I really didn't like the Josh Donaldson trade for the A's and not just because I wanted the Reds to reel in Donaldson. I didn't like the return for an impact hitter with gold glove caliber defense. It felt light. Then I watched Kendall Graveman pitch. He might have changed my mind.
Last year, Graveman did something I've never seen before. He pitched at five different professional levels (A, A+, AA, AAA, MLB) for the Blue Jays. And, he pitched well at every stop. That's not a fluke. That's not an accident. What he does works, it just doesn't excite the scouts and pundits.
If you believe in the Defense Independent Pitching (DIPs) concept, then you put a lot of stock in those parts of the game within the pitcher's control: strikeouts, walks, and home runs. Strikeouts move the needle and excite the establishment. Rightfully so. Velocity is what sets baseball hearts aflutter, but there's room under the tent for a wide variety of styles, as long they generate success. And, dominating the other two components of DIPs can lead to a great deal of success.
|Kendall Graveman, Courtesy: Unknown|
Kendall Graveman has very strong control and command and he gets a massive amount of ground balls, which limits the home runs he allows. In fact, he allowed only 2 homers and 31 walks (1.62 BB/9) in 172 combined professional innings in 2014. He doesn't have the strikeout rate (ranging from 5.5 to 6.5 K/9), but he excels in ground balls and limiting free passes. That type of profile should play very well in Oakland, given that organization's combination of pitcher-friendly home park and strong team defense, so Graveman seems to be in a perfect position to succeed in 2015. All he needs to do now is secure a rotation spot.
Graveman's stat line isn't the most interesting thing to peruse, but he becomes vastly more interesting when you see him work. Here's a look at him, courtesy of Oakland Athletics on YouTube:
On the mound, Graveman uses solid, functional mechanics. He doesn't have any unorthodox or extreme elements to his delivery. He maintains good balance, tempo, and body control throughout. The most unusual, at least in this day and age, part of his delivery is that he brings his hands up over his head, a move which I've always preferred. His elbow maintains good position relative to his shoulder throughout and his arm gets up into proper throwing position at foot-strike. If there is any area of concern, it might be in the deceleration phase, as he occasionally has a bit of recoil in his follow-through which could increase stress on the arm. Still, on the whole, his mechanics are solid and very functional.
Still, it's Graveman's repertoire that really intrigues. He uses a fastball that sits 89-94 while working as a starter and a touch higher as a reliever. Graveman has a nasty sinker that has very good downward movement and arm-side run to it. He also has the ability to both cut and run the fastball. When coupled with his plus command, Graveman's ability to create lateral movement in both directions means that he can effectively attack both sides of the plate and hitters of both handedness. Graveman can really control the entire strike zone, while his sinker allows him to rack up massive ground balls. When he's at his best, it's really difficult for hitters to square up Graveman's pitches, even though he leans heavily on his fastball/sinker combination.
In addition to his fastball/sinker combo, he also throws a changeup with average potential and a curveball and slider. It seems unlikely that he'll throw both a slider and a cutter, as those are different degrees of the same pitch and trying to throw both could limit the effectiveness of each. So, to the extent that he even needs one, he'll likely utilize only one of his breaking pitches going forward.
Graveman also benefits from a very good work ethic and strong makeup. He has a good understanding of how to pitch and makes the most of what he's got. He's not the type who's going to beat himself.
Overall, I'm pretty high on Kendall Graveman. While most pundits project Graveman to be a 5th starter type due to his lower strikeout rate, I could see him climbing as high as a #3 starter. Given his strong command and ability to shape his pitches, it wouldn't surprise me if his strikeout rate eventually improves a tick, though that might depend on improvements in his breaking ball of choice. Even if he doesn't improve his strikeout rate, Graveman should be a very effective MLB starting pitcher and it could start as soon as this year.
Kendall Graveman is my breakout candidate for 2015.