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Over/Under 2021 Preview: James Karinchak

Will James Karinchak be worth more or less than 0.9 fWAR in 2021?

Cleveland Indians v Minnesota Twins Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images

Based on ZiPS projections, James Karinchak is expected to finish 2021 with the following stats:

3.17 ERA, 3.11 FIP, 17.13 K/9, 6.70 BB/9, 49 G, 48.3 IP, 0.9 fWAR

Read what our writers think, then vote in the poll below and drop your own opinions in the comments and on the Let’s Go Tribe Discord.

Blake Ruane’s Prediction: OVER

Unless he swallows his glove whole during a bad outing and has to be placed on the injured list while the medical community ponders how to safely extract it from his stomach, James Karinchak will be the closer in Cleveland this season. I don’t see another closer on the roster. Nick Wittgren’s stuff is good but not good enough, and before you offer up the name Emmanuel Clase, I for one am not going to bet on a member of the most cursed trade in recent history.

In his first full season with the big league club — albeit, an abbreviated “full” season — Karinchak ranked in the top 1% of the league in strikeout percentage, expected batting average, and expected slugging percentage. He also ranked in the top 2% in expected weighted on-base average and expected earned run average, and in the top 3% in barrel percentage. The 25-year-old is one of the best relievers in the league and his rapid ascension through the farm system means wear and tear is not much of a concern at this point.

That is music to Terry Francona’s ears.

Strangely, ZiPS low-balls his projected appearances at 49, whereas other projections expect a minimum of 63. I lean towards the latter, especially when you look at the recent history of closers in Cleveland. Brad Hand recorded 60 appearances in 2019, and Cody Allen never recorded fewer than 67 appearances in his last six seasons with the club.

When you consider that Cleveland is expected to field an elite rotation and an, uh, interesting lineup, that means plenty of appearances for Karinchak. I have no reason to doubt that he has the talent to make the most of those appearances.

Just keep the glove out of your mouth, James.

Matt Schlichting’s Prediction: UNDER

Many people already believe that James Karinchak is a lock for the closer role in 2021. That is a completely valid belief and one that probably represents the single most likely outcome.

But how likely is it, overall? Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw are maybe the most recent and familiar examples for us to consider. From 2013-2017 they were mainstays of the late innings for Cleveland. Allen was a top-ten reliever by fWAR during this stretch; Shaw snuck into the top 40. Can we rely on that kind of consistent output from Karinchak in his first full season?

Crucially, they are first and third for reliever innings in that period. Less telling due to their shorter tenures in Cleveland — Joe Smith, Dan Otero, and Andrew Miller are all in the top 30 on that list, too.

I don’t doubt Karinchak’s raw talent. You’d have to be nuts to think a guy with legitimate 80-grade stuff won’t be able to make it happen at the highest level. Even if you told me that he would walk 18-per-nine he’s so unhittable I’d be tempted to use him anyway.

What I do wonder about is whether or not he can handle the kind of heavy usage that Francona demands of his relievers. Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw were able to pick it up no problem. Can someone with Karinchak’s temperament do the same? If he coughs up a lead late two times in one week can he shake it off and return to form the way Allen and Shaw did for half of a decade?

Finally, I ask you to imagine the Bryan Shaw rubber wedding ring scenario, but with Karinchak on the mound instead of Shaw. What is that, a ten-game suspension?

I can’t wait to see the kid pitch but we’ve got to keep in mind that even he embraces the nickname “Wild Thing”. Be careful what you wish for.


Will James Karinchak finish 2021 with an fWAR over or under 0.9?

This poll is closed

  • 79%
    (114 votes)
  • 20%
    (29 votes)
143 votes total Vote Now