The data experts at websites like FanGraphs have already begun shelling out projections for 2020, and a young Indians reliever is looked on favorably.
Depending on your general outlook toward the Cleveland Indians, you may be more apprehensive than excited about the 2020 season. Such is the territory of a generation-spanning World Series drought.
One thing is for certain regarding the Tribe in 2020, however: If everything pans out for James Karinchak, the Indians can look forward to unleashing an electric bullpen arm on their opponents for years to come.
Karinchak barely enjoyed what the folks like to call a cup of coffee in the big leagues in 2019, appearing in just five games and logging fewer than a quality start’s worth of innings. What cannot be denied about the 24-year-old flame-thrower’s profile as a reliever, even in such a small sample, is that he has the stuff to give MLB hitters tantrums up and down the order.
Relying primarily on a high-velocity fastball and a trap-door curve that would make Clayton Kershaw proud, the youngster struck out 13.50 hitters per nine innings in his 5 1/3 frames of work, which is right in line with what he’s done throughout his minor league career. Well, not quite, if we’re being technical. He was striking out over 20 hitters per nine innings at three different levels of the Indians’ farm system in 2019. At the highest level, though, he and his teammates will likely settle for a mere baker’s dozen.
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Included in FanGraphs’ Steamer projections for next season is an increase in usage for Karinchak, as he’s projected to log 35 innings in 2020. A 35-inning workload won’t qualify him as a bullpen workhorse compared to the projections for Cleveland’s other relievers, but it at least indicates he’s expected to be up with the MLB club for a significant portion of the season.
Most interesting among his projections is a K/9 rate of 12.57, which Steamer projects to be the fourth-highest in all of baseball. Only Aroldis Chapman, Edwin Diaz, and Josh Hader are projected to sit hitters down more often per nine innings than Karinchak.
Of course, part of the package with a kid who has the makings of a real-life Rick Vaughn is a struggle with command. Karinchak has been plagued by free passes throughout his minor league career, and that is reflected in his 4.81 BB/9 projection for next season.
Regarding the innings, anything can happen. A tidal wave of injuries could mow down the Tribe ‘pen and force Karinchak into action more often than expected at the beginning of the year. Brad Hand could be traded, either this winter or at the 2020 deadline, and the Indians could experiment with Karinchak in the closer role at some point if he harnesses command of his stuff.
Or, he could simply go out there and give the Indians no choice but to utilize him more often simply by performing well. Time will tell what the 2020 season and beyond holds for Karinchak, but the future is bright.