The Cleveland Guardians have to make a decision on James Karinchak.
As far as raw talent, there may be no better bullpen pitcher the Cleveland Guardians have besides James Karinchak. He’s got incredible stuff and forces hitters to keep up with him. The problem is, as good as his stuff is, it isn’t so powerful on its own that a good hitter can’t keep up with him. It happens a lot, especially with the game on the line. Currently, Karinchak leads the Guardians in losses. Not just for the bullpen either.
Karinchak has more losses than any other pitcher the team has. Take those four losses away, and the Guardians have a one-game lead on the Minnesota Twins in the AL Central. That shows you just how easily the Guardians could go from being a .500 ball club to being at the top of the division.
So why is Karinchak getting hammered by hitters? He’s got all the raw talent in the world, why can’t he find consistent success? It might be his attitude.
James Karinchak has to re-think how he pitches if he wants to remain a Cleveland Guardians reliever
By all accounts, Karinchak is a hard worker who the team likes. When we talk “attitude”, we don’t mean he has one, we mean the way he approaches the game is wrong. Karinchak’s fastball is his bread and butter. He throws it 62% of the time. It’s also the pitch he’s likely to get beat on. The batting average against him jumps up 100 points from .150 with his curve to .250 with the fastball.
And the problem is, his fastball is just something he winds and hurls. With his curve, there’s more of a deliberate desire to dance on the edges. More players swing and miss against his curve than against his fastball. Baseball Savant tracks this and determines that a Whiff% of 32.85 is the league average. Karinchaks’ curveball is at 35.3 this year (48.6 last year), while his fastball is just 22.2 in 2023.
Karinchak loves his fastball but his fastball isn’t that effective. With his fastball, he’s above the league average for balls in the strike zone, as he’s just throwing 44.2% He’s above the league average as a whole in swings and misses, which goes back to his bulldog, “out-throw-the-world” mentality.
That mentality has caused 73.7% of his hit balls to come out as either line drives or fly balls, and his exit velocity is 91.1, up nearly four miles per hour from the league average, implying that most of the balls that hitters get ahold of are his fastballs.
Karinchak has only two pitches in his repertoire, a fastball, and a curveball. A third pitch and less reliance on his fastball may reshape how he’s viewed by batters. If he could develop a changeup, he may even find himself to be an elite-level reliever, but clearly, his overreliance on his fastball isn’t enough.
He just can’t bully hitters with his speed and win.