Imagine you are a pitcher. A right-handed-24-years-old-with-a-97-mph-fastball-kind-of-pitcher.
Also, imagine you are able to strike out 20 or more batters every 9 innings.
If you can imagine that, congratulations, now you know what it’s like to be James Karinchak.
In 2019, from Rookie to AAA, Karinchak struck out a little more than 22 batters per 9 innings (K/9) and while that was in only 30+ innings, he would’ve led the Minors by 5 plus points in that category if the innings were enough. Going back to the start of his MILB career in 2017, his K/9 was 16.36; I checked the leaders at that level from 2006 until 2019 (that’s what I found available in FanGraphs) and he ranks second among pitchers with at least 40 IP:
I find this list very interesting for multiple reasons: there are 2 guys who are well established big leagues players (Doolittle and Jansen), the leader – Ray Black – has been a career minor leaguer with short stints in the show and was supposed to make the Brewers team this season but unfortunately, an injury has kept him sidelined.
Then there are 6 young players, 25 and under: Karinchak, Brady Schanuel, Jake Sims, Sam Delaplane, Marshall Kasowski, and my fellow countryman, the Venezuelan Freddy Pacheco. They are all, in a variety of levels, regarded as some kind of a prospect being Karinchak and Kasowski the most talked about.
So, what else do these six pitchers have in common, besides collecting Ks like there was no tomorrow?
Five out of the six show a rate of walks per 9 innings (BB/9) of at least 5.52, the exception being Delaplane at 3.01. Three of those six are/will be playing at some point with the big team this year, namely Karinchak, Delaplane, and Kasowski.
Karinchak and Kasowski have made bigger splashes as their heaters are close to 100 mph while Delaplane’s is near the mid-90s and at 5’11” (1.80 meters) he is not as an imposing figure as the 6’3″ (1.91 m) K-twins.
Although these 3 pitchers are all well-deserving of keeping an eye on them, I’m focusing on Karinchak who is already pitching with the Indians.
During what I’m going to refer as “Karinchak’s Reign of Terror” or KRT in the minors, he struck out 186 batters in 102.1 IP, that’s almost 2 per inning pitched since 2017.
Ok, the guy is a freak, we get it. Now, how does his profile translates into an MLB career?
To answer that question I did a search in the available data (2006-2019), sorted the pitchers for (k-bb)/ip (you can get a reminder about what is it about here), pulled out the pitchers within a +/- 5% of Karinchak’s, and got this table:
|Luis De La Rosa||38.2||1.178010471||0.3||2.327585901||1.917028138||0.3467||0.0467||12.10344668||1.629310131||0.3077||0.7143|
It’s an 18 players long list, eight of them (Fernández, Owens, Frawley, Tolleson, Zazueta, De La Rosa, and Mahoney) already out of baseball without having made too much of an impact and almost no MLB experience, with the honorable mention of Shawn Tolleson whose career was derailed by injuries even after being named Pitcher of the Year for the Texas Rangers.
From the ten others, six are still under development in the farms (Ryan, Nelson, Ford, Jacobsen, Skubal, Waldron). We have now a shortlist of four players: Karinchak, Colin Poche, Ray Black, and Chris Paddack. This is a good list to be in.
Colin Poche is a top prospect who unfortunately has recently been diagnosed with a torn UCL – Tampa will really miss him. Chris Paddack is the 2020 season opening day starter (and winner) who is highly regarded in the San Diego organization.
To be honest, Poche and Paddack showed way better control during their minor league days with a BB% of 9.4% and 3% respectively; they were more controlled pitchers in that stage than Karinchak (specially Paddack) so that separates them from him and the most accurate comparison returns us to Ray Black. There is good and bad news about it.
Black has tried to live from the fastball, that’s another thing in common with Karinchak, and that’s what’s got him to the big leagues but his inconsistent control has put him back to the minors very often. That’s the bad news.
He is a 2-pitch pitcher, just as Karinchak, but the difference here is that Black complements the fastball with a slider while Karinchak uses a curveball and the way they use them is totally different:
This is the good news.
Karinchak 2019 MLB debut provides us with a very small sample but it is surprisingly telling: he trusts his secondary stuff more than what Black did in the same season. While Black used only 1 slider per every 4 pitches he threw (making the other three fastballs), that’s a shame cause his slider almost doubles the percentage of swinging strikes (Whiff%) he gets from it than from the fastball and more importantly the Put Away percentage too, which is the times the pitch is used to get the final strike after a count with 2 strikes on, the finisher we may say.
Karinchak is closer to a 1 curveball per every 2 pitches; the parity continues in Whiff% (37%,33%) and PutAway% (24%,20%). How important is this? Supremely. Imagine being a batter facing him, you know this guy is capable of throwing a screaming 97 mph fastball and you have to be prepared for it. But also, this guy can throw a curveball (at 85 mph, it is pretty useful) and he does it at the same throw rate so that keeps me guessing through the whole at-bat. With Black, there is a 75% chance he’ll throw a fastball, batters tend to adjust easily to that kind of patterns.
This behavior might explain the difference in WOBA and xWOBA between both pitchers: Karinchek gets less punished when throwing his fastball by quite a difference than Black. This is very important for a pitcher that issues a lot of walks as if he can still strike out batters, avoiding as much as possible to allow the ball in play, and he can still get away with murder.
I believe Karinchak will have to continue dealing with control issues as a lot of hard-throwing hurlers do, that will be unavoidable at least this season, but batters will have a hard time bringing home those base runners.
In classic 5 x 5 Roto and H2H leagues, where BBs don’t count but Ks do, having Karinchak is the equivalent to having Josh Hader minus the SVs.
While I was finishing writing this, he struck the side in the seventh inning against the White Sox, while allowing one BB, no hits, no runs. A classic Karinchak.
I think you should watch the final strike for each out as he used the fastball and the curveball indistinctively:
He is available in 85% of the Yahoo! Fantasy Baseball leagues.