It’s a great time to be a pitcher: the market for hurlers has burned with rumors and signings, and we have not even reached Thanksgiving. The latest move comes from the White Sox, who have signed on to replace Kendall Graveman on a $ 24 million three-year deal. according to MLB Networks Jon Heyman. He is already the fifth pitcher to have signed a multi-year deal so far this offseason, and the sixth pitcher to come from our Top 50 free agent list, where he was ranked No. 45.
Graveman used his mid-20s as a starter for the A’s, posting elite ball frequencies and minimal strikeouts – a recipe that never quite worked out when he, when he had Tommy John surgery in 2018, had a career ERA of 4.38, a FIP of 4.54 and a strikeout rate of only 15%. He returned to the major leagues in 2020 with the Mariners, where we first got a glimpse of his new form, with a 3.60 ERA and 3.09 FIP in a month of bullpen work to end the season.
His successful transition to the pen after struggling as a starter is hardly any new story, but Graveman and his aversion to odor are not exactly the prototype you’re looking for when trying to create a great reliever. One of the keys for him, as is often the case, came from pressing invisible speed when setting shorter emergency excursions; what was once a 93-mph sinker now sat 96 and touched 99.
The speed was transferred to 2021, and with the newfound race suppression as he became a dominant closer to the surprising sailors. As the trading deadline rolled around, Graveman had an ERA of 0.82, and although his peripheral units (2.90 FIP and 3.13 xFIP) may have suggested he was closer to a good reliever than an elite, it was still clear that the switch to the bullpen had turned his career around. The Astros acquired him by the deadline to bolster their bullpen for the playoffs, and although he was still good, he regressed closer to what his peripheral units had been saying all along, putting an ERA of 3.13 the rest of the way.
There’s more to Graveman’s ascent than just adding speed. If you’re a reader of David Laurila’s Sunday notes, you may already know about the evolution of his shooter. Before last season, Graveman’s breaking ball was slow and dull, but with coaching and instruction from Seattle, he began throwing it like a fastball. That helps explain why the breaker he threw 17.9% of the time this year came about seven mph harder than those he threw in Oakland.
This new pitch is something Graveman can consistently get excited about. He had 20.1% SwStr% on the field this year, making it even better than a league average shooter to deliver odor (16.2%). It was the first season he had a SwStr% over 7.6% and he ran it all the way up to 10.7%. He certainly has some characteristics of an elite reliever now that he has a high 90s fastball and a fragrant shooter; combined with his ability to get grounders, he becomes a fascinating addition to this White Sox bullpen.
Speaking of that bullpen: If you keep track of the home, Chicago now has three guys who used big chunks of the 2021 season as a closer, and accumulated a total of 72 saves: Graveman; Liam Hendriks, who was signed last offseason to a four-year deal and finished as number eight in the AL Cy Young poll; and Craig Kimbrel, who was acquired by the deadline after having a bounce-back first half as the Cubs’ closer. For now, Graveman would probably put these two, as well as left-handed Aaron Bummer, up in what currently appears to be a very formidable ‘pen.
White Sox Projected Bullpen (2021 Statistics)
Last season, the Chicago bullpen had the best K-BB% in baseball, as well as the fourth-best FIP, but finished in a 12th place finish in the ERA; there were clearly many skilled arms, though the running damping did not quite stop. Adding Graveman to that bullpen may seem excessive, but the White Sox have not been shy about their interest in trading with Kimbrel after picking up his $ 16 million option for the 2022 season. His acquisition did not come cheap for the Sox, who swapped Nick Madrigal and reliever Codi Heuer away, and Kimbrel staggered into his new home, getting a 5.09 ERA and 4.56 FIP. If they can complete a trade where the other team takes on all the $ 16 million they owe him, they could theoretically replace his production with Graveman’s for half the price. Of particular note is the role that Michael Kopech will play in 2022. After sitting out in the 2020 season, he was used as a replacement last season to manage his workload, but is expected to participate in the rotation instead. left free agent Carlos Rodón creating another potential bullpen hole to fill.
No matter what happens to Kimbrel, or how Kopech is used, Graveman gives a unique look to a bullpen that flush with guys pumping high-90s four-seams.
White Sox Projected Bullpen (features)
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No bullpen threw more four-nailed fastballs than the White Sox last year, by over 50%, and they also had the eighth lowest sinking use. This led to a bullpen that was number two in strikeouts but in the middle of the herd in grounders. Graveman should step in nicely as a right-handed complement to Bummer, as both can get into the late innings and get grounders while throwing strikes.
The White Sox do not seem like a team that has finished taking steps, even though their expected payroll is now $ 35 million higher than last year. They have a strong need for another baseman and who knows what will happen to a potential Kimbrel trade. It is possible that by the end of the off-season, the acquisition of Graveman will long be overshadowed, but the crucial innings he will throw over the next few seasons should continue to bring him back into the spotlight.