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The Kendall Graveman signing by the numbers

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The Cubs signed an intriguing pitcher last week

Kendall Graveman pitches against the Yankees on May 11
Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Kendall Graveman has never really lived up to the expectations. After racing through the low minors he made an intriguing debut in 2014 before being traded to the Oakland Athletics. This is what 247 Sports had to say about Graveman in the run up to the 2015 season:

“Get ready Oakland for more than a great pitcher who lives to battle, has power sink, and is great at fielding his position. Expect more. Expect Kendall to make others around him better and be a tremendous representative of the Oakland A’s.”

Graveman has a chance to settle in as a number three starter in the A’s rotation for the next several years. Graveman will need a good infield defense behind him to succeed, however. He will turn 24 later this month and should have an opportunity to win a spot in the A’s rotation this spring.

He throws a mid-nineties sinker that is a truly nasty pitch and in early 2017 when he threw that pitch it was sitting at 94-97 miles per hour. He also seemed to have overcome some pitch placement issues. He looked poised for a breakout. Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs in particular seemed excited for that prospect:

According to Baseball Savant, on Monday, Graveman threw the five fastest pitches of his big-league career. He threw 10 of the 11 fastest pitches of his big-league career. For a simpler breakdown, consider this:

2015, first half: 90.9 mph average fastball

2015, second half: 91.7

2016, first half: 92.1

2016, second half: 93.2

2017, opening day: 94.3

Kendall Graveman keeps throwing faster and faster. He was fueled in part by opening-day adrenaline that will add a fleeting boost to certain pitches, but this didn’t come out of nowhere. An A’s person told me earlier that Graveman has reached 97-98 in each of his last three games. That’s not the same as sitting at 97-98, but that would put him in Noah Syndergaard territory. Starters generally don’t sit in the high 90s. Graveman could be prepared to sit in the mid-90s, and that’s remarkable enough.

The visual of this from Fangraphs based on Statcast data is even more impressive:

Kendall Graveman sinker velocity by start
Fangraphs

Graveman throws that sinker about 55 percent of the time according to Baseball Savant. He also mixes in a change up 15 percent of the time, a cutter 14.4 percent of the time and a slider 12.9 percent of the time. That sinker induces a lot of ground balls (52.8 percent over his career).

The Cubs signed Graveman for the league minimum for 2019 with an option for $3 million for 2020. Since he’s still recovering from Tommy John surgery it is very unlikely that the Cubs will see Kendall Graveman in 2019. This signing allows him to rehab with the team for the league minimum and in return they’d have a team friendly contract for 2020. You can hear Cubs MLB reporter Jordan Bastian discuss the deal at this link [VIDEO].

This deal looks a lot like the Drew Smyly deal that the Cubs front office made last offseason, but with fewer dollars involved. That also makes sense since Graveman has never shown that he can pitch to Smyly’s level.

While it’s still possible that Graveman could recover and be an effective starter, given the strength of his sinker it’s possible the Cubs will try to move him to a relief role where he could be an exceptionally effective part of the bullpen.

At the end of the day this is a bargain contract to lock up a pitcher who has shown a lot of potential with an eye towards adding an impact arm to the rotation or the bullpen in 2020.