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Exploring what the Braves are getting in Jarred Kelenic

The Braves Front office shocked fans with the addition of Kelenic. Even though he is not a household name, he has the potential to be a notable upgrade.

MLB: Texas Rangers at Seattle Mariners Stephen Brashear-USA TODAY Sports

The front office of the Atlanta Braves shocked their fans when they made trade to bring in Jarred Kelenic. The trade meant not only that the Braves hopefully have their left fielder of the future, but also that fan favorite Eddie Rosario’s time as a Brave was most likely up.

There have been a multitude of opinions, write ups, and more on this move already. However, it would be fun to take a deep dive into what Kelenic brings to the table. Bringing him in is not only a financially good move since he is under team control for so long (through 2028), but he is seemingly an upgrade over what Rosario brought last season.

It seems a lot of times as fans, we tend to look at situations in a vacuum. For example, we could look at the acquisition of Kelenic and think “I hope he is not the big splash move. He is no All-Star”, or something similar. The reality is that Kelenic never needed to be an All-Star level talent to make the Braves a better team. Eddie Rosario had an fWAR of 1.4, which was the lowest of any of the Braves starters. So, even a league average performance would be an upgrade. Had Kelenic hypothetically been brought in as a replacement for someone like Michael Harris II, it would mean something completely different since the net value would be a decrease rather than an increase.

What does Kelenic bring?

It is obvious that Kelenic has upside being drafted sixth overall by the Mets in 2018. That full potential has not been realized with his career slash line thus far being .204/.283/.373. However, this past year showed a large increase in output.

This past season Kelenic had a slash line of .253/.327/.419, which was good for a wRC+ that was eight percent better than league average. If we look at before he went down with an injury on the 19th of July (fracturing his foot kicking a water cooler), it was slightly better at .252/.320/.439. He did have a BABIP of .357 though, showing he likely would have regressed a bit over time on that metric alone.

Once he came back on September 11th, his average and OBP were better, but his power was zapped, hitting .261/.370/.283. He had eleven singles, and one double in forty-six at bats.

If we dig into the metrics, there are quite a few positives, especially for a hitter who is projected to most likely be eighth or ninth in the lineup.

First, his walk rate of 9.9 percent is intriguing. Next, his hard-hit rate of 45.5 percent is very promising. For reference, only 26.0 percent of qualified players hit the ball hard at a higher rate. He also hit the ball at an optimal launch angle at an elite clip. His 38.8 percent sweet-spot percentage was top 8.0 percent of the league.

It goes without saying, but this resulted in above average xwOBA and xBA. His xBA of .264 is not elite, but it was in the top 34.0 percent of MLB and shows that over time his .253 average would have likely risen. We can also say the same thing about his wOBA. His wOBA was .321, but his xwOBA was .333.

The one area that could be exciting is his 2023 xwOBA on contact. His .487 was top 10.0 percent of the league. Essentially, when he does make contact, his odds of it being a success is high.

The only issue is that Kelenic struggled mightily at making contact. His chase rate of 28.5 percent was in the bottom 46.0 percent of MLB, and his swing and miss percentage of 33.8 percent was in the bottom 9.0 percent of MLB.

He had a swing and miss rate of 43.3 and 42.0 percent on breaking pitches and off-speed pitches respectively. His fastball rate of 23.6 is much more manageable, but considering he saw breaking pitches and off-speed a combined 56.9 percent of this time, it was obviously a problem for him.

Swing and Miss rate on the three pitch groups

Specifically, sweeper and slider is where Kelenic really struggles at making contact. If we look at the below chart, we can see how alarming his whiff rate is on these two pitches. His 64.3 percent whiff rate on the sweeper and 45.2 percent on the slider easily shows where he needs to adjust.

Swing and Miss rate on sweepers and sliders

To be fair, he only saw seventy-five sweepers the entire year, so the data sample is small, but pitchers seemingly figured out that he was weak against the slider because the only pitch he saw more than the slider (19.9 percent) was the 4-seam fastball.

Interestingly, although his whiff rate on the slider is extremely high, his Put Away percentage of 28.8 is right in line with the rest of the pitches he saw. For example, his Put Away percentage on the 4-seamer was 26.2, and on the changeup is 28.8.

The same trend continues against the slider as his overall output. Although he struggles to make contact on the slider, when he does make contact, it is formidable. With a xwOBA of .315 against the pitch, it was well above the league average xwOBA of .286.

How does Kelenic compare to Eddie Rosario of 2023?

Kelenic is much more than a direct replacement for Rosario since he is now cheap and under control for the foreseeable future when Rosario would have been a one-year deal. That being said, looking at his XSTATS vs Rosario’s does make sense to see how much of an upgrade he could be in 2024.

First, let’s look at the negatives. Kelenic’s biggest red flags are that he struck out at a high clip, and along with that had a high whiff rate.

It turns out that Rosario was not much better. Although Rosario was not as bad at striking out, his 23.6 percent rate was still in the bottom 36.0 percent of MLB. He also had a whiff rate in the bottom 23.0 percent of MLB and a chase rate in the bottom 2.0 percent of MLB.

On top of struggling in the same areas that Kelenic did, Rosario also struggled where Kelenic excelled, his hard-hit percentage. Rosario had a hard-hit rate of 35.4 percent (bottom 19.0 percent of MLB), whereas Kelenic had a 45.5 percent.

In a nutshell, Rosario and Kelenic both struggled making contact. However, the main difference is that when Kelenic made contact it was excellent and Rosario was below league average in that arena.

Comparing xwOBA and xBA, we can really see the difference:

· Rosario – .317 xwOBA and .254 xBA

· Kelenic – .333 xwOBA and .264 xBA

If we want to look at overall output including defense and baserunning we can look at fWAR per 162 games. Rosario played at a rate of 1.59 fWAR per 162 games played in 2023. Kelenic played at a rate of 2.00.

Conclusion

In a nutshell, if Kelenic plays at the same rate as he did in 2023, a 2.0 fWAR per 162 games player is nothing to be excited about. However, looking at it that way is doing so in a vacuum. With some context we see that the Braves realistically replaced a player (Rosario) who’s ceiling is lower than Kelenic’s floor. Rosario would have also would have likely been overpaid and would have only been for one year.

Kelenic is now on a cheap, team controlled, contract through the 2028 season, and his metrics show that he is due to see an increase in production.

Kelenic has some major flaws in not making much contact against the slider, sweeper, and changeup. However, when he does make contact, it is excellent. He also has a solid walk rate. If he can adjust to making contact more often, we should see a massive increase in results.

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