James Karinchak can still be the closer of the future for the Cleveland Indians / Cleveland Guardians
The nickname “Wild Thing” seemed well suited for James Karinchak once he arrived to the Cleveland Indians roster. His flame-throwing ability and loud personality on the mound seemed like the real life embodiment of Ricky Vaughn. However, the character “Two-Face” from the Batman comics might fit just as well since we’ve essentially witnessed two completely different pitchers this season from Karinchak.
During the first half of the season, Karinchak was able to be a steady arm, especially for being just 25-years old. Before the All-Star break, he appeared in 41 games, logging a 2.52 ERA with 68 strikeouts, averaging 15.6 per nine innings. Then the All-Star break happened.
After the break, Karinchak saw his numbers rocket up to 8.74 in the ERA department over 13 games. He also struck out just six, seeing his strikeouts per nine plummet to 4.8. On top of that, opposing batters saw their average against Karinchak jump up 135 points.
While that’s not at all what you want to see, Karinchak is still more than capable of being the closer of the future in Cleveland, this is just a rough patch in the process.
The key to everything with Karinchak is the fact that he’s still just 25-years old and set to turn 26 this September. Sure, he might be going through some struggles, but he’s still in the early stages of his career and will be under team control through the 2025 season. There’s plenty of time to figure it out.
The biggest knock against Karinchak during these struggles is the possibility of the “sticky stuff.” Pitchers around the game have had to relearn their pitches a bit since the league has kept a closer eye on illegal substances on the mound and given his restlessness when on the bump, Karinchak was rumored to be one.
While Karinchak’s spin rate has dropped on both of his pitches this season, it hasn’t been by a large margin. However, his miles per hour has actually gone up for both. So, if it’s not the sticky stuff, what could it be?
Well, Karinchak’s biggest weakness is the fact that he has just two pitches. He throws a fastball and a curveball. That’s it. When he first came up it was a near 50/50 split for what he threw. This season, though, he’s now throwing over 68% fastballs.
Throwing high-90s is great, but when you throw it constantly, hitters will begin to time that up. Add in the fact that his only other pitch is a curveball and it becomes rather easy to see why hitters are starting to figure out how to approach the reliever.
Most people who have played baseball know that there’s a clear difference in delivery from those two pitches. A curveball requires a slightly different motion and the spin is rather easy to notice compared to a fastball for major league pitchers. Once batters learned to identify the two pitches from each other, Karinchak began to struggle.
What he needs to do is develop a third pitch. Given what he already has in his arsenal, something in the off-speed range would be ideal. A changeup or splitter could really add a new layer to his game. Even a sinker might do the trick, although it wouldn’t check-off the speed change part.
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A changeup uses the same motion as a fastball, which would force batters to be on their toes a bit more and make Karinchak less predictable and noticeable to batters. Right now batters can just prepare for a fastball and easily identify if it’s a curveball. Adding a changeup creates more guessing between the pitches and makes preparation much more difficult.
The good news for Karinchak is that he’s having the hardships early in his career. There’s plenty of time for him to right the ship. Even better, there seems to be a reasonable answer to the issue. If he can take this offseason to work on a changeup, or any third pitch for that matter, it could really help his development.
What it boils down to is that while Karinchak has had his struggles this season there’s still plenty of time in his career and he’s shown potential. The first half of the season was much better than the second half, so if he can work on getting back to that form while adding another pitch, there’s a clear road for him to be the closer in Cleveland moving forward.