Editorials

Mariners Fans Shouldn’t Overlook Kendall Graveman

The Seattle Mariners had a quiet off-season, especially considering the off-season it preceded. The team largely added AAAA types and a few veterans on one year contracts.

But some people may forget that veteran starter Kendall Graveman was one of the few player the Mariners invested in for multiple years. Or at least they could.

Graveman’s contract is a one year deal worth $2 million but there is an option for the 2021 season worth $3.5 million with a $500,000 buyout. Now thanks to COVID, Graveman will make just $740,000 this season, a miniscule investment for a Major League Baseball team. Many will assume that Seattle will simply pay Graveman to go away after this season, but dismissing the 29-year-old veteran this early may be a mistake.

The warts on Graveman’s baseball card is clear: the man hasn’t stayed healthy. In fact, he hasn’t thrown a pitch in the big leagues for two seasons. Only once has he made more than 25 starts in a season and only twice has he made 21 or more. Graveman hasn’t been durable. And when he was, Graveman wasn’t anything special. His career 4.54 FIP and 5.8 K/9 aren’t anything to get excited about. On the surface, Graveman appears to be just another arm.

But a closer look at Graveman shows some real positives and hints at a future with the Mariners, though perhaps not in the rotation. Graveman has never posted a groundball rate lower than 50% and he’s never had a serious issue with the home run ball. Both of these facts can be attributed to a power sinker which currently sits in the 93-95 MPH range.

But the secret sauce may lie in Graveman’s slider. It has constantly been his most effective pitch via x-stats, but oddly enough, Graveman rarely uses it. In his past 4 MLB seasons, he’s never used the pitch more than 12% of the time and only reached that threshold once. Now, we need to be careful falling into the “more is better” fallacy. It is easy to think that if Graveman threw his slider more it would continue to be just as impactful. But remember that the more you throw a pitch, the more the league sees it and begins to understand how to attack the pitch.

So why mention the slider? The Mariners have had a lot of success in recent years finding another gear out of a pitcher by asking them to do something incredibly simple: throw your best pitch more. It has worked for Brandon Brennan and his changeup. It has worked for Austin Adams and Connor Sadzeck with their sliders. And it may just work for Graveman as well.

Graveman will start this season in the rotation and has a decent chance of ending the season in the same spot. But a trip to the bullpen may not be out of hand. And if Seattle can get Graveman throwing his quality slider a bit more often to go along with his 94 MPH sinker, the Mariners may just have a nice little weapon the rest of league chose to ignore.

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