Ian Kennedy tied for the NL lead last year with 21 victories. You know that I’m not a huge fan of win-loss records when it comes to defining a pitcher, but when a guy goes 21-4 – Clayton Kershaw went 21-5 – you have to pay attention. So why is it that some fantasy baseball players are taking Daniel Hudson before they look Ian Kennedy’s way at the draft table in 2012? That’s a very good question. Perhaps they think, as I will argue, that Kennedy has little chance of replicating his 2011 effort.
Some facts about Kennedy’s 2011 season.
Kennedy tied for the NL lead in wins.
Kennedy posted a 2.88 ERA. Only seven pitchers in the NL bettered that mark.
Kennedy struck out 198 batters. Only seven NL pitchers had more.
Kennedy posted a 1.08 WHIP. Only five NL hurlers had a better mark.
Kennedy had a .227 BAA. Only four NL hurlers were tougher to hit.
Kennedy tossed 222 innings. Only four NL hurlers threw more innings.
All of that certainly makes Kennedy seem like an elite hurler, does it not?
The strikeouts are legit. Over the last two years his K/9 mark has been 7.79 and 8.03. When a pitcher does that in more than 400-innings I’m buying it.
One of the main keys to his surge from solid to dominating last year was the fact that he stopped beating himself. Over his first 253.2 big league innings he walked 3.80 batters per nine innings, about a half batter above the big league average. Last year he chopped that number down like a lumberjack whacking weeds as his BB/9 mark shrank to 2.23. It’s hard to know if we should trust his work last season completely, an in truth, I don’t. Pitchers just don’t cut a batter from their walk rate overnight (his rate was 3.25 in 2010). I wouldn’t be surprised to see him give back some of those gains. Moreover, I’d feel more comfortable expecting a BB/9 mark closer to his 2010 rate than his mark from 2011.
Kennedy is as run of the mill as it gets when we talk about GB/FB ratios. In fact, he’s never posted a league average mark of 1.10 (last year’s 0.98 rate was a career best). I will give Kennedy credit for cutting the fly ball rate a bit last year, he was three percentage points below his career norm, but unfortunately most of those batted balls ended up as line drives instead of ground balls. If he keeps that trend up in 2012 you’d have to think he would allow more hits than he did last season. In addition, his left on base percentage of 79.2 percent was huge (it was the 9th highest mark in baseball). It was four percent better than his rate from 2010 and about nine percentage points clear of the league average. That doesn’t speak to a repeat effort in the ERA column. Neither does his xFIP which places his ERA last season at 3.50. All of this data paints a pitcher who had a perfect storm last season which helped to maximize hie performance.
What do I think about Kennedy? I think he will be a solid pitcher in 2012. As I wrote above, the strikeouts are legit, an if he stays healthy long enough to toss 200-innings he’ll be a benefit in that category. I worry about his ability to keep his ratios as low as they were last season given the drastic improvement he made in the walk column, the fact that his LOB% was so high and that his GB/FB ratio was so mediocre. If you’re drafting Kennedy in 2012 make sure your expectations are reasonable. If you roster him thinking he will be a top-30 starter you have a good chance that your expectations will be met. If you think he’s a top-15 arm you’ll more than likely end up a bit disappointed in the Diamondbacks’ righty.
By Ray Flowers