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Barrel Roll of the Week: Nothing comes easy for Jarred Kelenic

He’s a mess, but he’s the mess that I wanted

Washington Nationals v Seattle Mariners Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

The title of this week’s Play of the Week is a lie. So much has come easy for Jarred Kelenic. So much. It takes an enormous amount of hard work to be the sixth pick in the MLB Draft, but that hard work is necessary, not sufficient. There’s no denying that it also takes preternatural ability and the good fortune to access elite coaching.

And yet. The last time Jarred had the Play of the Week, we looked at the absurd parade of lefty relievers he’s had to face. As a reminder, most left-handed hitters face lefty relievers 10.2% of the time. Jarred was at 16.8%. Opposing managers had brought in lefty relievers for the specific purpose of getting the platoon advantage on Jarred in 9.9% of his PAs, about as often as other lefties have to face southpaws at all.

That hasn’t gotten any better in the following two months, but at least it made more sense now that Jarred has hit his stride in MLB. Take last Saturday, for example, when the Orioles had Yennier Cano on the mound. Cano’s been one of the bigger pitching stories in 2023 baseball, an out-of-nowhere dominant reliever that calls to mind none other than the Mariners pitching pipeline. But to hear Brandon Hyde tell it, even one of the very best relievers in baseball wasn’t good enough to face Jarred. So he called in southpaw Danny Coulombe, who got Jarred to ground out. It’s almost unfair.

Here’s another one. Among players who’ve seen at least 1,000 pitches this year, Jarred has seen a higher portion of his pitches in the shadow zone than 82% of his peers. The shadow zone is the area right around the edges—you know, pitchers’ pitches. Jarred’s having to deal with pitchers’ pitches more often than four out of five hitters. Nothing comes easy for Jarred Kelenic.

Better players generally see more pitches in the shadow zone; you don’t have to bring your best weapons against weak or undisciplined hitters. You’ll find Salvador Perez and Javier Baez at the bottom of the list, for example. That itself is an indication of how Jarred is perceived, and it makes what success Jarred’s had this year all the more impressive. But it’s not sustainable for the League to do it to this degree over an extended stretch. Just look at how correlated it is year to year:

Chart: Zach Mason for Lookout Landing * Source: Baseball Savant * Created with Google Sheets

For the nerds, that’s an r-squared of .083. For the cool kids, that’s an extremely weak relationship; the percentage of pitches a player saw in the shadow zone in 2022 has practically zero predictive value for the percentage of pitches he’s seeing in the shadow zone this year. There’s no reason to think Jarred will have to continue facing such good pitches, except of course, his general Charlie Brownesque nature.

And that’s what made his June 26 stolen base, the Play of the Week, so emblematic of his season. With the Mariners up by one run in the fifth, Jarred worked a two-out walk. Two pitches later, he tried to make something happen.

Probably because his slide resembled the way you imagine Leroy Jenkins would steal a base, he was called out. Like everything Jarred does, he made it look very effortful. And like so much of what Jarred does, he got jobbed; it took a challenge for him to be called safe. Nothing comes easy for Jarred Kelenic. But safe he was:

As we know, Jarred Kelenic doesn’t quit, and he refused to let the out call deter him, sitting on second base spread eagle throughout the entire review.

Washington Nationals v Seattle Mariners Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

When the call was eventually overturned, the crowd was into this game as they would have been if the team hadn’t been on this heart-wrenching rollercoaster of false starts all year. That stolen base (and the crowd’s reaction) shifted the game’s momentum and sparked a pair of two-out runs, with Jarred hustling home on a Mike Ford single followed by Kolten Wong hitting the funniest RBI double of the month.

Maybe you didn’t enjoy the DJ repeatedly spinning “Country Roads.” But I for one thought it worked as an organic way to celebrate everything that Jarred is and everything he’s been doing for this team. He’s cooled down since his scorching hot start, but even if you ignore his best stretch of the season—which you shouldn’t, that’s not how baseball works—he’s been an valuable contributor: since the game after ending his streak of homering in four games in a row, he’s been on a 1.6-fWAR pace. He deserved last Tuesday’s spotlight.

The following night, Jarred scored on a fielder’s choice, but it took a challenge for him to be called safe.

Of course it took a challenge. Nothing comes easy for Jarred Kelenic.

Honorable Mentions

Bryan Woo Chases Mariner History

Of players who have thrown at least 25 innings as a Mariner, here are the top five in strikeout rate: Austin Adams, Edwin Díaz, Andrés Muñoz, Paul Sewald, and Bryan Woo. Bryan Woo! When he froze Jeimer Candelario with 95 on the black, it’s not hard to understand how he’s done it (but read Jake over at FanGraphs anyway).

Paul Sewald: The People’s Pitcher

Speaking of Paul Sewald, he may have been snubbed when it comes to the All-Star Game, but those of us who’ve been watching him these past three years know exactly what he’s worth. How could you not when you see him slam the door on baseball’s best team two days in a row, including embarrassing someone who did make the All-Star Game.

J.P. Makes It Look Easy

Speaking of All-Star snubs, how about some love for the Mariners’ most consistent player this year? With the fans voting for Seager and the players voting for Bichette, there wasn’t even room on the initial roster for Wander Franco. So it’s unlikely that J.P. will even make it as an injury replacement. It’s too bad there’s no award for being “not quite good enough for the All-Star Game” season after season.

Bryce Makes Wander Wonder What He Just Saw

Through three innings, Bryce Miller had struck out six while getting called strikes or whiffs on more than half of his pitches, practically all of which were fastballs. I will spend the rest of my life wondering whether this would have been a no-hitter if not for that blister.

Tom Ties the Game

Tom Murphy is a freak.

Please don’t yell at me about omitting Mike Ford and Logan Gilbert. This covers June 26 through July 2.