Kendall Graveman’s rookie season was filled with highs and lows. The 24-year-old experienced failure for the first time in his professional career and went through his first demotion. He also spent time on the disabled list for the first time as a pro. On the plus side, Graveman was one of the best pitchers on the Oakland A’s staff for a portion of the season and he showed an ability to learn from his failures and make adjustments.
The A’s acquired Graveman from the Toronto Blue Jays in the Josh Donaldson deal before the 2015 regular season. Graveman came into spring training as a candidate for the A’s rotation and he ran away with a spot on the Opening Day roster. He was arguably the best starter in the Cactus League, posting a 0.36 ERA in 25.1 innings. That spring performance came on the heels of a 2014 season that saw Graveman go from Low-A to the big leagues, all while posting an ERA under 2.00.
Graveman was so good in the spring that his performance in his 2015 regular season debut came as a shock. He allowed seven runs in 3.1 innings and gave-up two homeruns. Graveman had allowed just two homeruns in 172 innings in 2014. He won his next start in Houston, but then followed that up with two poor outings. At that point, with the A’s struggling, Graveman was sent back to Triple-A for fine-tuning.
Kendall Graveman, 2015 Stats
It didn’t take long for Graveman to fix what ailed him once he got to Triple-A Nashville. He made four starts for the Sounds and allowed just five earned runs in 24.1 innings. When the A’s needed a starter in Tampa on May 23rd, Graveman got the call. At that point in the season, the A’s were in dire need of a quality start, and Graveman delivered. He threw six shutout innings in the A’s 5-0 win and he looked every bit the pitcher the A’s had seen during the spring.
That start would be the beginning of a nine-start streak for Graveman during which he didn’t allow more than three runs in any start. By July 4, Graveman had lowered his ERA from 8.27 to 3.16. He would hit a three-start lull in mid-July during which he allowed 14 runs in 12.1 innings. Graveman would pitch better over the next four weeks, but his season came to an end in late August after he tore an oblique muscle during a start against the Rays. He finished on a high note before the injury, however, as he tossed six shutout innings in that final outing. He ended the year with a 4.05 ERA in 115.2 innings.
Given how many ups-and-downs Graveman had during his season, it isn’t surprising that he ended up with essentially an average season statistically. According to Baseball-Reference.com, Graveman’s ERA+ for the year was exactly 100. The site had him worth 1.2 WAR.
A groundball pitcher without an overpowering fastball, Graveman has never been a strike-out pitcher, and his 5.99 K/9 was in-line with his minor league track record. Graveman’s HR/9 was nearly five times what it was in the minor leagues (1.13 to 0.23) and his BB/9 was also up significantly (2.85 to 2.06). Those numbers were always likely to rise some against more advanced major league hitters, but it’s clear that Graveman’s command wasn’t consistently sharp. He came as advertised in terms of inducing groundballs, as his GO/AO was 1.44 with Oakland. Graveman did a good job of holding runners (only seven of 12 attempted base-stealers were successful).
According to the data on Fangraphs.com, Graveman worked off of his two-seam sinker and his cutter for much of the season, mixing in his change-up and a slider that looked like a slower version of his cutter. His fastball topped out at 94 and sat mostly around 90, while his change-up was around 83 and his slider averaged 76. Hitters had trouble getting hits off of Graveman’s cutter (.229 BAA), but he did allow seven of his 15 homeruns with that pitch. He induced seven double-plays off of his sinker.
After returning from Nashville, Graveman’s ERA with the A’s was 3.36 in 99.1 innings. That number alone is good enough to give Graveman a significant advantage going into spring training in the race for a spot in the A’s Opening Day rotation. There will be plenty of competition for rotation spots behind Sonny Gray, but, barring a very poor spring, Graveman is a strong bet to be back in the A’s rotation.
Graveman proved from May-August that he can be an above-average starter in the big leagues. His problems in April seemed to stem from over-throwing, which caused his pitches to flatten out over the heart of the plate. His change-up was also hittable at times this year.
The 24-year-old Graveman will always be a pitcher who relies on his defense, but assuming the A’s can put together a quality defensive infield, he could be a solid number three starter for the next several years. The oblique injury cost Graveman a month worth of starts, but he still finished the season with 139.2 innings between the minors and the majors. He should be in a good position pitch a full season in 2016.