Craig Kimbrel and the Reds’ Unlikeliest Comeback

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.

We hoped you liked reading Craig Kimbrel and the Reds’ Unlikeliest Comeback by Jack Moore!

Please support FanGraphs by becoming a member. We publish thousands of articles a year, host multiple podcasts, and have an ever growing database of baseball stats.

FanGraphs does not have a paywall. With your membership, we can continue to offer the content you've come to rely on and add to our unique baseball coverage.

Support FanGraphs




Jack Moore's work can be seen at VICE Sports and anywhere else you're willing to pay him to write. Buy his e-book.

newest oldest most voted
Steve
Guest
Steve

Kimbrel is human after all. Sorry, ATL fans. As soon as J-Up comes back down to earth, it’ll be a bumpy ride from here on out. 🙂

Charlie
Member
Charlie

The only thing bumpy about their ride from here on out is the amount of damaged baseballs they will create from all the long-balls.

Jason B
Guest
Jason B

And they will create cool ocean breezes with all their K’s, too! Might help to counter some of this anthropogenic global warming I keep hearing about…

Charlie
Member
Charlie

I look forward to when they come to Arizona then to counter the inevitable 110 degree weather.

Steve
Guest
Steve

Yes, because BJ Upton will DEFINITELY repeat his homer total from last year and Dan Uggla will resurrect his ISO suddenly?? Right.

Anon21
Guest
Anon21

This is an unusually stupid day to bag on Dan Uggla.

Anyway, they don’t need Uggla or B.J. Upton to replicate their peak power production to hit a ton of homers. You may not have noticed, but they’ve got at least four other guys with 20-homer potential (J. Upton, Heyward, McCann, and Freeman). Plus some bench/platoon players with serious power (Gattis, Francisco).

If you’re going to bash the Braves about something, power is the dumbest one you could possibly choose.

Steve
Guest
Steve

Heyward doesn’t play baseball anymore and McCann is a has-been. Francisco just sucks at baseball. Sorry, but the Braves aren’t as powerful as you think…

Anon21
Guest
Anon21

Steady trollin’. And I use that in the sense of insincere provocation, since you clearly are just saying things with no connection to reality in order to get a rise. Go back under your bridge.

Steve
Guest
Steve

Steady trollin’? More like presenting the facts? Prove to me that the Braves will continue hitting home runs…

Anon21
Guest
Anon21

Presenting what facts, exactly? That Heyward “doesn’t play baseball anymore”? Then what is he doing traveling with a major league team, and why is he projected to come off the DL early next week?

And no, you prove to me that the Braves won’t continue hitting home runs. The team leading the Majors in homers, with all health issues trending in the right direction, has nothing to prove to the likes of you, little troll.

Steve
Guest
Steve

HA! Good luck against the Reds next time with Brian McCann back in your lineup. I’m sure he’ll crank out 30 for ya.

gouis
Guest
gouis

Upton already has come back to earth.

TimBrownU
Member
TimBrownU

Yeah definitely. And BJ will continue to hit under 200. And Heyward will miss the entire season due to his appendectomy. Yes Justin will come back down to earth, but the Braves have plenty of hitters who are underperforming also which should negate the effects of Justin merely being a very good player

TKDC
Guest
TKDC

[Guy on Steve’s team] is human after all. Sorry [Steve’s team] fans. As soon as [best player on Steve’s team so far in 2013) comes back down to earth, it’ll be a bumpy ride from here on out. 🙂

Steve
Guest
Steve

I do have Jed Lowrie. He’s legit, but his average will come down. Still top production at a weak position if he’s healthy 😉

Josh
Guest
Josh

Bumpy ride begins with 2/3 against a WS contender in their park (easily could have been a 3 game sweep). Uggla 2 bombs! Francisco with a salami! Could you criticize Heyward and Upton a tad more?

Moron.