Game 148, Mariners at Athletics

marc w · September 21, 2022 at 5:22 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Robbie Ray vs. James Kaprielian, 6:40pm

Ahhh, development. For all of the cliches about how it’s not linear, or about how it can make or break a team, it still seems elusive and slippery. If a pitcher teaches a teammate a new sinker, the way Robbie Ray taught George Kirby his, does the team get credit? Does the pitcher? Does the team get docked for having failed to do something that 15 minutes in the bullpen with a colleague could? Does it matter who gets credit, and if it doesn’t, how does a good organization fairly assess how well their own group is doing?

I was reminded of these issues reading Jarrett Seidler’s piece in Baseball Prospectus arguing that it’s probably time to take the organization into account when assessing prospects. It’s been kind of verboten in the past in part because trades may change the context dramatically, but at some level, if a player is on the Dodgers (or Royals), you should probably take that into account. The same pitcher seems like a better bet in the Cleveland organization than in, say, the Nationals. I’d argue we mentally do this in part, but it’s probably good to be explicit about it. But even then: what do we do with the organizations around the middle of our mental distribution of development ability? Forget the Dodgers, what does “average” actually look like?

I’m going down this philosophical rabbit hole tonight because of a really interesting match-up we’ll see tonight. The A’s starter, James Kaprielian, was a first round pick and had tantalizing minor league numbers, but simply couldn’t stay on the field. Solid velo and a very nice slider/curve combo overwhelmed low-minors hitters, and he pounded the zone enough to avoid walks. Very little of that has translated to the majors. He’s not out and out bad, though his FIP suggests he might be. Rather, through a combination of raw stuff (awful spin rate) and approach (target the very top of the zone or above), his fastball has simply not been good enough at this level. He’s given up too many HRs AND too many walks – a bad combo if ever there was one. The A’s have helped him stay healthy, but the problem with the fastball isn’t getting any better despite some tweaks they’ve made – he’s increased his release point over time, going to a more standard or higher 3/4 delivery from slightly lower. That helps him get more effective backspin on the ball, but his spin rate isn’t going to allow him to get to average or above average vertical movement. Everyone’s trying. It just hasn’t shown up in results yet.

Tonight, Kaprielian could end up pitching to Jarred Kelenic. Kelenic was just recalled, with the M’s swapping out LFs with Taylor Trammell heading back to the PCL. Kelenic, rather famously, has had some issues adjusting to big league pitching. Somewhat like Kaprielian, only far louder, Kelenic’s minor league stats suggest someone with expert knowledge of the strikezone who – at worst – should have average-ish batting averages. In 500 MLB PAs, Kelenic is hitting .167/.246/.329. He’s made adjustments in his pre-swing load, in his batting stance, anything. He’s listened to coaches in the org, and he’s listened to private coaches and ex-coaches like Mark McGwire. Being bull-headed and stubborn is not the problem. Hitting big league off-speed and breaking stuff is. The M’s sent him down to AAA and let him alone for several months this year to re-start his development. It was a move he both understood and later chafed at. Now we get to see if it did anything.

Kelenic is a good fielder and has some speed. He’ll be confident coming back from the PCL where he put up a line over 20% better than the league’s. He’s just 23. But…we’ve seen all of that before. He was trending the right way at the end of 2021, and essentially collapsed in 2022, with a K% over 38%, lower walk rates, and less power than 2021. He’s hit well in AAA, but still has trouble with off-speed pitches and a hell of a time against breaking stuff.

I hope Kelenic has a role to play in the M’s playoff push, and I hope it gives him confidence. I know nothing he does in the next two weeks or so is dispositive about his development. He’s got time, even if things get scarier with each 0-4. I don’t think James Kaprielian just IS a 5th starter with bad control, just as I don’t think Jarred Kelenic will never hit a big league slider. The M’s are where they are in large part because of the development of Julio Rodriguez, George Kirby, and Logan Gilbert. The A’s have hung around for years despite a meager budget because of what their development group was able to do with the likes of Frankie Montas, Chris Bassitt, and a host of Paul Blackburns, Cole Irvins and Lou Trivinos. That’s cold comfort to Kaprielian, I bet, just as it didn’t help Jesus Luzardo – another top prospect seemingly poised for greatness who just sort of collapsed in Oakland. The M’s failures (to date!) with Kelenic and Evan White haven’t prevented them from having development-driven big league success. It’s all confusing. I just hope it works out in the end, and Kelenic’s a part of what is shaping up to be a great 2023. I hope Kaprielian learns to throw strikes. Just not yet.

To his credit, Kaprielian has really cut back on the home runs allowed recently. He gave up 5 in June, but just five since the calendar flipped to July.

1: Juliooooo, CF
2: France, 1B
3: Haniger, RF
4: Santana, DH
5: Winker, LF
6: Raleigh, C
7: Frazier, 2B
8: Toro, 3B
9: Crawford, SS
SP: Ray


One Response to “Game 148, Mariners at Athletics”

  1. Stevemotivateir on September 21st, 2022 5:55 pm

    I wonder how much we’ll actually see of Kelenic. I hate the idea of him getting 1-2 PAs every third game, or just as a late-inning replacement for Winker, but at the same time, I’m a little nervous about him playing regularly and getting off to a slow start.

    I would guess they’ll give him starts against starters with less-than-stellar breaking stuff, and some of the weaker relievers. They’re not going to throw him to the wolves, right?

    Regardless, I really hope he makes the most of the opportunity, however limited it may be. It would be a great story if he cements a role the team can move forward with.

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