Craig Kimbrel and the Saves Record


John Lepore | May 29th, 2018

craig kimbrel

Craig Kimbrel, along with Kenley Jansen and Aroldis Chapman have been dominant for years. Can they catch Mariano Rivera for the saves record?

Craig Kimbrel recently turned 30 years old on Memorial Day. He has been arguably the top closer in the league for the past 6 years. While players like Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen get praise, and rightfully so, for their abilities, Kimbrel has been just as dominant. The fact that Kimbrel doesn’t get the attention that Chapman and Jansen have received is likely due to the postseasons in recent memory. Chapman pitched in the 2016 World Series and won game 7. Jansen was in the World Series last year. Let’s compare the three of them and also see if there is a chance of any of them catching up to the great Mariano Rivera and his 652 saves.


As we take a look at their numbers, let’s remember they are all within 8 months of each other in age. In fact, right now they are all 30 years old. Jansen will be 31 at the end of September. They have also all thrown between 448 and 501 innings. The wear on their arms is similar to each other. We will go by Save Percentage and also ERA, WHIP, and K/9. We will also go by stats from 2012-2017.

Kenley Jansen – 2.10 ERA, 0.879 WHIP, 13.8 K/9, 89.84 SV%
Aroldis Chapman – 2.17 ERA, 1.003 WHIP, 14.9 K/9, 91.03 SV%
Craig Kimbrel – 1.82 ERA, 0.905 WHIP, 14.7 K/9, 92.08 SV%


How They Compare to Mariano Rivera

These three closers have been dominant over the past 6 years. Now let’s compare Rivera’s stats to their stats. We will use 1997-2002 as the 6-year window since Rivera became a full-time closer in 1997.

Mariano Rivera – 2.25 ERA, 1.021 WHIP, 7.52 K/9, 87.5 SV%

As you can see, the three current top closers in the league compare favorably to Mariano Rivera. Can they catch Rivera for the top spot in saves all-time? We can take a look at normal regression, though that is difficult with closers since they tend to die out quickly. Let’s consider the past 6 years for the current three, and try to project what they will do and what they would have to do to catch Rivera.

Kimbrel has averaged 40.67 saves over the last six years. Jansen has 36.87 and Chapman has 33.87. Let’s say they take that average and decrease it by one every year until they are 40. We will round up for this comparison. If they stick with their current average for this year, these are how many career saves they will have: Kimbrel 332, Jansen 267, Chapman 239. Let’s apply the formula of decreasing the average amount of saves by one every year and projecting to age 40. The total would look like this: Kimbrel 707, Jansen 582, Chapman 524.


Is It Possible?

Yes, of course, it is possible. Projecting a player to break an all-time record is difficult though. There are many factors that come into play like health, contract issues, and declining talent. Sometimes closers are just gone from the game like Jonathan Papelbon who had 19 saves in 2016 at 35 years old and hasn’t pitched since. Billy Wagner had 37 saves in 2010 with a 1.43 ERA at 38 years old and called it quits. These things are obviously unpredictable. Mariano Rivera, as it stands right now, is the best closer the game has ever seen. There may be more on the horizon though. As we travel down the next 5-10 years, we could very well be talking about a hallowed record that will be broken.

Questions and comments?

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