There seem to be more question marks at the closer position heading into 2011 than I can remember in any recent season. At this point in mid-January, there are still a handful of storylines that won’t play themselves out until sometime during spring training. In Atlanta, one of the big questions (especially for fantasy GM’s) is who will be the closer in 2011? Left-hander Jonny Venters was their breakout reliever of 2010, posting a 1.95 ERA and 2.69 FIP. Then, there was strikeout machine Craig Kimbrel, who burst onto the scene later in the season only to post a 0.44 ERA, 1.53 FIP and fan 40 batters in a mere 20.2 innings.
Who gets the job in 2011? I happen to think the choice is quite clear.
The difference in K/BB rate between Venters and Kimbrel is not so significant, but the huge gap in strikeout rate is. Kimbrel has a proven track record of top-notch strikeout ability with 242 strikeouts in 151 minor league innings (14.4 K/9). Venters, on the other hand, was a starter in the minors and only converted to the bullpen last season.
Before I get too crazy with these numbers, I must point out that Venters pitched in 83 major league innings while Kimbrel pitched in only 20.2 major league innings. However, Kimbrel did post a 13.07 K/9 and 4.34 BB/9 against lefties at triple-A Gwinnett in 24.1 innings. In all likelihood, Both pitchers could see their strikeout rates regress, especially Kimbrel. It’s not that he can’t be an elite strikeout reliever, but in the last three years, only Carlos Marmol has posted a K/9 over 14 (minimum 40 IP).