Kyle Kendrick is a younger version of Tim Wakefield without the knuckleball. He can start, or he can pitch out of the bullpen. In either case, he rarely misses a bat, induces his fair share of ground balls and has a winning record to show for his five years pitching with the Philadelphia Phillies. But is he worth the $7.5 million the Phillies just decided to pay him for the next couple of years? When the numbers are crunched, it doesn't appear that he is.
The deal works out to $3.75 million a season. If we use WAR as a valuation tool, Kendrick has been worth 2.3 fWAR over his five seasons. Using Fangraphs' method of putting a dollar value on those wins over replacement, Kendrick has been worth $9.7 million over those five seasons or $1.94 million per season. Nearly half of that $9.7 million was earned in his rookie season when his performance was rated at a value of $4.2 million. His valuation for the past four seasons: $0, $1.6, $2.8 and $1.0 (in millions). Even if you average out only the last three years, Kendrick's performance has been worth $1.8 million a season. So how do the Phillies see this differently?
Using wins above replacement as a valuation tool for relief pitchers is problematic. One only needs to look at Mariano Rivera's WAR totals over his career to see what that means. Increasingly, researchers look at WPA (win probability added) as a way to value relief pitchers. So perhaps Kendrick rates highly there? No, he doesn't. Three of his five seasons (including the last two) have shown Kendrick to have a negative WPA and his score over his career is -2.79.
And that's assuming that Kendrick is a relief pitcher. He is not really a relief pitcher. Over his career, 98 of his 127 appearances have been starts. And over the past two seasons, 46 of his 67 appearances have been as a starter. With Roy Oswalt out of the picture, Kendrick and Joe Blanton will fight over the last rotation spot. Blanton will probably get the role by default if he is healthy because he makes a lot of money and has been successful when he has been healthy.
It was mentioned earlier that Kyle Kendrick does not miss many bats. Of all pitchers that have thrown 550 innings or more since 2006, only three have failed to strike out more than 300 batters: Chien-Ming Wang, Paul Byrd and Kyle Kendrick. In the interest of fairness, the oddity of that list is that all three of those pitchers have winning records over that time span including Kendrick.
"But, William," you might argue, "Kyle Kendrick had a 3.22 ERA last season." Why, yes. He did. But what we now know is that ERA is deceptive and based on a lot of factors including luck. Of all of Kyle Kendrick's peripherals, the only one that was really different in 2011 was the lower number of hits he allowed. Last season, Kendrick only gave up 8.8 hits per nine innings compared to the 9.9 he has averaged for his career. His batting average on the ball he has allowed in play (BABIP) had a lot to do with that number as it was only .261 compared to a league average of .297 and his own career average of .284.
Kendrick induces more ground balls than fly balls. His career ground ball to fly ball ratio is 1.37. But that has come down over the past two seasons. His ratio in 2010 was 1.16 and in 2011 it was 1.26. But still, he throws more grounders than fly balls and with the Phillies' wonderful infield defense (except at first base), that's a good thing and certainly helped his BABIP. But even so, a .261 BABIP would lead you to believe that some good fortune was involved and can't be sustained.
Even as a ground ball pitcher, Kendrick gives up a lot of home runs. Over the last two seasons, Kendrick has allowed 40 homers in less than 300 innings of work. His career rate of home runs per nine innings is an unhealthy 1.20. You might counter that his home run rate is understandable considering his home ballpark. And indeed, nine of the fourteen homers he allowed last year were given up at home. But there is other slugging besides homers and Kendrick allowed a higher slugging percentage on the road last year than he did at home (.444, .398).
Kendrick had some other screwy splits last season. Against right handed batters, Kendrick struck out five batters for every walk he allowed (5.17). But against left-handed batters, that went down to a 1.17 K/BB ratio. He only walked six right-handed batters in 262 plate appearances. But walked 24 lefty swingers in 216 plate appearances. That seems to indicate that Kendrick isn't very confident against those that swing from the left side.
The conclusion after all this talk is that Kyle Kendrick isn't worth the money that the Phillies have decided to pay him. He's a mediocre starter if that is what his role is and if he is a reliever, he is getting paid close to what second-tier closers make. If Kendrick does not start and pitches mostly out of the bullpen, he would be the third option in the bullpen behind Papelbon and Bastardo and might even be behind Stutes. That's a lot of money for a spot starter/fourth option out of the bullpen.