Discover more from The View Level
Jarred Kelenic and the power of a take
How one clutch AB underscores improvements from the young hitter.
I do not like umpires. I’m not sure there’s anyone who’s fond of them—but they drive me insane. Especially on balls and strikes.
It isn’t as if there’s any maliciousness on their part, that’s not where the frustration comes from, but instead from how massively these seemingly tiny individual calls can swing games. It’s this and how I’m near certain they have no idea because they don’t particularly care.
This is not a post about umpires. But it’s a post about winning counts. Here, I’ll show you.
Let’s take a player everyone knows and loves—someone we all agree was a great hitter. Ken Griffey Jr.
Say you have runners on the corners with two outs in a game you trail by a run late. The count is 1-1, pitcher fires a breaking ball away and it looks to miss the plate. Umpire calls is a strike.
Junior, career, after a 2-1 count: .265/.410/.532 for a .942 OPS.
Junior, career, after a 1-2 count: .185/.234/.352 for a .586 OPS.
That is 356 points of OPS lost on a missed call.
It’s going from having ~prime Junior up in a key spot to having a guy closer to 2010 Griffey, who’d had enough and peaced in the middle of the season.
And everyone has number gaps like this based on the count. Maybe I’m making this too elementary and we all know this but controlling the strike zone is about a lot more than drawing a few extra walks. That may be a symptom of controlling the zone, but it isn’t the goal.
The goal is so much more impactful.
You force the pitcher to throw more pitches in the zone and, surprise surprise, hitting gets a whole lot easier.
So, Jarred Kelenic.
Yesterday’s clutch knock is the perfect example of how a hitter can work their way into a knock by forcing a pitcher to give them a pitch to hit.
Kelenic was facing right-hander Enyel De Los Santos top 11 with one out and a runner on second. He quickly fell behind on a swinging strike on a changeup low and a called strike on a fastball on the outer third.
For his career, in 0-2 counts with the pitcher’s offering coming outside the strike zone, Kelenic swings 47.4 percent of the time—and is especially susceptible off the plate low and away.
So what do you if you’re De Los Santos? Go low and away. Of course.
I mentioned this in my last post but one of Kelenic’s big improvements is not only in plate discipline but, when he does swing at junk off the plate, he’s whiffing less.
Through the weekend, his O-Contact rate is 66.7 percent, a jump up from last year’s 59.3 percent. It may not seem like much but that clutch double doesn’t happen without this:
For his career, Kelenic whiffs on 58 percent of the pitches he sees to that spot in 0-2 counts.
It’s small, but just nicking the ball buys him more life.
Still an 0-2 count and, again, for his career, Kelenic swings at almost half of the pitches he sees outside the zone in that count.
De Los Santos went low and slow on the first 0-2 attempt and switches it up on the second. Tailing fastball, 95 and away.
It’s a start, but 1-2 is still a brutal count. Keep changing the eye level—slider down.
No dice. 2-2.
De Los Santos looks to paint a fastball away and misses on the other side of the plate, still almost catching the black. But he doesn’t.
That could’ve been worse for Cleveland. Had the right-hander missed by less, that’s in the middle of the plate. Even at only 2-2, Kelenic has forced De Los Santos to his fastball—all three of the PA’s final pitches were the heater.
And not only does he force him to the fastball, at 3-2, he forces De Los Santos back into the zone. And holy hell does Kelenic get a pitch to hit. You see what it looks like when De Los Santis misses by less.
There’s something of a myth that just-okay baseball players can hit bad pitches and the good hitters can hit anything. Honestly, most of great hitting is consistently punishing the bad pitches.
Fortunately, Kelenic got another one—this pitch elevated.
It’s easy to think of baseball as this static game with a series of highly individualized moments, but it’s all so interconnected.
For example, this isn’t all about Kelenic only have a better eye—just, like, getting smarter or something. The interplay between a player’s swing and plate discipline is highly connected.
If you’re swinging out of your ass for a three-run home run every cut, you’re gearing up sooner and losing valuable time that could be spent instead on taking just a few fractions of a second longer to decide whether or not to swing. Or, in the case of fouling a pitch away, just staying on the pitch longer so you can make any kind of contact.
There’s a lot to like with Kelenic early. He’s not setting the world on fire, sure—his strikeout rate is still pretty elevated—but he’s improved in an area where he really needed to improve.
Here’s to more results like this for Kelenic, and even better ones than we got yesterday for the club as a whole.