Greetings! We wanted to front page this very personal, open, and honest FanPost from poster james martini today. Whatever's been going on with Jarred Kelenic, most would agree that it goes beyond numbers at this point and this post provides a lot of food for thought regarding the mental side of Kelenic's performance as an athlete. Enjoy! - Eric
In order to explain my understanding of Jarred Kelenic, I'm going to need to open with a long, drawn-out personal anecdote so bear with me.
Despite what many people who know me would expect, I was about as athletic as a little kid could get. I played baseball, basketball, and football, skateboarded, and tried out an endless range of other activities as well (including brief, unfortunate stints into parkour, among other things). By middle school, though, I had started to wean off sports. I quit baseball because I was downright awful at hitting (alongside a developing interest in competitive Rubik's Cube solving), I quit basketball because my fifth-grade season was way too stressful, and I just sort of fell off skating.
By sixth grade, football was my only sport. While basketball may have technically been the sport I was best at, football was the one I enjoyed the most. I had the athleticism, size, and aggressiveness to be an effective inside linebacker and tight end, and my team was bad enough to where, even when I struggled, it rarely felt like I had pulled anyone down. My sixth-grade season was a point of pretty substantial change for my team, though. A handful of my friends had moved from their old team to my team, one of them bringing his dad along as the new head coach.
Going into the season, I was actually very excited. I had far more friends on the team, and we looked much better in terms of our actual ability. This, however, meant that I was no longer a standout talent on my team. Of course, this all feels a little silly to explain, considering that all of this happened in elementary and middle school, but previously on my team, I held the spot of one of the most talented players. Like I said before, I had a solid blend of athleticism and drive that made me a real force, especially defensively. Despite being one of the taller players, I was insanely fast and had a knack for tracking down anyone anywhere on the field.
As all of these new people came to my team though, one of my friends from my basketball team came as well. Among a similarly pretty bad basketball team, we were both standouts athletically. I had the same speed and aggression, to the point where our coach (the same guy that was my new football coach), switched our entire defense over to a zone defense so that I could defend the entire key on my own. If anyone got anywhere near my zone, our coach would yell at them until they got out of my way. This other kid was a much better shooter than me, though also much shorter, so we played very different roles on the team. Despite this, we built up quite a friendly competition and became a pretty intimidating pair of players.
A great example of this is that our coach would buy whichever player got the most rebounds in the game a Gatorade. I won the Gatorade literally every single game except for one, in which this other guy managed to out-rebound me. Again, he was considerably shorter than me, and I played under the basket on offense and defense, so this was possibly one of the most impressive feats anyone on the team pulled off all season.
When he came over to the football team though, he took the role of the other inside linebacker. Initially, this worked very well, as we had the rapport and skills to hold down the inside part of the field very well. As the season went on though, the differences in our skill grew clearer and clearer. This particular season was hard for me. I felt overworked and had lost a bit of my edge. I just couldn't get into the competition the way that I had before, and my reaction times started to slow down because of it. I wasn't as aggressive anymore. This became entirely apparent one day when we were going over film in a classroom (one of the few times we did this), and our coach looked at a handful of plays in which I had reacted too slowly to catch up with the ball, but the other guy managed to jump right to the spot and make the play. The number of plays there were like this made it abundantly clear that I was simply the worse of the two linebackers on the team.
Eventually, I got moved to the defensive line (we switched to one middle linebacker), and despite being tall, I was probably even scrawnier than I am now, so I felt particularly useless, as I didn't have the strength to ever break through the line, and I never had an opportunity to show off my speed. On offense, from what I remember, our team ran exactly one passing play all season, so I got relegated to a purely blocking tight end, which, again, I did not have the strength to pull off.
I quit football at the end of the season. I just couldn't keep doing it. I wasn't good anymore and I didn't have the competitive drive to get better. I just didn't enjoy it anymore. Getting hit scared me, I never got to run fast in games (which was always my favorite part of any sport), and I just felt lost, having been moved from my primary defensive position, and under-utilized at my offensive position.
I can't help but wonder if Jarred Kelenic feels a little bit like I did.
This is where we get into the decidedly, "borderline parasocial" element of this article. Jarred Kelenic is arguably my favorite player for the Mariners right now, and if not, at least the player I am most invested in. At this point, Kelenic could play for literally any team in baseball and I would root for his success more than anyone else's. For a good while, I didn't fully understand why Kelenic spoke to me strongly, but shortly after he got demoted to AAA Tacoma this year, my uncle and were talking about how he needed a mindset shift, and I noted that Kelenic celebrates like I did when I played football. He gets angry. He throws his helmet. He shoves people. These are all things that I did when I played football.
Look at this go-ahead home run from earlier this year; he practically punches everyone instead of high-fiving them.
Or look at how he celebrates this RBI triple. He literally throws his helmet to the ground. (4:12)
This is exactly how I celebrated when I played sports, especially when I played football. People who know me now probably wouldn't expect this, but I'm not kidding when I say that I was aggressive in sports. When I played flag football, I would still tackle people and just take their flags when they were on the ground, because that was the most reliable way to get them. In basketball, we had a whole strategy in which I and another guy would, inevitably, accumulate four fouls in the first half, then we would be taken out for the third quarter and put back in for the fourth until we both fouled out.
