The Indians are in a bit of a tough situation. Once looking like a team with a likely chance to play in October, they are currently on the outside-looking-in, as their playoff odds have plummeted from 93.1 percent a month ago to 44 percent as of today.
A large factor contributing to the Indians fall has been the struggles of their once reliable bullpen. After ranking among the best in most categories for most of the season, they’ve been below mediocre over the past two weeks (5.50 ERA), with struggles from closer Brad Hand (13.50 ERA in September), Adam Cimber (9.00), and Nick Goody (8.10) being the root of the cause.
With coin-flip odds to make the postseason, the Indians need all the added help they can get. With their latest call-up, they did just that.
The Cleveland Indians are calling up right-handed reliever James Karinchak, a source tells ESPN. In 30.1 minor league innings this season, Karinchak has struck out 74 batters. Yes, 81% of Karinchak’s outs have come via strikeout.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) September 12, 2019
A ninth round selection by the Indians in 2017, Karinchak came out as a starting pitching from Bryant University. Shortly after turning pro, he transitioned to a relief role. In his first full-season as a reliever, he soar up the minor league ladder, dominating across three levels (48 2⁄3 IP, 1.29 ERA, 81 SO). With a dominant fastball and a good curveball as a main secondary, he had developed a stellar future outlook.
“Karinchak’s profile checks his numbers: a strike thrower who can touch the mid-to-high 90s with a lively fastball and a 12-to-6 curveball that batters tend to chase. The only downfall to Karinchak’s game is consistency within his command, dictated by the amount of walks he has allowed. In his age-23 season, he has already checked some of those boxes. Once he fully figures his command out, and he can cut down on allowing free passes, Karinchak can be the strongest case to become a mainstay in the Indians bullpen.”
Starting the season in Double-A, Karinchak quickly showed that he was an over-match for his competition, striking out 24 batters and only walking two in 10 innings, good for a unbelievably low -1.03 FIP. Earning himself a promotion to Triple-A, he kept up his eye-popping strikeout numbers, striking out 42 batters across 17 1⁄3 innings. All-in-all, he finished his minor league season with 30 1⁄3 innings pitched, putting up a 2.67 ERA with 74 strikeouts against 17 walks.
Among 2,897 pitchers with at least 30 innings pitched in the minor leagues this season, here’s where some of Karinchak’s finals numbers ranked...
- K%: 1st
- K-BB%: 1st
- FIP: 1st
- xFIP: 1st
Karinchak ended up striking out 59.2 percent of the batters he faced, a rate comfortably ahead of any other pitcher in the minor leagues this season, standing 13.4 percentage points ahead of the second place Sam Delaplane. The difference in strikeout-rate between Karinchak and Delaplane was greater than the difference between Delaplane and 200th place Robert Winslow (32.2 percent).
To visually represent how absurd Karinchak’s numbers were, here’s a scatter plot for those 2,897 aforementioned pitcher’s strikeout and walk rates.
Rest-of-season Steamer Projections only have five pitchers in the majors projected for a higher strikeout-rate than him (Josh Hader, Edwin Diaz, Dellin Betances, Aroldis Chapman, Austin Adams. If he’s able to manage his control to an extent, he’ll contribute in the late innings during the Indians postseason push.
The role Karinchak will fill for the Indians the rest of the season is still unknown, but it he can start his major league career off with a few impressive appearances, paired with his minor league track-record, his role with quickly become a significant one.
Patrick Brennan loves to research pitchers and minor leaguers with data. You can find additional work of his at Royals Review and Royals Farm Report. You can also find him on Twitter @paintingcorner.