(Photo: David Derme, USA TODAY Sports)
2020 season age: 24 – Throws: Right – Bats: Right – Contract: Rookie status
2019 in review: A hamstring then a lat injury delayed James Karinchak’s MLB debut in 2019. Before the injuries he has tamed the command of his fastball and was striking out batters at video game rates. After he came back, he was still missing bats at a torrid pace, but the command issues that befell him before returned yet again. All in all, he fanned 74 in 30.1 minor league innings with 17 walks and a 2.67 ERA. Batters hit just .150 against him, which kept his WHIP low at 1.09. In his MLB debut he struck out eight in 5.1 innings with a walk and 1.69 ERA.
Beyond the stats: The shape, tunneling and deceptive delivery/arm slot help Karinchak’s big stuff play up despite what was measured as average spin rate. Of the 22 batters he faced in Cleveland last September, Karinchak got a 41% chase rate by hitters. With sample size being noted, Ryan Pressly led MLB relievers in 2019 with a 40% chase rate. If Karinchak can hold that number close in 2020 over more innings, he may not have to throw as many strikes anyway. Or it will at least combat some of his command issues.
On the mound: Karinchak was a starter in college and used to feature a three pitch mix, a changeup with late diving action in addition to his big fastball and over the top curveball. He’s pretty much ditched the changeup in pro ball but the fastball hits 97 regularly and the curveball starts at the same release point, making it hard for hitters to pick up the ball quite often. His delivery has a little bit of awkward movement that affects his command and he repeats it OK but it’s all part of his deception. He’s also an animated and fiery competitor on the mound.
2020 role: It’s not certain that Karinchak will start the year in the Indians bullpen, though he should. His stuff gives the Indians the ability to pair him with Emmanuel Clase and Brad Hand in the late innings for a dynamic, bat missing combination. If he makes the roster, he’ll probably get 6th or 7th inning duties, and may start out pitching in games where the Indians trail in favor of someone like Nick Wittgren, with a little better command and experience than Karinchak. The Indians may make him earn some higher leverage work, but he has the stuff to be effective in that role if given the chance.
Fantasy impact: Unless Karinchak’s command takes a leap forward and Brad Hand proves ineffective like the second half last year, Karinchak will be competing for holds in the Indians bullpen. Those might not be readily available to him out of the gate, but if your league counts holds, he could be in line at some point to collect plenty. Of course, his big add to your fantasy pitching staff is the strikeouts. Depending on how much work he gets, he can help your fantasy bullpen with strikeouts, especially if you’re in a league that uses something like K/9 or K%. However, if your league uses WHIP as a stat as well, be warned he can negatively impact that due to walks at times. He’s probably not someone worth drafting unless you’re in a deeper league with holds and those strikeout stats, or an AL only league. But keep an eye on his role into the season and how the command looks. The better his command, the more impactful of a role he’ll earn, thus increasing his fantasy value.