For a brief time, Tommy Kahnle ascended to the closer role for the Rockies. He did not succeed, and the team essentially gave him away in a trade to the White Sox in 2015. After working through some mechanical issues and overcoming his resemblance to Kenny Powers, Kahnle may not only be named to the American League All-Star team as a reliever, but he could be auditioning for the closing role with Chicago if the team trades David Robertson.
Robertson will be on the paternity list to start the week, allowing Kahnle to provide a sneak preview of how he may look as the future closer for the franchise. This seems like a quantum leap for a reliever the Rockies gave up on, but he’s been terrific this year. Here’s five reasons to add Kahnle even if he does not eventually close this season.
1. Protect those ratios
With almost half of the fantasy season in the books, teams should be looking to improve or ensure their pitching ratio statistics. This sort of thinking often becomes overlooked with many streaming starters or chasing saves in bad situations. Yes Washington, looking at your beleaguered bullpen. Instead of trying to add the closer du jour, perhaps taking a chance on a virtually unknown commodity could provide dividends.[the_ad id=”384″]
Kahnle’s sporting a 2.20 ERA with a 1.21 FIP, which indicates his numbers could even be better. Add in a 0.92 WHIP to the equation and Kahnle can help buffer a rough outing by a starter in week long formats or be an effective ratio safeguard in leagues which allow daily lineup changes.
2. Kimbrel, Jansen and Kahnle?
Growing up with Sesame Street, a popular segment of the show included one of these things is not like the other. Remember this? Anyways, when looking at the leader board for relievers, there’s no surprise Craig Kimbrel and Kenley Jansen sit atop many of the categories, along with being the top two. Starting with FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching), it’s Kimbrel ranked first, Jansen ranked second, and Kahnle third.
Not only does this predict of future success like Kahnle, he’s also third to the two elite closers in strikeouts minus walk percentage. Kimbrel leads baseball with a phenomenal 46.8 percent mark, Jansen trails at 42.6 percent despite only issuing one walk all season, and there’s Kahnle again at 37.8 percent. Kahnle’s struck out 55 over 32.2 innings with only seven walks allowed, helping to keep his FIP at its remarkable level.
3. How did this happen?
First, Kahnle attributes most of his recent success to mechanical changes he made after joining the White Sox. He describes them here, and long story short, by simplifying things, he’s been able to reach a new level this year. Not only do Kahnle’s numbers reinforce the adjustments, he’s also improved his velocity this year. Courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net, here’s his career velocity chart:
Although the change in where pitchers get measured for velocity changed this year, the uptick in his fastball velocity after fluctuating in the past along with the improved speed on the change and slider hint at future success. Baseball can be a tough mental game, but finding the right mechanics and trusting the process along with the pitches makes Kahnle an interesting reliever moving forward.
4. Support with statistics
Seeing the rise in pitch speed can make a player enticing, but when looking at Kahnle’s under the hood numbers on BrooksBaseball.net, things get more interesting. Here’s a look at the results from his repertoire from last year compared to this year. Note the spikes in whiff per swing rates.
- Fastball: 2016 – 73.5 percent usage, 21.9 whiff per swing rate, .213 batting average against
- Fastball: 2017 – 73.9 percent usage, 28.6 whiff per swing rate, .198 batting average against
- Change: 2016 – 15.6 percent usage, 35.7 whiff per swing rate, .174 batting average against
- Change: 2017 – 18.3 percent usage, 53.7 whiff per swing rate, .182 batting average against
- Slider: 2016 – 10.2 percent usage, 35.7 whiff per swing rate, .231 batting average against
- Slider: 2017 – 7.9 percent usage, 38.5 whiff per swing rate, .333 batting average against
Kahnle’s also changing how he deploys the arsenal with more changeups this year compared to fewer sliders. Part of the reason can be seen with the improved batting average against versus the slider this year. But the improved command along with elite effectiveness of the change seems to be fueling his breakout in the first half.
Delving deeper, Kahnle has increased his swinging strike percentage almost six points, according to Fangraphs.com. His swings and misses at pitches outside the strike zone surged to 37.2 percent this year, up almost 10 percent compared to last year. Last, he’s reduced contact by almost eight percent as the season nears the All-Star break. It’s one thing to see a pitcher’s FIP and ERA almost in a direct relationship, it’s another see he’s also improving in swinging strike rates along with reducing contact.
5. Will Kahnle close?
This remains the wild card in the scenario. David Robertson’s been on the trade block since last winter, and his strong start to the season only helps the White Sox in negotiations. Knowing they have Kahnle in the bullpen should allow the team to move Robertson’s contract as long as Kahnle can handle the ninth inning. This makes the next three days in Oakland important when trying to gauge whether or not he will ascend to the role if the team moves Robertson.
Timing’s tantamount when adding a player. Placing someone on the roster prior to having an increased role for fantasy saves precious FAAB money or waiver status. If a roster provides the chance to add a pitcher like Tommy Kahnle preemptively, now’s the time. Even if he does not become the closer, putting a reliever who’s FIP and strikeout minus walk rate only trail Kimbrel and Jansen makes sense. Many do not know Kahnle or why he could be important. Add him before they do.
Statistical Credits: Fangraphs.com, BrooksBaseball.net