Is Koji Uehara or Craig Kimbrel a Better Pitcher for Boston?
As current Sox closer Craig Kimbrel continues to rack up saves for the team, fans are looking ahead to a potentially deep postseason run. There is no doubt that Kimbrel has been an excellent pitcher for Boston. His success reminds one of the last dominant Red Sox closer: Koji Uehara. Koji was a catalyst for the 2013 title run and had an impressive resume of his own with Boston. The success of both pitchers leads to an obvious question: which was better in Beantown?
The Case For Koji
Koji Uehara was a total fan favorite from the moment he took the mound. His first season in Boston is arguably one of the best seasons for a closer in history. During that 2013 regular season, he had 101 strikeouts over 74.1 innings. He had nine walks in that timeframe. That’s ridiculously good. His velocity was nowhere near that of the other star closers, but his command of the strike zone was masterful, complete with a splitter that can only be described as pure filth. His ERA was 1.09 that season, and his save percentage was 87.5%. In the postseason, Uehara pitched 13.2 innings with 16 K’s and not a single walk. He was named ALCS MVP and threw the final pitch of the World Series to clinch it for the Sox.
While the next few seasons weren’t quite as spectacular, they were still serviceable as the team’s success declined. He was on and off the DL in the next three years, but still posted good numbers. He had 26 and 25 saves in 2014 and 2015, respectively, with ERAs of 2.52 and 2.23 in those years. His 2016 campaign was less successful, but doesn’t take away from what he did in Boston.
Aside from his baseball performance, Koji was just an awesome person. He was super enthusiastic on and off the mound and simply radiated pure joy. Everyone tuned in when he took the mound because he was just so much fun. As an added bonus, someone made this hilarious song about him. It might be difficult for anyone to top Koji’s career with the Sox.
The Case for Kimbrel
Craig Kimbrel took over for Koji in 2016 and hasn’t looked back. In 2016, though he posted a 3.40 ERA, he recorded 31 saves in 33 chances. In 2017, he dropped his ERA to 1.43 and converted 35 of 39 save opportunities. He was an All-Star in both of those campaigns. So far this year, he has amassed 24 saves with a 2.23 ERA. His fastball simply rips by opponents, usually at around 98 miles per hour. He also has a nasty curveball that he uses, getting batters to go down swinging miserably. Some argue that Kimbrel has been inconsistent this year, and while he’s had his ups and downs, most nights the Sox can rely on him to slam the door.
Though Kimbrel doesn’t have a World Series ring like Uehara, one could be in his future. The Red Sox currently sit in first place in the AL East and don’t show any signs of slowing down. Kimbrel could be a key player for the team if they make a deep run. He’d serve as one of the most important members of the pitching rotation, if not the most important. Opposing batters become frightened and Boston fans get excited when the Red Sox “Release The Kimbrel”.
So, which of the two pitchers was better in their time at Fenway? As it stands right now, it looks like the nod has to go to Koji. His ERA in Boston was 2.19 compared to Kimbrel’s 2.27 thus far. His strikeout to walk ratio was also far better, averaging 7.86 to Kimbrel’s 4.55 strikeouts per walk. Uehara also had his dominant year in 2013, when absolutely no one in the league could touch him. Kimbrel hasn’t quite had that year as of yet. Of course, Koji also has that elusive World Series win under his belt while with the Sox.
However, that’s not to say Kimbrel can’t flip the script. He’s already tallied more saves in his time here than Koji did (89 to 79), and is only 36 strikeouts behind Uehara in 71.2 less innings. If Kimbrel keeps up the solid work, he could pass Koji as the better closer to ever dawn a jersey in Boston. If he really wants to cement his name in Red Sox lore, though, he’ll help Boston to their sixth World Series championship come October.
What do you think? Tell me on Twitter: @jackbuffett_