How well does Craig Kimbrel know his own career?

February 26th, 2024

SARASOTA, Fla. -- When held an introductory Zoom call with members of the Baltimore media in December, the 35-year-old right-hander was asked if he remembered the player who hit the only home run he’s allowed at Camden Yards in his 14-year MLB career.

“[Trey] Mancini hit me pretty hard a couple times in that ballpark. He sure liked peppering that right-field wall against me,” Kimbrel said.

Mancini took Kimbrel deep in Baltimore on Aug. 11, 2018 -- a solo home run to right field.

Kimbrel clearly has a great baseball memory. So I decided to quiz him on his career during an early day of Spring Training, his first with the Orioles.

(A hat tip to my colleagues who have done this exercise previously -- Brian McTaggart with former pitcher Joe Smith and Do-Hyoung Park with Twins first baseman Carlos Santana.)

We’ll start easy: Which eight MLB teams have you played for?

Kimbrel: “Atlanta, San Diego, Boston, both Chicagos, L.A., Philly and now here.”

The verdict: Correct.

Kimbrel: “If you asked anybody to start off their career how many teams they’re going to play for, most everybody is just going to want to play for one. But realistically, especially being a reliever, kind of knew early on after the first trade if I was going to play this game for a long time, there were going to be multiple opportunities for change. And here I am, team No. 8.”

Your MLB debut was May 7, 2010. Where was it?

Kimbrel: “Philadelphia. Yeah, a double off the right-field wall by Jayson Werth to start it off.”

The verdict: Correct. And Kimbrel skipped ahead to the next question (the first at-bat), which is also correct.

How’d the rest of your debut unfold?

Kimbrel: “I got two strikeouts and a ground ball.”

The verdict: Correct.

Who were the first two batters you struck out?

Kimbrel: “Was it Raul [Ibanez]? And [Placido] Polanco, maybe? No. Who was the other strikeout? I can’t remember the other one.”

The verdict: Ibanez was the first one. The second was Carlos Ruiz.

Which team do you have the most appearances against?

Kimbrel: “Well, it’s going to be someone in the [National League] East. It’s either New York or Washington. Probably New York.”

The verdict: Close. Kimbrel has faced the Nationals 52 times and the Mets 44 times, but he has made 53 appearances against the Marlins.

Which ballpark have you made the most appearances at?

Kimbrel: “Turner Field?”

The verdict: Correct. Kimbrel made 167 appearances at that ballpark before it closed following the 2016 season.

Which catcher have you been paired with for the most games?

Kimbrel: “Is this a trick question?” [It is not.] “Brian McCann.”

The verdict: Correct. Kimbrel and McCann were paired together in 162 games.

Kimbrel: “Can’t argue with what we were able to do. We worked really well together.”

Which hitter has the most career plate appearances against you?

Kimbrel: “José Reyes.”

The verdict: Incorrect. It was actually another former Met -- Lucas Duda.

Which hitter has the most strikeouts against you?

Kimbrel: “Oh, I know this one. Maybe ... so if I’ve only faced [Duda] 18 ... somebody else. Struck out the most. Gosh, he was with the Nationals. Right-handed hitter. Why am I drawing a blank? It was a long time ago.”

The verdict: This one was a trick question. It’s Duda, who struck out 12 times vs. Kimbrel.

Kimbrel: “Is it? Oh, OK. I’m thinking of ... [Ian Desmond?] “Ian Desmond.”

Who has the most hits against you?

Kimbrel: “José Reyes.”

The verdict: Correct this time. Reyes went 5-for-8 against Kimbrel.

Kimbrel: “He would hit the ball where it was thrown. He wasn’t trying to hit homers off of me. He just kept his head in there, and he’d put really good at-bats against you.”

Which players have three home runs against you?

Kimbrel: “[Aaron] Judge?”

The verdict: Another trick question. Nobody has hit three home runs off Kimbrel. Judge is among five players with two.

Kimbrel: “Well, let’s keep it that way. It’ll be a good year if we can keep it there.”

Who has the most at-bats against you without a hit?

Kimbrel: “Did I just name them earlier?” [He did.] “Desmond.”

The verdict: Correct. Desmond went 0-for-15 against Kimbrel.

How many career appearances have you made?

Kimbrel: “I looked at it the other day. 720?”

The verdict: Close. Kimbrel has made 780 appearances.

How many career saves?

Kimbrel: “417.”

The verdict: Correct.

That ranks eighth in AL/NL history. Can you name the seven pitchers ahead of you?

Kimbrel: “[Mariano] Rivera. [Trevor] Hoffman. Lee Smith. You got Billy Wagner. You got lefty -- [John] Franco. K-Rod [Francisco Rodríguez] and [Kenley] Jansen.

The verdict: 7-for-7.

Kimbrel: “It’s been a fast but long career. Obviously, in the last year, hitting [the 400] milestone and then coming into this year having the opportunity to add to it and see where I might end up, it’s crazy to think about. I don’t really think about it too much. I know if I focus on my craft and staying healthy, doing my job, those numbers will just climb.”