Allow me to transport you to a simpler time. It’s April 14, 2018. The Mariners enter with a 7-4 record, having won each of their last three games. They’ve got a Saturday night date with the Oakland Athletics, and Kendall Graveman is on the hill for the A’s. He’s been their Opening Day starter for each of the last two seasons, but at this current moment, Graveman is in a bad funk. Making matters worse, the 2018 Mariners are putting a hurt on the ball.
I dug up the recap for that game, in which I described Graveman as “visibly shook” in the very first inning, while later writing that he was “fighting for his life with every pitch”. Let’s see how some of those pitches turned out.
Each of those balls left the bat at 105 MPH. The Mariners would go on to score 10 runs (five of them against Graveman), hand Graveman an L, and push his ERA to 9.87. He’d make just three more starts before being sent to the minors, where injury was added to insult. What started as a forearm strain never got better, and Graveman elected to get Tommy John surgery that summer, in the midst of the worst season of his career.
Three years and two organizations later, that version of Graveman is unrecognizable. Not only does he have a gnarly beard, longer hair, and some sick bling, the 30-year-old has gone from struggling starter to downright dominant reliever. Interestingly, Graveman spent his 2019 rehab year with the Cubs before the Mariners lured him in for $500,000, declined his option after last year, and then brought him back for 2021. Like many people when they reach their 30s, Graveman has done some important self-discovery recently. When Ryan Divish asked if he misses being a starter, Graveman gave it to him straight.
“Absolutely not. It’s been fun. The adrenaline’s a lot different. It’s a different ballgame coming out of the bullpen and I really don’t (miss starting). […] The game’s really slow for me out there. […] So I like it. I’m not really missing starting and having to wait to pitch again. I like being in ballgames more often.”
You know who else likes Graveman being in ballgames more often? Every single person with a rooting interest in the Seattle Mariners. That includes Scott Servais, who told Divish in that same article that he hasn’t felt as good about his bullpen since the “Eddie Díaz/Alex Colomé days”. It’s not hard to see why. Hitters are having a miserable time against Graveman and his 96 MPH sinker, which he’s now shrewdly throwing 60 percent of the time.
Right now the average MLB wOBA and xwOBA are .310 and .329. Graveman is holding hitters to a .103 and .234. His hard-hit percentage is 25.0%, placing him in the 91st percentile of all pitchers. If you don’t speak statistics, just know that nobody can hit Graveman hard, and they surely can’t expect to do any damage. Your reward for reading some nerd stats are a few videos of his black-hearted sinker.
Graveman has not allowed a single hit on the sinker this year, and the way he’s chucking it, there’s no reason to expect anyone will get one soon. He’s completely ditched the cutter that was once his main secondary pitch, trading it for a slider that’s also been pretty unhittable. The only hit he’s allowed on the slider – and the only hit he’s allowed all season! – came when he badly missed his spot on a 2-2 pitch to José Abreu. That’ll happen.
But still, through his first seven appearances, Graveman has thrown his two best pitches 99 times and only allowed one single on them. That’s the type of stuff that will play in any MLB bullpen. If you’re looking to get into the weeds on Graveman’s pitch arsenal, our very own Mikey Ajeto has you covered. I would like to use the rest of this space to talk about Kendall Graveman being that dude, which is something you cannot quantify.
First of all, just look at this photo. Tell me this ain’t that dude.
Next, read this Graveman quote from a recent Corey Brock article in The Athletic.
“During meetings now, the players are leading a lot of the conversation. And that was the goal going into Spring Training. I had a conversation with (pitching coach Pete Woodworth) and (bullpen coach Trent Blank). If we want to get to where we want to get to, then we’ve got to start leading and not having you guys just spoon-feed us.”
Part of being that dude is knowing when a situation calls for that dude. Graveman seems to have assessed his situation, saw that his bullpen mates are a bunch of Rule 5 draft picks and other various castoffs, and decided to become King of Dude Island. There’s something so galvanizing about a person saying “Hey, you know what? With all due respect, we’re going to do this on our own,” and then going out and doing just that.
It’s still mad early, but Graveman has already done it all for the Mariners’ bullpen. He’s gotten two saves. He’s entered in the middle of an inning with runners on base and escaped like El Chapo. He’s loaded the bases all by himself in a rare fit of wildness, only to clean things up before it got too messy. Last night he even struck out Marwin González on a pitch that hit him.
Kendall Graveman, 97mph Fastball (called strike) and 89mph Slider (HBP/K), Overlay pic.twitter.com/RiIvMZsGUI— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 23, 2021
All the while, he’s kept opponents from scoring a single earned run against him. The feeling that comes with watching Graveman pitch – that feeling of wide-eyed wonder at what he’ll do next – is intoxicating. Watching from home, you start to wonder how anyone could ever hit him, and you have to think that feeling is seeping into opposing dugouts by now.
Kendall Graveman is that dude.