2023 Fantasy Baseball Spotlight: Understanding the Jarred Kelenic Breakout
Justin Vreeland takes a look at the breakout season by Seattle Mariners outfielder Jarred Kelenic.
Jarred Kelenic was an elite prospect, ranking in the top-3 for nearly the entirety of 2021, climbing as high as the number one overall prospect in May 2021. Fantasy Baseball players had every reason to be excited about him, with his blend of power and speed and the fact that he was elite all throughout the minors, hitting .295 with 56 home runs and 50 steals across 289 career minor league games. However, he struggled in his first taste of the MLB in 2021 and was even worse in 2022, which killed the majority of the hype around him. But he was still a fantasy baseball sleeper to those who still believed (like me, as a target in my Drafting Stolen Bases and ADP Trends articles for the MLB Draft Guide this offseason, tooting my own horn a bit). None of 2021 or 2022 matters now though as he is off to a great start to the 2023 season (still just 23-years old – which is worth noting), hitting .291 with eight home runs, six steals, and 40 total R/RBI across his first 39 games and has now hit 2nd, 3rd, or 4th in the Seattle Mariners lineup in 15 straight games. The hot start has him climbing up the fantasy baseball rest of season rankings and has led to many questions of “is the breakout for real?” or “should I try and sell-high on him in fantasy?” Well, let’s dive deeper into the numbers and what is causing him to be so productive thus far.
Jarred Kelenic Statcast page:
This all looks good for the most part. The strikeouts are still an issue, but he is hitting the ball hard and hitting it all over the field. His xBA is .291, exactly the same as his actual batting average, so it hasn’t been luck based. Using the whole field has really helped him against lefties, which he is slashing .333/.368/.611 against thus far after struggling mightily against them in his first two years. His new approach was something I noticed very early on in the year as I have watched him with a close eye all season:
One of the huge differences for Kelenic and his batting average (and what will be sustainable due to new rules) is no longer having to deal with the shift.
Kelenic shift stats:
He struggled against the shift a little bit in 2021, but then really struggled against it in 2022 (and they started shifting against him more). A .090 point different in wOBA is massive and no longer having to deal with that has already led to plenty of hard hit ground balls on the right side being hits, that weren’t hits for him last year.
Let’s take a look at the type of contact that he’s making:
That line drive rate is great and well-above league-average, but what really stands out to me is that pop-up percentage which, is not only way better than league-average, but a HUGE improvement from where he was last year (and even the year before). Obviously pop-ups will never be a good type of contact and the fact that he is hitting less and less of them is fantastic.
Now let’s look at what he is swinging at:
He is chasing pitches at the lowest percentage of his career and when he is chasing, he’s making contact at the best rate of his career. He is also making contact on pitches in the zone at a much higher rate than he was last season and swinging at pitches in the zone at a higher rate as well. All of which is good. He has also really taking advantage of good pitches and putting them in the seats with some absolute bombs like this:
He looks poised for another strong day today and Howard agrees, as he has him in today’s MLB DFS Playbook. I agree as well as he is facing Nick Pivetta, who has a 6.23 ERA thus far and lefties have a .940 OPS against him this year. But this is about the rest of the season, not just today, so what’s the overall conclusion? If anything, I would looking to see what his fantasy baseball trade value is to whoever rosters him (if not you), and potentially look to buy him if the person thinks he is “selling-high” on Kelenic. I believe the breakout is legit and we are going to continue to see Kelenic produce at a very high level.