, Kimbrel has led the sport in saves four times and racked up eight All-Star Game selections, along with being named 2011 National League Rookie of the Year. He has 401 saves, good for eighth all-time.

Mariano Rivera (19 seasons with the New York Yankees) and Trevor Hoffman (18-year career primarily spent with the Padres) are the lone MLB pitchers to reach 500 saves. In fact, they each shattered the mark, as Rivera finished with 652 saves and Hoffman finished with 601 saves. Both relievers are in the Hall of Fame, with Rivera being the first player to be unanimously inducted.

For perspective, Francisco Rodríguez (437), John Franco (424) and Wagner (422) are Nos. 4-6 in all-time saves, but they aren’t in the Hall of Fame. 

Smoltz pondered whether the duration and consistency of Rivera’s and Hoffman’s dominance could work against Kimbrel’s Hall of Fame case, barring a resurgence. 

“I don’t think anyone’s going to get 400 saves again, but the same thing with 300 wins, we may never see that if Justin Verlander doesn’t get that,” Smoltz said. 

“I think voters are going to have to adjust and accommodate the ways that the game has been played and the usage of the guys that we’re dealing with not to mention all the injuries.”

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