In the middle of his fine piece about , Tom Verducci writes this:
With the Braves two outs from victory, Chase Utley of Philadelphia tied the game in Atlanta with a sacrifice fly against Craig Kimbrel, the baby-faced rookie closer for the Braves who was pitching with the earnestness of youth, but more obviously with the toll of overuse and stress from a grueling stretch run. Red-cheeked and flustered, he invited pity more than scorn.
I'm not picking on Verducci, at all. For one thing, he might well be right about Kimbrel suffering the effects of "overuse and stress from a grueling stretch run." For another, Verducci's not alone; I've been reading bits about Kimbrel wearing down for a couple of weeks.
We don't have any way to measure the mental stress under which Kimbrel has been performing.
Was he over-used, though? We can at least take a crack at that one.
Kimbrel finished the season with 77 innings in 79 games.
He tied for second in the majors in appearances; among the 14 major leaguers who pitched in at least 75 games, the 23-year-old Kimbrel was easily the youngest. In fact, only one other pitcher younger than 25 -- Drew Storen, also 23 -- pitched as many as 70 games.
Among pure relievers, Kimbrel finished eighth in the majors in innings; again, among pitchers in his age cohort, only Storen and arguably Chris Sale (22) were close.
Are there other indications that Kimbrel was overworked?
Let's compare him more obviously to Storen and Sale, adding the number of times they pitched on three straight days and their appearances and innings in September ...
G IP 3Strt SepG SepIP
Kimbrel 79 77 8 12 11
Storen 73 75 5 13 13
Sale 58 71 0 9 10
The inclusion of Sale isn't particularly instructive, since Ozzie Guillen didn't often use him as a closer. But there just aren't many young relievers who pile up the innings (to the limited extent that any relievers do, these days).
Storen gave up three runs in his second September appearance, on the 8th. Afterward, he was perfect: nine games, nine saves, zero runs. And the only noticeable difference in their workloads, all season long, is that Storen pitched three days five times, Kimbrel eight times (neither ever pitched in four straight games).
Does any of this mean that Kimbrel wasn't overworked? Or that he wasn't tired Wednesday night, when he walked three batters for the first time all season?
No, it doesn't. Kimbrel isn't Storen, and maybe Storen's simply more durable than Kimbrel. Maybe Storen would have wilted in the heat of a Wild Card battle. But there's just nothing obvious about Kimbrel's workload that suggests he was overworked by his manager.