Monday, August 08, 2011

A Fan's Soft Spot for Ian Kennedy

When one has been a Fan of Major League Baseball for fifty years, emotional ties to players are inevitable. These emotional choices aren't rational and you can't control them. They just come to be. Sometimes those emotional commitments come back to bite the heart. O.J. Simpson and Roger Clemens come to mind. But as in love, the heart has a mind of its own. Players become adopted and cherished despite the warts we can now all look at in advanced statistics. Such a soft spot for this writer is Ian Kennedy of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Ian Kennedy is probably this writer's favorite pitcher since Bill Swift. It started back in 2007 when Ian Kennedy made three improbable starts at the end of that season for the Yankees and finished 1-0 with a 1.89 ERA. It continued in sympathy in 2008 after Kennedy and Phil Hughes were the subject of rabid debate when Brian Cashman refused to trade them for a stud pitcher. Cashman's decision led to disaster in 2008 when Kennedy started that season 0-4 with an awful ERA over eight. Hughes fared little better.

The Yankees basically gave up on Kennedy, who in all honesty, did not really own up to his poor performance and did not handle the situation maturely. But still, for some reason, this writer adopted him like Bagheera did Mowgli. And thus, it was upsetting when the Yankees included Kennedy in that blockbuster trade that sent players all over the place and netted the Yankees only Curtis Granderson, who seemed on the downside of his once-promising career.

Of course, we all know that Granderson has resurrected that career and is a big part of the Yankees' 2011 season. But Kennedy surprised everyone by having a successful campaign for the Diamondbacks last season. He made 32 starts for the Diamondbacks and though he went 9-10, his ERA was respectable (though his FIP was +55). Still, there was little concern for what the Yankees gave up because the general consensus was that Kennedy was a bit lucky and Phil Hughes won 18 games for the Yankees in 2010.

Turn the clock ahead a season and Ian Kennedy is now 14-3 after 24 starts. Phil Hughes has had a fruitless season for the Yankees and it appears that the New Yorkers gave away the wrong pitcher. A case could still be made (if looking at things honestly) that Kennedy has been lucky this season too. But sustaining a low BABIP over two full seasons might be more of an indication of Kennedy's ability to induce weak contact combined with good defense from the Diamondbacks (especially now sans Mark Reynolds).

The Diamondbacks are 17-7 in games Kennedy has started. Kennedy has beaten the Phillies, the Reds (twice), the Giants, the Cardinals and the Brewers along the way. He also pitched eight shutout innings against the Giants in another game where he didn't get the decision. Ian Kennedy has been a big-time pitcher for the Diamondbacks this season. His 3.0 fWAR puts him in the Top 20 among MLB starters.

Let's dig a little deeper into why Kennedy has been successful. His 3.26 K/BB ratio is the best of his career. He is inordinately successful at inducing pop ups to the infield (13.5 percent). He is inducing more batters to swing at pitches outside the strike zone (also at a rate the best of his career). He does a reasonable job at keeping the ball in the ballpark (no easy feat with games pitched in Arizona and Colorado).  His fastball averages only 89.9 miles per hour, but Fangraphs still gives the pitch a high rating because of movement. He's developed a cut fastball that he is employing this year for the first time with good success.  That gives him five pitches in his arsenal and for unscientific data, baseball people says that he is a smart pitcher who knows how to pitch.

That is all heady stuff but for this writer, it all comes down to the emotional attachment. Ian Kennedy was adopted way back in 2007 and you can do all the analysis you want. The only fact that counts to this man-crushed writer is that his boy is 14-3 for a contending team. Woot!

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