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Atlanta Braves Closer Craig Kimbrel Suffering Strikeout Lapse

Craig Kimbrel's run allowed to the Cardinals on Saturday marked the second straight blown lead or tie and the third run allowed in his last 6.1 innings. So why is the reliever many consider one of the most dominant in the game having such a difficult time right now?

Through his first eight innings, Kimbrel had 14 strikeouts. This is pretty much in line with his norm, especially after a 17.42 K/9 in 20.2 major league innings last season. His arm is explosive and his stuff is unhittable when it's on. But since his save against the Giants on April 22, he has just one strikeout over 4.1 innings.

While this is a terribly small sample size, it could be a reason for why Kimbrel has had struggles lately. He lives off the strikeout and when it's not there he has problems.

From March 31 to April 21, over a span of eight innings, Kimbrel's slider was in play 7.7% of the time. From April 22 to April 29, over a span of 3.1 innings, it was in play 37.5% of the time. His slider movement isn't quite as sharp over his last few innings, resulting in more balls in play on the pitch. One possible reason is innings pitched, as he threw 3.1 innings over a span of three days, which is when the strikeout lapse began.

While it is worth watching going forward, I would hold off on the panic with Kimbrel's slider. It's early and relievers go through these lapses at times, even those as good as Kimbrel.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.