So I feel like I can understand how Kelenic feels when he celebrates here. Aside from just having a more aggressive style, Kelenic has something to prove here. The celebration isn't just style, it comes with a sense of dominance. Like you just proved your right to be there. I went from one of the most solid, reliable players on my team to a slumping under-performer that got moved away from my primary position to make room for a new, more talented player, and Kelenic went through the same thing. Kelenic was a star center fielder and the number-nine prospect in all of baseball, and upon slumping on his initial call-up, sorted himself out and ended his rookie season as one of the key players on the team.
Then he got moved. Another top prospect for the Mariners (number two, to be exact), named Julio Rodriguez came up in Spring Training and took over in center field full-time. This left Kelenic without a real position. He wound up mostly playing right field, in place of an eternally injured Mitch Haniger, but even that was clearly temporary. In addition to getting moved from his main position, the guy that took his position emerged as an early Rookie of the Year candidate, something that Kelenic failed to do in his rookie campaign, and he was now stuck hitting directly behind Julio in the lineup.
The general consensus around Kelenic's eventual demotion to Tacoma was that Kelenic needed to sort out his mindset in order to succeed at the major-league level. Even his manager Scott Servais noted
"I don't think swing-wise, there's a ton of adjustments. He needs to relax and try to play and go and have fun again."
Fun is something that's hard when it feels like a better, more popular player is coming for your position.
I should note that I obviously don't want to make it seem like Kelenic might harbor any resentment towards Julio or anything like that. Even when my friend began outperforming me as an inside linebacker, we still remained great teammates, and we even started calling plays as we saw them in an attempt to react better. If anything, my struggles gave us more opportunities to develop our abilities as teammates. Instead of feeling frustrated that someone is stealing your position, the frustration comes from feeling like you're not living up to what you and your team know you can do. A Julio-Kelenic one-two punch in the lineup has the potential to be one of the most dangerous back-to-back pairings in baseball, and both of the clips above are perfect examples of that. Julio reaches base, and Kelenic hits him home both times.
But when Julio seemingly can't not reach base, that puts a lot of pressure on Kelenic, who struggled through all of his 2022 games, to hit him home every time. Again, let's be clear: this is something that Kelenic can do. We all know it. He knows it. Julio knows it. Servais knows it. But when you're trying to prove that you're not the black sheep of the two top-10 center field prospects, you might start falling out of your mechanics.
The hardest part of getting moved to the defensive line was that I knew it was all mental. I knew it, and I still couldn't change it. While standing five yards behind the line, watching the plays play out, watching all of my friends move, push, run, and tackle, I had suddenly gone from commanding the plays, from seeing where someone was going before the snap even came, to reacting to everything after it had happened. I knew I was distracted, unsure, and overthinking everything, but that just made it worse.
I can't help but imagine that Kelenic must have felt a little like this as well. Kelenic's 2022 MLB games have been the story of Kelenic battling a 42% strikeout rate, most of which came from Kelenic chasing way off the plate. It all culminated in one, final pinch-hit at-bat in which Kelenic wildly over-corrected and looked at four straight fastballs, the final two in the zone, the last one center-cut for a strikeout looking. It's hard to imagine that Kelenic was seeing the ball well and just chose to let that last pitch go. I would classify that at-bat as the epitome of a hazy performance.
I don't think that moving Kelenic was actually the worst thing, though. For all of his offensive struggles, Kelenic could not have looked better in right field. He made insane defensive plays and would throw runners out taking third with literal 90+ mph lasers right to the third baseman. Kelenic made the transition to right pretty well, all things considered, he just needs to settle into his new role. Despite that, it is unclear what will happen when Haniger comes back from his injuries. It's unclear if Kelenic will come back up to the majors this year regardless of how he plays. It's unclear if he has the pedigree to move Haniger from his spot. It's unclear if the Mariners intend on renewing Haniger at the end of the year. It's hard to get settled when everything is so unclear.
Despite the criticism that people have loved to level against him, Kelenic is in a good spot. He has struggled in the majors but has absolutely torn through the minors, and he's just barely two years older than me, so I'd say he has plenty of time to calm down and fix his mindset. I quit football after that sixth-grade season. My complete inability to get in the right zone for sports coupled with a general lowered interest in sports at the time made continuing to play look like an awful option. Luckily that's not going to happen to Kelenic. He's a professional baseball player. He's in it for the long haul. I don't regret quitting sports, per se, but it's always hard to look back at those moments now and be happy with my decision. That's the trouble of "mindset issues". They'll go away eventually, and then you'll wonder why you ever struggled in the first place. My investment in Jarred Kelenic stems from wanting to see him do what I did not.
I don’t want to make it seem like I’m stating what Kelenic is thinking here. This is purely a look at Kelenic using my own personal experience as a frame of reference. The "borderline parasocial" element comes in where I am sort of guessing at what Kelenic is going through right now, but I moreso want to explore Kelenic from a different perspective. Baseball is a numbers game, but numbers suck sometimes.
We should also note that this is all a bit ridiculous. I’m out here using my sixth-grade football experience to try and gain some insight into the mind of a professional baseball player. Beyond that on its own, a lot of people would look at this kind of analysis and remain completely unconvinced of anything. They’ll point to Kelenic’s numbers, his strikeout rates, and the seemingly stacked outfield in Seattle, and say that he’ll never make it. The Mariners are better off trading him. And that makes sense. This is, again, a decidedly vibes-based analysis of someone’s mindset, but when we’re talking about a team whose assumed motto for the season is "good vibes only", it’s hard to not talk about vibes. We’re talking about the "fun differential" team here. The inventors and undisputed purveyors of Chaos Ball. This is a team that numbers mean nothing to. If what Kelenic needs is to learn some "good vibes", he could not be in a better place.