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Jarred Kelenic is Changing the Narrative



It is no secret that many wrote off Jarred Kelenic as a bust. Kelenic had immense expectations surrounding him, as he was the sixth pick of the 2018 Amateur Draft. Out of high school, Jarred turned heads with his bat skills. He graded out with 50 / 60 hit, 50 / 60 game power, and 60 / 60 raw power tools, which are all very good, especially at such a young age. He was being touted as a future All-Star, perennial MVP candidate, and sure-thing Hall of Famer by Mets beat reporters. When the Mets traded him and 3 other prospects to the Mariners for Edwin Diaz and Robinson Cano, the New York media attempted to slander the Mets’ front office for one of the dumbest trades of all time. At the time, Kelenic had 54 games of Rookie Ball under his belt in which he hit .286/.371/.468.


Fast forward to May of 2021, when Kelenic finally gets the nod and is set to make his debut after tearing it up in the minors. At the time, he was one the best prospects in baseball, and many were convinced he was the next young superstar. His debut and rookie season did not go as planned. He went 0-4 in his first game and would have an extremely disappointing rookie campaign, even getting demoted to AAA for a while. His MLB stats over 93 games were a .181 batting average, a .350 slugging, and an OPS of .615, which are, simply put, bad. He had one of the worst statistical starts to a career in modern history. The interesting part of his rookie year was his AAA numbers. In 30 games, he hit .320, slugged .624, and had an OPS of 1.016, which is great. If it were not for these numbers, he might not have gotten another shot at the majors. More importantly, scouts still had faith in him and thought that his major league struggles were more of a mental hurdle than a lack of talent. Many compared him to Carlos Gonzalez, who also had a horrible start to a career but would go on to be a three-time All-Star, There was still plenty of hope for the young OF.


In 2022, he was still young and had plenty of time to change the narrative following him. He started the season at the MLB level, but he was eventually demoted again and spent more time at AAA than at the major league level. He would spend 84 games in the minors in 2022, and the same trend was apparent. He hit well in the minors when the stress of being a major leaguer was not there. He totaled a slash line of .295 / .557 / .922. He would make the Mariners’ postseason roster and disappoint in the playoffs, going 2 for 17 with one walk. Was this his last act, or at least his last time playing at the MLB level with the Mariners? Some thought there would be a chance he would be traded in the offseason to cut losses, but that did not happen.


Rather than returning back to the Pacific Northwest with the team, Kelenic stayed in Arizona at the Mariners’ Spring Training site is, and worked all offseason to fix whatever was holding him back. A few things stuck out after watching Kelenic over the last few seasons. He never looked truly comfortable in the batters’ box. He was very tense and would often change his pre-plate-appearance routine. He looked intimidated by most pitchers on the mound as if he was self-conscious. He struggled greatly at the plate, striking out 30.9% across his first two seasons, and he was not hitting the ball hard when he was making contact. In his defense, he was a 21/22-year-old kid weighed down by expectations seemingly impossible to meet. It is hard to imagine what that was like, but one can only assume it is rough on the psyche of a young man.


However, a few small changes in Kelenic’s game seem to have made a significant impact. This season, Kelenic has adopted a consistent approach upon stepping into the box. He focuses on relaxing. He loosens his hands and rests his bat on his shoulder and takes a breath prior to loading up when the pitcher is mid-delivery. In his first two seasons, Kelenic would rush into the box and get set immediately with a very tight grip on the bat. This seemingly attributed to his discomfort and could explain some of his struggles at the major league level.


Additionally, his whole plate approach has changed; he is more selective and is crushing the pitches he struggled against in the past. Thus far, his chase rate at pitches out of the zone is down 6.2%; also, his whiff rate is down 8.6%, which is a significant improvement. As a result, he has been able to generate positive runs above average against every pitch except a changeup. For reference, last season, he was below average against all pitches. His biggest improvements are against sliders and fastballs, improving by 6.9 and 5.4 runs above average on each pitch, respectively. In the small sample that this season is, he is also seeing more fastballs than he has in previous seasons (up 7% from last year). He still has a high strikeout rate of 27.1% and only walks 8.2% of plate appearances, which means he has a lot of room for growth, but the improvements thus far have been staggering.


The big question is: is this great start just a hot streak, or is it Jarred Kelenic turning the page on the past and being the player that the Mariners traded for? Many of Jarred's underlying numbers are positive, but it is fair to expect a reasonable amount of regression. Is he a .325 hitter? Probably not, but his hard-hit rate and expected batting average are both in the 97th percentile. He is also barrelling up balls in the 91st percentile, which suggests his success is sustainable. His batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is .375 and his weighted on-base average (wOBA) is .445, which are both indicators that he is not just getting lucky but putting meaningful contact on the baseball.


This is a completely different Jarred Kelenic, and teams have not had much of an opportunity to pitch to him differently. It will be interesting to see if starts to receive a healthy diet of more changeups and fewer sliders. One thing is certain, though, Kelenic looks like he believes that he belongs at the major league level. He has a new confidence and swagger that he has never shown to MLB fans. As fans, we should all be rooting for him. It is incredible to see his resilience and bounce back when many fans wrote him off. Hopefully, this is just the start of a great career.



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