From June 14, 2011 to September 8, 2011, then-Braves closer Craig Kimbrel appeared in 38 consecutive games without allowing a single run. He tallied a whopping 67 strikeouts in just 37.2 innings pitched. He had 25 saves, which is the same number as the total amount of hits and walks he allowed, combined.
Nearly 10 years later, he's beginning to go on a similar streak.
A statistic from Jay Jaffe of FanGraphs shows just how lights out Kimbrel has been in recent outings, dating back to the beginning of September last year. He's only appeared in 12 games since that point — eight last year, and four so far this season — but he's allowed a grand total of three hits, zero of which have gone for extra bases, and zero walks in that span. Needless to say, he also hasn't given up a run, and the Cubs are loving every minute of it. Here's Jaffe's full breakdown:
Kimbrel, who last pitched on April 8, when he recorded a five-out save against the Pirates — his first outing of more than three outs since Game 3 of the 2018 World Series — has retired all 14 batters he’s faced this season, nine via strikeouts, including the first five batters he faced in the new year. What’s more, he’s retired 24 in a row dating back to last September 12, and 35 out of 38 going back to the start of last September, 22 (57.8%) via strikeouts. In that span, he hasn’t walked a single hitter or given up an extra-base hit, meaning that he’s held batters to an .079/.079/.079 line, an 83.0 mph average exit velocity, just one hard-hit ball (95.0 mph or greater), and not a single barrel. That’ll do.
22 of 38 batters going down to strikes? Zero barrels? An .079/.079/.079 slash line? Even Mario Mendoza is looking at these offensive numbers in disgust.
The Cubs are probably looking not with disgust but with happiness, though they could also be viewing it with an "it's about time" type of approach. Kimbrel recorded a 1.43 ERA in five seasons with the Braves, a 2.58 ERA during a brief stint with the Padres, and a 2.44 ERA over three All-Star campaigns with the Red Sox. With the Cubbies? Try a 6.00 ERA, an 0-5 record and a -0.8 WAR in his first two seasons at Wrigley.
But, as Jaffe said, 2021 is different, as was the end of 2020. There are a lot of reasons why, and Jaffe points to pitch location, horizontal and vertical release points, and some better pitch movement, and you should certainly read his article if you're interested in more of the minutiae of his turnaround. But my preferred way to analyze it is this: he's just been straight nasty.
The hope is that he can keep it up throughout his age-32 season — he'll be 33 in a couple of months — not only for the success of the Cubs, but for his future as an impending free agent and, further down the road, potential candidate for enshrinement at the Baseball Hall of Fame.