Remember Kyle Kendrick's changeup? The one he reportedly developed as an "out" pitch and to improve his absolutely horrid numbers against left handed batters? Well, as many of you probably suspected, it's bad. Really, really bad.
I was browsing Fangraphs today--as I have been doing with increased frequency of late in my jonesing for a taste of baseball--and came across Kendrick's page. Resisting the urge to vomit and navigate away immediately, I scrolled down to the "Pitch Type Values" section. I was completely unsurprised to learn that Kendrick's changeup, which he threw 14.5 percent of the time in 2010, was worth a whopping -9.7 runs above average (in other words: 9.7 runs BELOW average; in other other words: really, really bad.) To put this in a league-wide perspective, Kendrick's changeup was the worst in baseball--a full .9 runs worse than the second-to-last place finisher, former Phillies ace Rodrigo Lopez. For comparison's sake, Cole Hamels's changeup--widely considered among the best in the league--was worth a career-low 9.2 runs above average. In 2008, it was worth 23.8.
Kendrick's struggles against lefties have been well-documented. For his career, he has a 3.3 K/9, a 3.77 BB/9, a 1.74 WHIP, a .315 AVG, and a .314 BABIP to go with a 5.92 FIP and a 5.54 xFIP. From that perspective, I guess you could say his 3.92 K/9, 3.28 BB/9, 5.63 FIP, and 5.44 xFIP against lefties in 2010 signifies improvement. It is fairly clear though that the addition of the changeup to his repertoire has not yet given him a leg up on left-handed hitting. Nor has it produced a meaningful increase in swinging strikes, obviously, as his swinging strike percentage of 5 was in line with his career average and good (bad?) for third worst in baseball. For a purported "groundball pitcher" who "pitches to contact" and relies on his fielders to make outs, Kendrick's 38.6 GB%, 19.3 LD%, and 42.1 FB% against lefties and overall 44.5 GB%, 17.3 LD%, and 38.3 FB% in 2010 will severely limit his ability to be successful at the Major League level. With Joe Blanton still on the team and currently slated to fill the fifth spot in the rotation and considering the team's recent $2.45 million investment in Kendrick, he is likely to begin the season in the bullpen where his career 4.25 FIP and 4.18 xFIP against righties could be perhaps marginally useful. But still, $2.45 seems like a bit much to spend on a pitcher who should be used primarily against righties or in a mop-up role and who very well could spend a significant portion of the season in the minors, doesn't it?
None of this is to say that Kendrick is a lost cause and that his changeup cannot improve. 2010 was his first full season throwing the pitch and he is just 26. Moreover, surrounded by pitchers like Halladay, Hamels, Oswalt, Lee, Blanton, and Madson--all of whom boast above-average changeups for their careers--he has an ample opportunity to learn from some of the best. Nor is this to say that Kendrick's 4.82 xFIP would spell disaster in the fifth spot of the rotation--it certainly didn't in 2010. Rather, I am just pointing out that while Kendrick has added a third pitch, it has yet to yield positive results.