Win probability said the Reds had a 4.3 percent chance of winning when Devin Mesoraco stepped to the plate against Craig Kimbrel. There were two outs and nobody on base. Win probability obviously didn’t know Craig Kimbrel was pitching.
According to Tom Tango’s run frequency calculator, given Kimbrel’s career .154/.240/.208 line against, a run is expected to score off Kimbrel 2.3 percent of the time with two outs and the bases empty. Actual win probablity, then, is more like 1.0 percent, considering Atlanta would be expected to win half the times Kimbrel gets out of the inning with a tie.
Naturally, then, Mesoraco and Shin-Soo Choo hit back-to-back home runs, and the Reds left with likely the most improbable walk-off win of the season.
Kimbrel was arguably the most unhittable pitcher in major league history last season. He demolished Eric Gagne’s strikeout percentage record (50.2 percent to 44.8 percent, minimum 40 IP) and posted top-10 marks in contact rate and swinging strike rate. Kimbrel somehow still blew three saves (four meltdowns), but he recorded 42 saves (37 shutdowns) and his 0.78 FIP was half that of his nearest competitor.
And when Kimbrel recorded two clean outs to open the frame, as he did against Cincinnati, he was actually unhittable. In 63 appearances last year, Kimbrel reached two outs and nobody on 38 times. In those 38 plate appearances, hitters managed a .000/.079/.000 line — three walks, one reached on error, 19 strikeouts and 15 other outs. Neither of the four baserunners came around to score.
Until last night, Kimbrel’s streak had continued undisturbed through 2013. In eight of his 13 games, Kimbrel had reached two outs and nobody on, and in all eight he recorded the out — four strikeouts, a groundout, a lineout, a popout, and a flyout. Forget a comeback, and forget a home run, and forget even a run of any sort. The last time Kimbrel had given up a single with two outs and nobody on came September 19th, 2011, the last time he faced a two-out, nobody on situation that season. Emilio Bonifacio, then with the Florida Marlins, singled on a “Ground Ball to Weak 3B” according to Baseball-Reference.
Kimbrel was bound to eventually slip up in this situation. In 2011, he gave up nine hits in 39 at-bats with two outs and nobody on, and there wasn’t any reason to believe his streak was predictive of his ability to turn a 1-2 start into a 1-2-3 inning. But from the streak to Kimbrel’s absurd career numbers to the unhittable heights he reached in 2012, the Reds were clearly up against one of the most difficult one-run deficits possible when Mesoraco stepped up last night.
The last 46 attempts to break Craig Kimbrel with two outs and nobody on had failed miserably. Cincinnati’s accomplishment last night gave them what will almost certainly go down as 2013’s most unlikely one-run comeback victory.
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