AL WestAnalysis

Jarred Kelenic: To Fail is to Improve

When it comes to the baseball diamond, Jarred Kelenic isn’t too familiar with struggling. With every level that he has reached, every ballpark that he has played at, Kelenic has shined. His offensive stats were eye-popping day in and day out in high school and in the minor leagues, even to the point where it seemed that there was truly no match for him. When Kelenic was traded from the Mets to the Mariners in 2018 in a deal including both Edwin Díaz and Robinson Canó, Mariners fans were skeptical. But, the fact that Mets fans were unhappy with trading for two All-Stars speaks volumes to how impressive Jarred Kelenic is. They didn’t want to part with this prized prospect, and rightfully so. But, the young 22-year-old from Waukesha, Wisconsin did not quite take the league by storm, as many thought he would.

In his first stint with the Mariners, spanning from May 13th to June 7th, the rookie put together a slash line of .096/.185/.193, and even ended his stint with an 0-39 at the plate. It was disappointing to watch, but of course, it’s not uncommon for young rookies to struggle when first being called up. There was still no doubt in anyone’s mind that Kelenic has superstar potential and is wildly talented. He was eventually sent down to Tacoma, where he unsurprisingly tore up AAA pitching. He was called back up after the All-Star break and what he has been able to do and the adjustments he has made have been very impressive. It truly shows how dedicated he is to his craft, and it points to his ability to become a centerpiece for the Seattle Mariners.

The first mechanical change that Kelenic made was essentially going back to what was most comfortable for him earlier in his career. Early in his career, Kelenic showed a slightly open stance while standing mostly upright. But, most evidently during the COVID-shortened 2020 season in which Kelenic was at the Mariners alternate site playing against some of the Mariners’ other top prospects, he added a slight “wiggle” to his batting stance. It could’ve been solely a timing mechanism or for comfortability, possibly because of some of the high-velocity arms that he was facing at the site, such as fellow Mariners rookie Logan Gilbert and top draft pick Emerson Hancock. It worked wonders for him to start, launching balls into the empty seats at T-Mobile on a daily basis off many talented pitchers. But, when he struggled from the start at the major league level, he decided to go back to his roots, eliminating the wiggle. This has simplified his swing slightly, not having to worry about too much movement in his pre-pitch stance. It gives him more ability to focus solely on pitch recognition and swing decisions instead of moving his upper half.

Secondly, and something I slightly touched on before, he is now more upright in his stance. When he added the sway, or wiggle, to his swing, Kelenic was slightly more hunched over. When he started to struggle, he straightened his upper half to where it was earlier in his career. This directly correlated to a few improvements. When he was in his slump from early May to early June, Kelenic found himself chasing many off-speed pitches down and out of the zone. When he was striking out, and he was striking out at a high rate, it was often on pitches just below the zone or even in the dirt. By starting more upright, it essentially raises his eye level before the pitch is thrown. The breaking ball down out of the zone that he was originally chasing is a pitch he is mostly laying off of now.

Before, Kelenic stated, that pitch seemed like it started up in the zone and was actually a mistake by the pitcher, causing him to swing because it looked like it would end up as a strike. But now, since his eye level starts higher because of him standing more upright, that pitch appears to be a low strike when it first leaves the pitcher’s hand, causes him to recognize early that it will end up in the dirt or below the zone. It’s a slight change, but it gets his body in a better spot when the pitch arrives. Kelenic’s swing is beautiful, so being able to recognize pitches earlier and more consistently will let that gorgeous swing do its work.

Below are three pictures highlighting this change:

The first photo is Kelenic in the Fall League in 2019, the second photo is the at-bat in which he recorded his first MLB hit, and the third photo, as poor as the quality is, is from a home game against the Astros after he was called up for the second time. Visually, the changes are evident, and statistically speaking, the adjustments are obvious.

The pictures do a fine job of showing how Kelenic has become more upright and open in his stance, but only video can show you the near elimination of the “wiggle” in his stance. The first link above shows a time where the sway was prominent, in his first stint with the team. The second clip is more recent, and shows has he essentially taken the wiggle away.

As stated before, the visual adjustments are obvious. But, more importantly, these changes have led to much more promising results for Kelenic. So far in the month of August, Kelenic has a slash line of .268/.367/.512 with three home runs, four doubles, and seven walks to seven strikeouts. He also is sporting a 143 wRC+ (Weight Runs Created Plus). For those of you not familiar with this certain metric, the league average for wRC+ is 100.

In addition, Kelenic has cut down on strikeouts immensely, putting in more competitive at-bats more consistently. In May, Kelenic’s strikeout rate was 22.4%. In June, it jumped to an alarming 56.3%. In July, it was 38.6%. But, about halfway through the month of August, Kelenic has more than cut it in half, only striking out 13.2% of the time. The fact that he is able to recognize pitches more consistently has directly correlated to improvement in many statistical categories. Outside of Ty France and Abraham Toro, nobody has been as valuable to the Mariners as Jarred Kelenic in the past three or so weeks.

Jarred Kelenic plays with an immense amount of passion, an incredibly high level of competitiveness. It is obvious he does not like to fall short of expectations. Fortunately, he has now shown that he knows how to deal with hardships, and more quickly than many other top prospects in the past, has shown he knows himself as a player and knows how to adjust. It is no secret that he is set to be a centerpiece in the Mariners’ future. It is no secret that he is about as talented as they come. And now that he has adjusted, the young 22-year-old has a ceiling as high as any. As a Mariners fan, it is so exciting to be able to watch Kelenic succeed. Of course, pitchers will continue to adjust, but I, and many others, believe that Kelenic will be able to continue to succeed solely based on his work ethic and love for the game.

Additionally, below is a video, originally put together by Jason Churchill of Prospect Insider, that will make any Mariners fans reading this very happy. Jarred Kelenic has arrived.

William Gross

William Gross is a college student and baseball player from the great state of Washington. He is an Exercise Science major and a Business minor. He has 15+ years of baseball playing experience, and enjoys talking and writing about anything pertaining to the game, especially the Seattle Mariners. Hope you enjoy! Twitter: w_gross7

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