Kendall Graveman: Projecting a Sleeper’s Repertoire

On Monday, we talked about Daniel Norris, a Blue Jays prospect that is likely to make the jump to the Toronto starting rotation out of camp this year on the back of a great spring and an injury to Marcus Stroman. Today we’re going to highlight another young pitcher who is all but a lock to make a big league rotation out of spring training, only this time it is a former Blue Jay we’re discussing, one that was traded to Oakland as part of the Josh Donaldson deal.

That this pitcher has a name incredibly well set up for puns is not the reason for this article, I assure you, though Kendall Graveman has surely heard them all, and would probably like to put it to rest. Instead, Graveman has made his case for this article, and for inclusion in a crowded rotation, by lighting the Cactus League aflame to the tune of one earned run in 15 innings of work.

First, let’s get this out of the way: we know most spring stats don’t matter. There are some that might. Graveman could get absolutely lit up in his first start in Oakland after allowing only one run in the spring. Tearing through the minor leagues, as Graveman did last year (going from A ball to the majors) is not a proven blueprint for success. However, due to the nature of how he pitches, and the park he’s about to be pitching in, success might be more likely than we expect.

Graveman lives and dies by way of his sinker. An illustration: in his last start on Sunday against a Reds lineup of regulars, he went 5.1 innings without allowing a ball hit in the air. He had this to say about that fact:

Because of that extreme profile, we’re going to look at Graveman’s repertoire (especially the sinker), and see just how good it might be. Most of this is projection, as Graveman only pitched 4.2 innings last year for the Blue Jays, but it should at least allow us to get a feel for the types of pitches he throws and how he might attack hitters as a starter in 2014.

Sinker

Kendall_Graveman_Sinker

Graveman’s sinker usually sits in the low 90’s, but he can dial it up to 95 at times. It’s an interesting pitch for a few reasons: yes, it has a lot of sink, but it also has a ton of arm-side run, so much so that it looks at times like a two-seam fastball.  It’s unsurprising that Graveman often threw it like a two-seamer in his limited work in 2014, starting it directly at left handers and running it onto the inside corner for called strikes, or using it in the above example to dive down and out of the zone. Judging by the video from last year, he also lines up on the extreme left-hand portion of the rubber, most likely to emphasize that horizontal plane to the pitch.

Just for fun, from the limited examples of his sinker last year, I ran a quick z-score comparison with the movement and velocity profiles of other pitchers who threw sinkers. Jacob Turner, the former top prospect who has yet to put it together (and who is now injured), was the best match, though the pitcher who resembled the movement/velocity profile and ground ball rate of Graveman’s sinker was Tyson Ross. Here’s another example of it:

Kendall_Graveman_Sinker_2

While he can throw it with a lot of running action on the arm side, he can also bury it: the example above might be the best example of what he’s capable of with the pitch, as he hits 95 with heavy, late sink. The run and sink combined make it more of a whiff candidate than the usual sinker, and obviously an extreme ground ball pitch.

Slider

Kendall_Graveman_Slider

We’re going to be a little more unsure about Graveman’s secondary offerings until we see more of them, both because they still seem to be a work in progress, and honestly, he didn’t throw many of them last year. The slider came in around the low-80’s in 2014, had average horizontal movement, and a nice speed difference from the sinker. It also looked like a pitch that will get hit hard if he doesn’t command it well, which could be said of any pitch, but especially average sliders.

Cutter

Kendall_Graveman_Cutter

Everyone seems to have a cutter these days, and Graveman jumped on the train last summer. He throws it in the upper-80’s, and credits it for the reason he rose through the ranks of the minors so quickly last year. He also happened on the pitch by accident during a start in Class A Dunedin, which is always nice to have happen. It’s an important pitch for him, as he throws it with the most frequency behind his sinker, and it represents the third pitch he’s developed. Starters don’t often make it with just two pitches, so the cutter’s continued development is obviously something to watch.

His catcher Stephen Vogt sees promise in it:

“The cutter is good, it’s a little big but it will only get better and better, which is exciting.”

Take that for what it’s worth, but at least someone who catches the ball for a living views it as a worthwhile pitch. Graveman also has a changeup that he throws in the mid-80’s, but he only threw two of them during his time with the Blue Jays in 2014. One of them got hit for a double by Robinson Cano and the other was a ball in the dirt. So yeah, he’s probably still working on that one. It is presented here without further comment:

Kendall_Graveman_Changeup

There’s a reason Graveman has all but locked down a spot in Oakland’s 2015 rotation. A great spring training when many rotation spots are in flux usually does that. The spring stats might not mean much, but they do mean that we’re probably going to be seeing a fair amount of him this coming year. We currently have him projected for these numbers in 2015:

Season IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 FIP WAR
2015 104 5.14 2.58 0.98 4.39 0.3

He doesn’t strike a lot of guys out, but he limits walks, suppresses home runs, and has a great sinker that induces a ton of ground balls. Pitchers have made their living off of that style of pitching. Will Graveman follow suit? We’ll find out soon.





Owen Watson writes for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. Follow him on Twitter @ohwatson.

14 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
2014 National Champions
8 years ago

Been on the Graveman bandwagon for a few years now. In 2013 I saw Miss St play in person nine times. The kid is a really talented baseball player but more than anything he is a really really humble person who has a tremendous work ethic. The makeup is off the charts and I will never bet against a kid like him succeeding in any avenue of life.