BRANDON GUSTAFSON

How good has Mariners’ Kendall Graveman been? He’s one of MLB’s best pitchers to start the season

Apr 23, 2021, 11:17 AM

Mariners RHP Kendall Graveman...

Kendall Graveman is one of the most valuable players in all of MLB in terms of WAR. (Getty)

(Getty)

The Mariners enter Friday tied for first place in the AL West at 12-7 after winning another close come-from-behind game on Thursday against the AL East-leading Boston Red Sox.

From last night: Haniger, Haggerty rally M’s past Boston in extras

Some of Seattle’s usual stars shined for the Mariners in the win, with right fielder Mitch Haniger hitting a three-run home run in the 10th inning and scoring two runs, and designated hitter/infielder Ty France driving in two runs with a double in the sixth. But one of the Mariners’ more surprising stars of the 2021 season also came through in a big way. That player is reliever Kendall Graveman.

Graveman, 30, is in his first full season as a reliever, and let’s just say the results couldn’t be any better.

In six appearances so far, Graveman has thrown 7 2/3 innings and allowed only four baserunners (one hit, two walks, one hit batter) while striking out eight. More importantly, Graveman has yet to allow a run – earned or unearned – so far. He also has already picked up one win and two saves.

Graveman was once again dominant for Seattle on Thursday, pitching a clean 1-2-3 eighth inning while picking up two more strikeouts. Not only did Graveman strike out his old college teammate Hunter Renfroe on a nasty inside fastball at 98 mph to end the inning, but this strikeout of Marwin González on a hard inside slider made the rounds on Twitter, mainly because González was so fooled that he struck out on a pitch that actually ended up hitting him.

The outing showcased just how impressive Graveman has been this year, as he is averaging 96.5 mph on his fastball/sinker and has six strikeouts with the slider, per Baseball Savant.

Additionally, Graveman is making batters miss at a high clip as evidenced by a whiff rate that’s in the 78th percentile in MLB, a strikeout rate that’s also in the 78th percentile, and a chase rate that lands him in the 94th percentile. He also is avoiding hard contact as his hard-hit percentage ranks in the 90th percentile in baseball.

Graveman has not only been one of the Mariners’ best players this year due to his ability to come in late in games and dominate opposing hitters, but he’s been one of the best players in all of baseball.

And that’s no exaggeration.

When looking at wins above replacement (WAR) in all of MLB, Graveman ranks very, very highly. Currently, Graveman sits at 0.8 WAR according to ESPN. That number puts Graveman at second on the Mariners behind only France, who has been one of Seattle’s best and most consistent hitters.

But again, Graveman isn’t just valuable in the eyes of the Mariners; he’s immensely valuable in the entire scope of MLB.

That 0.8 WAR number has Graveman tied for 38th in all of baseball as of Friday. Graveman has the same WAR as former Mariners star DH Nelson Cruz, future Hall of Fame pitcher Clayton Kershaw, and White Sox standout lefty Carlos Rodón, who has thrown a no-hitter this season and allowed only one earned run in 24 innings pitched.

If you look at WAR only among pitchers, what Graveman is doing stands out even more. He is tied for 18th in WAR among all pitchers this season and is the second-most valuable reliever in MLB to start the season, with only Miami Marlins closer Yimi Garcia ranking ahead of Graveman in WAR to date.

Besides statistics, it’s clear Graveman is valuable to this young Mariners team as a veteran presence, as well.

“He’s a leader by nature,” manager Scott Servais said of Graveman earlier this week. “He’s a guy who likes to pull guys along with him.”

Graveman, who was a starting pitcher for his entire career until late last season, is loving his new role, so much so that he told reporters after a big Monday win over the defending World Series champion Dodgers that he doesn’t even miss being a starter.

“The adrenaline is fun,” he said. “It’s a lot different. It’s a different ballgame coming out of the bullpen and I really don’t (miss starting).”

Additionally, Graveman said his mindset fits the mold of being a high-leverage reliever.

“Mentality-wise, I really think I fit down there,” he said. “The game’s really slowed (down) for me, even in those (high-leverage) moments.”

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How good has Mariners’ Kendall Graveman been? He’s one of MLB’s best pitchers to start the season