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Over in my latest post

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at Talking Chop, I delve into the incredible numbers that Craig Kimbrel has put up in his brief major league career. He has struck out 45 of the 94 batters he’s faced in MLB (47.9%), and 30 of the last 53 (56.6%) since his final call-up in late August 2010.

That got me wondering if anyone else had ever had a better streak.

I couldn’t find a way to do definitive research on this, but I went through the top strikeout performances for starters and relievers and came up with 4 stretches (of at least 50 batters faced) that topped Kimbrel’s:

  1. Eric Gagne, May 17-June 17, 2003: 35 K in 59 BF, 59.32%
  2. Billy Wagner, May 16-June 17, 1999: 32 K in 54 BF, 59.26%
  3. Kerry Wood, May 6-11, 1998: 33 K in 56 BF, 58.9%
  4. Pedro Martinez, September 4-10, 1999: 32 K in 56 BF, 57.1%
  5. Craig Kimbrel, August 27, 2010-current: 30 K in 53 BF, 56.6%
  6. Brad Lidge, September 18, 2004-April 15, 2005: 31 K in 54 BF, 56.4%
  7. Randy Johnson, May 3-8, 2001: 31 K in 56 BF, 55.3%

That’s some pretty good company for the kid, isn’t it? And while this is a very small sample size, I still find it pretty impressive that a rookie could put up strikeout numbers reminiscent of Randy Johnson or Pedro Martinez in their primes. The presence of Kerry Wood should be a cautionary tale, though. All it would take is one arm injury to derail Kimbrel’s strikeout wizardry.

Another fun fact about Kimbrel is that he’s struck out at least one batter in 21 straight games. That ranks as a tie for 10th all-time (no more than 2 IP in any outing):

Rk Player Strk Start End Games IP SO ERA Tm
1 Eric Gagne
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2003-07-18 2004-04-10 35
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39.2 65 0.23 LAD
2 Brad Lidge
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2004-08-21 2005-04-21 29
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33.0 61 1.64 HOU
3 Ugueth Urbina
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1997-08-28 1998-05-19 28
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33.0 46 1.64 MON
4 Billy Wagner
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1999-07-27 2000-04-04 26
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28.1 43 0.64 HOU
Trevor Hoffman
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1998-07-14 1998-09-14 26
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29.0 40 0.93 SDP
6 Takashi Saito
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2006-05-15 2006-07-24 24
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29.0 40 1.55 LAD
7 Jose Valverde
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2006-05-19 2006-09-16 23
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28.1 46 8.89 ARI
8 Carlos Marmol
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2010-06-20 2010-08-14 22
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23.1 42 3.86 CHC
Billy Wagner
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2001-05-09 2001-07-16 22
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21.0 34 3.00 HOU
10 Craig Kimbrel
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2010-05-15 2011-03-31 21
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21.1 43 0.42 ATL
John Axford
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2010-08-03 2011-03-31 21
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24.2 36 3.65 MIL
Mike Adams
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2009-08-18 2010-05-05 21
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21.2 31 2.08 SDP
Carlos Marmol
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2008-04-25 2008-06-08 21
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24.2 40 2.55 CHC
Billy Wagner
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2003-07-11 2003-09-03 21
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22.2 33 0.40 HOU
Paul Shuey
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1999-08-20 2000-04-10 21
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24.0 36 3.38 CLE
Rob Dibble
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1992-08-26 1993-05-30 21
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22.1 39 3.63 CIN
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com
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Generated 4/5/2011.

Here we have some of the best closer seasons of all time… and Jose Valverde. Valverde somehow put up an ERA of almost 9 during his streak! That is hard to do.

John Axford’s streak ended on April 3rd, so it isn’t active, but Kimbrel’s is. He’s got a ways to go to catch Gagne, though.

Another fun fact is that 3 of the pitchers on this list were in the 2010 Braves bullpen: Kimbrel, Billy Wagner, and Takashi Saito. All 3 were brilliant, despite the former’s youth and the latter two’s age.

Another measure of dominance is what I call a “shut-down inning (SDI)”: a perfect inning (no baserunners) with at least 2 strikeouts. Here are the relievers with the most SDIs since the start of 2010:

Rk Player SDIs SO
1 Carlos Marmol
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14 Ind. Games
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33
2 Billy Wagner
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13 Ind. Games
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31
3 Luke Gregerson
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12 Ind. Games
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27
Rafael Betancourt
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12 Ind. Games
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26
Joaquin Benoit
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12 Ind. Games
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27
6 Takashi Saito
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11 Ind. Games
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24
7 Frank Francisco
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10 Ind. Games
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22
Mike Adams
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10 Ind. Games
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20
9 Leo Nunez
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9 Ind. Games
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21
Joel Hanrahan
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9 Ind. Games
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20
Neftali Feliz
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9 Ind. Games
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21
12 Koji Uehara
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8 Ind. Games
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18
Joe Thatcher
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8 Ind. Games
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16
Joakim Soria
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8 Ind. Games
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17
Daniel Bard
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8 Ind. Games
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17
20 Craig Kimbrel
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7 Ind. Games
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17
Brian Fuentes
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7 Ind. Games
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14
Matt Thornton
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7 Ind. Games
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15
Rafael Soriano
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7 Ind. Games
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16
Francisco Rodriguez
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7 Ind. Games
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14
Sean Marshall
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7 Ind. Games
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16
Jose Contreras
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7 Ind. Games
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14
David Aardsma
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7 Ind. Games
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14
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com
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Generated 4/5/2011.

No surprise to see Carlos Marmol and Billy Wagner atop the list. Kimbrel makes the top 20 despite having many, many fewer appearances than the other guys. For comparison, Marmol has appeared in 80 total games in this run, while Kimbrel has appeared in 23. So Marmol’s SDI percentage is 17.5%, while Kimbrel’s is 30.4%. The next-highest SDI% after Kimbrel’s is Takashi Saito’s, at 19.0%. So no one is even remotely close to Kimbrel as far as the rate at which he gets shut-down innings.

It’s very early in 2011, but Kimbrel has recorded a SDI in each of his 2 outings. There have been only 9 other SDIs, total, and no other pitcher has done it more than once.

Again, Kimbrel’s career is still very young, so this is a very small sample size. But if he can even remotely keep up this pace, he’ll soon be in historic company.

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