Take A Deep Breath Seattle Mariners Fans – Jarred Kelenic Will Be Fine
By John Brewer
If you spend some time before the first pitch in the center field hangout at T-Mobile Park, aptly named The Pen, you won’t last five minutes without hearing someone bring up the topic of Jarred Kelenic. He was a hot topic last year when the Seattle Mariners were fighting for a wild card spot in late August, and again during 2021 spring training when the organization was working to determine who would start in LF on Opening Day.
The hype surrounding Kelenic is not without merit: in 500 plate appearances during his 2019 minor league season, where he played for the West Virginia Power, Modesto Nuts, and Arkansas Travelers, he posted a .291 BA, .364 OBP, and .540 SLG. After getting called up to the Tacoma Rainiers in 2021, he posted a .370 BA, .414 OBP, and .630 SLG.
Kelenic has now played in 20 major league games and has accumulated 92 plate appearances. His stats to date are unimpressive (.096 BA, .185 OBP, .193 SLG), and his -0.7 WAR is one of the lowest on the Mariners’ active roster. As Baseball America’s number 4 prospect coming into the 2021 season, these are certainly not the numbers that Mariners fans were hoping to see.
A deeper look at the Seattle Mariners prospect Jarred Kelenic
In looking deeper at Kelenic’s plate appearances, his strikeout rate of 28.3% is slightly above last year’s average (23.1%). On the surface, this shows that he isn’t being dominated at the plate and simply needs a greater number of plate appearances to be successful. In 76 May plate appearances (18 games), he struck out 17 times.
What is concerning is the fact that he’s already struck out 9 times in 16 June plate appearances (4 games). These numbers demonstrate Kelenic’s potentially trying to force offense which is only making his offensive skid worse. If Jarred can become more comfortable taking the first pitch, he puts himself at his most successful pitch count of 1-0 where his BA/OBP is .286/.286.
In watching Jarred’s at-bats, what is immediately apparent is how frequently he swings at first pitches. 26% of his plate appearances have featured a swing at the first pitch, and his resulting BA/OBP is .000/.126. When he takes the first pitch, his BA/OBP increases to .129/.206.
What is also apparent from watching his plate appearances is the lack of hittable pitches he sees. It is promising that his OBP increases the more times he sees a starting pitcher throughout the game – his OBP increases from .143 his first at-bat to .313 his third trip to the plate. This speaks to his intelligence as a hitter that he learns from the previous at-bats against a starting pitcher to create success at the plate later in games.
Two trends that most avid Mariners fans have been aware of regarding Kelenic’s batting is that he has a pull tendency and has a low line drive percentage. This is a trend that has persisted since his call-up to the Mariners almost one month ago. Currently, his pull rate is 47.4% and his LD% is 14.0%.
When watching his plate appearances, these stats come to fruition with the number of times he grounds out to the right side of the infield. Teams have adjusted to his hitting tendencies with a heavy shift to the right side of the infield, as well.
Jarred Kelenic isn’t the only one – other stars have struggled
It is common for players to struggle right after being promoted to the majors. The transition from Triple-A to the Show is a particularly big step up in the quality of pitching on a day-to-day basis. Everyone currently in a panic about Jarred Kelenic being the next Dustin Ackley: Mike Trout batted .220 back in 2011 during his first year with the Angels.
In fact, if the 8-game stretch in August where he batted .400 is removed, his BA/OBP in 2011 was .173/.231. To everyone in The Pen: keep calm and buy another beer.
Where to go from here
Ultimately, being comfortable taking first pitches simply requires more at-bats. He’s proven that he can handle the caliber of pitching at the Triple-A level, so his count management and plate discipline will only improve with more major league at-bats. The bigger concerns are his pull rate and line-drive percentage.
These are tendencies that have followed him his entire career and were well-documented prior to his major league debut. There’s a high likelihood that he gets sent back down to Tacoma at least once this year, and Mariners fans need not look any further than Taylor Trammell’s recent trip back down to see what good it can do for both the athlete and the human being.
At the end of the day, all Mariners fans want is for him to succeed.