Only two pitchers recorded a save for Cleveland in the 60-game season 2020 provided: Brad Hand , who led the majors with 16 saves in as many chances, and "Special K”, James Karinchak. After Cleveland unceremoniously declined Hand's team option for $10 million dollars, Karinchak's draft capital skyrocketed, and with good reason. His debut in 2019 provided a glimpse of Karinchak's strikeout potential when he posted a robust eight strikeouts against one walk in 5.1 innings.

In 2020, Karinchak tied for the major league lead in strikeouts, racking up 53 over 27 games spanning 27 innings for a robust 48.6 percent strikeout rate. He also caught the attention of fans taking on a persona akin to one seen portrayed by "Wild Thing” in Major League:


A buzzword in the industry centers around mirroring pitches and Karinchak accomplishes this with his high octane four-seam fastball and his curveball:


One would prefer Karinchak to reduce his 14.7 percent walk rate from last year but he still owned a 33.9 strikeouts-minus-walks rate with a 2.67 ERA, 2.50 SIERA and 1.11 WHIP. Karinchak also produced a 16.9 percent swinging strike rate while allowing a 57.9 percent contact rate and 69.7 Z-Contact (in the strike zone) percentage. He fared well against either type of hitter striking out 44.9 percent of the right-handed hitters along with 48.4 percent of left-handed batters.

During August, Karinchak recorded at least two strikeouts in eight straight appearances and his last nine games yielded 16 strikeouts over eight innings allowing only two earned runs. Due to a low scoring offense and strong pitching staff, Cleveland generates many save chances which only fuels the fire for fantasy owners hoping Karinchak wins the role of closer for his team. However, if Cleveland continues to operate in a money saving mode, they could slow play Karinchak in save opportunities leading up to future arbitration hearings. Here's a quote from his manager for 2020 high leverage roles, "There's so much swing-and-miss there... Like young kids, he had some ups and downs this year, which is expected. The one thing we've noticed is that bullpens are volatile. the names might be the same, but the production maybe isn't the same year in and year out. We got a little spoiled with guys like Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen ,where they were so consistent. But I think we feel strongly that we need to develop our bullpen from within for the most part, just because of the volatility."

Staying the course with Karinchak for fantasy purposes, according to Statcast Karinchak yielded 40 batted ball events giving up only one barrel (2.5 percent), an 87.7 MPH average exit velocity and a 35 percent hard hit rate against. His expected statistics pop off the page:

?      Expected batting average (xBA) .130 - 100th percentile

?      Expected slugging (xSLG) .196 - 100th percentile

?      Expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA) .222 - 98th percentile

?      Expected ERA (xERA) 2.22 - 98th percentile

Even with his fastball velocity down a tick last year, Karinchak recorded a .151 xBA with the pitch along with a .228 xwOBA, 39.0 whiff percentage, 42.2 percent strikeout rate and 29.7 put away percentage. His curve proved even more effective with a .114 xBA, .218 xwOBA, 56.3 whiff percentage, 54 percent strikeout rate and 38.6 percent put away rate. Here's his pitch plot with swinging strikes courtesy of Statcast:

Overall, Karinchak notched a 64.2 first strike percentage, a 40.4 swing percentage and an impressive 45.5 whiff percentage which ranks in the 99th percentile last year amongst his peers while his strikeout percentage led the way at the 100th percentile.

Using Brooks Baseball to identify Karinchak's swinging strike percentage by pitch, his numbers on this site reveal four more curves thrown than Statcast, but they use different systems to track them. Still tantalizing results:

?      Karinchak Four-Seam Fastball 2020: 260 pitches, 48 raw whiffs, 18.5 SwStr%

?      Karinchak Curve 2020: 264 pitches, 44 raw whiffs, 16.7 SwStr%

Since his debut in 2019, here's Karinchak's zone profile courtesy of Brooks with his whiff percentage illustrated:

As the opening tweets show, Karinchak benefits from the ability to elevate his fastball setting up hitters with his curve down or below the strike zone. It remains to be seen if he gets the closer role at the onset of the season, but if he does, Karinchak can be a top five reliever as soon as 2021 based on his stuff. Here are some projection sets with eyes on how his season could finish:

?      Karinchak 2021 ZiPS projection: 3-2, 31 Saves, 49 games, 48.3 IP, 92:36 K:BB, 3.17 ERA, 1.30 WHIP

?      Karinchak 2021 Steamer projection: 3-3, 32 Saves, 63 games, 63 IP, 93:34 K:BB, 3.37 ERA, 1.26 WHIP

?      Karinchak 2021 ATC projection: 302, 27 Saves, 64 Games, 62 IP, 104:35 K:BB, 3.25 ERA, 1.21 WHIP

Based on his raw stuff, Karinchak can beat his ratio statistics from any of the numbers forecasted above. However, his track record of double-digit walk rates in the minors hint at more traffic on the bases on a full-time role over the longevity a 162-game season. Those willing to pay the draft capital can invest in Karinchak and still do well if he registers 100-plus strikeouts with 25 or more saves. Here's to hoping Cleveland allows him to do so.

Statistical Credits:

ZiPS courtesy of Dan Szymborski

ATC courtesy of Ariel Cohen