Athletics: The Case to Convert Kendall Graveman to the Bullpen

About nine months ago, it was announced that Kendall Graveman would start on Opening Day for the Oakland Athletics, but after about a month, a rapid fall from grace saw the 27-year old shipped down to Nashville. In what amounted to a season to forget, Graveman only pitched 58.1 innings between Triple-A and the major leagues due to elbow issues, and saw poor results at both levels. After being non-tendered by the A’s on Friday, Graveman is now available for anyone to sign, and seems likely to be exceptionally inexpensive thanks to a grisly 7.60 ERA and 6.22 FIP in the majors and a 4.50 ERA and 5.16 FIP in Triple-A.

The 2018 season was an unfortunate perfect storm for the young starter, as he battled injury issues, an exceptionally low LOB% of 57.3% in the majors, and an unsustainably high HR/FB ratio of 27.3%.  That being said, his average fastball velocity continued to rise for the fourth consecutive season (91.5 in 2015 up to 94.8 in 2018), and his ground ball percentages remained around 55%, which is well above average. As we’ve seen throughout his relatively young career, as a starter, he’s capable of posting ERA numbers in the low 4’s while maintaining reasonably solid control as an innings eater, probably equating to a four on a competitive team like the A’s. While this is nonetheless an important role, is it the best way to utilize him?

If I’m a general manager scanning the newly minted non-tenders, I’m viewing Graveman, not only as a reclamation project, but a complete diamond in the rough signing. Based on his skill set, size and projection, there are many signs that point to his effectiveness being maximized coming out of the bullpen.

The most obvious signs come from his split statistics over his career. While the sample size of relief innings to starting innings isn’t necessarily proportional, Graveman’s FIP as a reliever over the course of his career comes out to an exceptional 1.42 next to a 4.58 as a starter, while his grounder rates are 64.3% as a reliever and 51.6% as a starter. For more concrete statistics, in terms of sample size, the more times he goes through the order, the worse his numbers are.

Even after an epic fall from grace as a starter, @Athletics pitcher Kendall Graveman still has value out of the bullpen. @OrsattiJoe has more.Click To Tweet

Through his first time around the batting order, he boasts a 3.92 FIP with a 17.7% K-rate. That FIP number soars to 4.84 upon his second time through, while the strikeout rate drops to 13.7% and the trend continues with his third time through, as the FIP comes in at 5.37 while the K-rate drops to 12.5%. As a complimentary, he has always performed better in high leverage situations (3.86 FIP) compared to medium (4.55 FIP) and low (4.63 FIP). Imagine if Graveman was pitching in a high leverage situation in his first time through the order.

Looking into more general statistics, Graveman has a very wide arsenal of pitches that he can throw, as he threw a fastball, a cutter, a slider, a change and a curve last season. Typically, effective relievers have a fastball and secondary mix, but when you have a guy like Graveman, you’re looking at an Andrew Miller type arm. Another thing to take into account is the fact that his average fastball velocity actually increased every single season in which it was recorded on FanGraphs. It went from 91.5 in 2015 to 93.3 in 2016 to 93.8 in 2017 all the way up to 94.8 in 2018. If you have a guy who can average the mid-90’s on a fastball while mixing in four other pitches over one to two innings of relief, he could be lights out.

At this point, the market is a bit saturated with relief arms, which means that Graveman seems likely to have a minor league contract with a spring training invite in his future. The best case scenario is that he’s picked up by a rebuilding team such as Miami, Seattle, Kansas City or Baltimore, and pitches well enough to warrant a trade to a competitor. Assuming this all worked out, and he was shopped, his value would be extra high considering he’s under team control through 2021. This could be the deal of the offseason.

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