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40 in 40: Kendall Graveman

Kendall throws baseballs. Does he do it well? Stay tuned for more!

MLB: Oakland Athletics at New York Yankees Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

First, the nitty-gritty, arranged here for your convenience!

BRef | Fangraphs | Brooks | Baseball Savant

On to the facts about Kendall Graveman, who you probably remember from his days with the A’s but probably have not thought about in a while as one of Oakland’s seemingly endless array of competent but not exceptional starting pitchers.

Here is a list of reasons to be excited about Kendall Graveman, Seattle Mariner:

  • In 2016-17, he saw a serious velocity spike that corresponded with his best performance in the bigs: a 4.39 FIP in 2016, 4.33 in 2017, and a flashy 5.3 bWAR over those two seasons—in 291.1 IP.
  • In his last rehab start with the Iowa Cubs, in the AAA playoffs, he did this:
  • That velocity spike! He got himself up to a steady 95 and would even touch 97-98—as a starter! Some guy wrote him up at fangraphs in 2017 and noted that he had one of the best sinkers in baseball, especially for a righthander. At 6’2”, 200 pounds, Graveman has the long-legged frame to maintain high velocity over a number of innings, and is only 29.
  • OK, look, we probably won’t see this in Seattle, but this should make you excited for him. This rules.
  • Kendall Graveman once had to bat in Yankee Stadium. While pitching for Oakland.
  • This has nothing to do with Kendall Graveman, but I could not respect Mississippi State more for this: their fans made an outfield tailgating area, propped it up on cinderblocks, and sit out there grilling in the sun during the game. Big SEC energy, and I respect the heck out of it.

Here, then, is a list of reasons not to be excited about Kendall Graveman, Seattle Mariner:

  • He had Tommy John in July 2018. Not only that, before that Tommy John, he was having a disastrous year, as he had been demoted to AAA after posting a miserable 6.22 FIP in 34.1 innings.
  • He only just made it back at the end of 2019 to make a couple starts for the AAA Iowa Cubs, where he did perform well but barely threw even 10 innings.
  • That sinker? Well, he throws it a lot. Anywhere from 50-65% of the time, and a significant chunk more is used up by his cutter. His curve and change get a little usage, but the sinker-cutter combo is his bread and butter. What’s wrong with that? Well, when you throw two pitches nearly 80% of the time, you really, really need them to hold up if you’re going to be good. Coming off Tommy John, that’s a big unknown.
  • Graveman really, really relied on his velocity spike to get the job done. Before that spike, in 2015, he threw 115.2 innings and generated just 0.5 fWAR, with a sinker sitting down at 91-92. Keeping his past velocity gains looks to be nearly mandatory for him to succeed in Seattle.

Kendall Graveman was certainly not the sexiest signing the Mariners have ever made, but overall there’s enough to like here to see why he got a major league guarantee of $2,000,000 from Seattle. It’s worth noting that if this plays out well for the Mariners, they have another year of control over Graveman, who only has 4 years of service time. A bounceback for him would give the Mariners either a very strong mid-rotation option for what the team insists will be a contending year in 2021, or an arm with enough talent to go boost a contender midseason and return a prospect or two to Seattle.