The Philadelphia Phillies have a long relationship with Kyle Kendrick. He was drafted by them in the 2003 draft, and he made his MLB debut in 2007. Since then, more or less, he has stuck with the team through most of the time since, except for a remedial course in AAA during 2009. He's only 28, though he has been an MLB regular for most of the last 6 years.
He has pitched in the rotation, as a spot starter, and from the bullpen. He has not pissed or moaned. He has been fake traded to Japan. He has stayed healthy. He is cheap. Since his unbelievably lucky 10 - 4 campaign in 2007 (with a FIP of 4.94 and an ERA of 3.87), he has gone 44 - 38, for a winning percentage of .537, which is an 87 win pace for an MLB team. For a player called on to be the 5th or 6th starter on a team, that's pretty excellent. There were 17 out of 30 MLB teams in 2012 with season-long winning percentages lower than that.
Winning percentage?!?!? In relation to discussions about a pitcher's qualities? Are you high? No. I also note that he pitched for some offensive juggernauts and some offensive "juggernauts" during that time, but even so, he's been able to win more than he has lost. The record is not worth nothing, but, yeah...it's not worth much, either. So let's go on to stuff that matters.
My perception now is that Kendrick is not an awful pitcher anymore. He used to be truly terrible. In 2008, he was 11 - 9 from a FIP of 5.55 through 155 nightmarish innings. In 2012, he was 11 - 12 over 159 innings with a FIP of 4.32, which was his lowest FIP for a season other than his abbreviated "summer school in AAA" year in 2009. His FIP has generally declined, year over year:
- 2007: 4.94
- 2008: 5.55
2009: 3.59(only 26 innings)
- 2010: 4.88
- 2011: 4.55
- 2012: 4.32
Even with the general trend toward pitching outcomes improving at the expense of hitting that is pervasive in MLB over the last 5 - 10 years, Kendrick is still improving even relative to league-wide numbers. It's not just him matching greater trends, in other words, though that helps his raw numbers, to be sure. He's knocked about 1.00 off his FIP from 2008 through today. FIP in the NL was 4.32 in 2008. It was 3.91 in 2012. Arguably, that rising tide of pitching lifts all Kyles, but Kyle has lifted himself beyond just what the tide has done for him.
The FIP improvement appears to be related to an increase in his K/9 number. 2012 saw this leap to 6.55, which is almost 2 strikeouts per nine innings better than any previous season. His walk rate, while higher than previous years, was still a solid 2.77 per 9 innings, better than the average NL pitcher in 2012. His groundball rate improved to 46.5%, which was a hair better than the average NL pitcher. Here is the total NL pitcher line for 2012. Imagine a pitcher with a K/9 of 7.69, BB/9 of 3.08, and GB% of 45.7. Kendrick did better on two of three of those metrics, and he was not terribly far off of the strikeout number. His 2.37 K/BB ratio was by far the best of his career. All for a hair under $4,000,000.00 for the year. That's pretty excellent performance from a player counted on only as a sixth starter/long man last spring (behind Halladay, Lee, Hamels, Blanton, and Worley).
This year, things are different. Roy Halladay may be done, but for now he is penciled in as a troubled 3rd starter. Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels are likely a strong 1 - 2 at the top of the rotation. From there, it looks like the team is going to depend on John Lannan as the 5th starter and Kendrick as the 4th. If Halladay is Carltoning (in the bad sense), then Kendrick slots as the 3, which would have been a nightmare scenario last year. This year? Meh. I would obviously prefer a healthy Roy Halladay, but it is hard to say that a healthy, effective-ish Kendrick is worse than a busted Halladay.
Despite all the Prince Fielder gifs and my "wealth of pitching" sneering at Kendrick over the last few years, it looks like Kyle Kendrick will have to carry a heavy load this year. For a team that projects to maybe 85 - 88 wins, getting a good year from the 4th starter could make the difference between the playoffs and staying home again. Kendrick's performance is going to be really important.
What can he do to continue to improve, as he has over the last several years?
A nice "New and Improved Kyle Kendrick" article appeared at Fangraphs.com last fall, discussing Kendrick's increased use of his sinker and change with his cutter thrown less, but perhaps with more effect. Kendrick had always been one of those pitchers that baffled me, as he had a decent fastball in the low 90's, but seemed to get shelled at times. When you could watch Jamie Moyer baffle hitters with much less arm, it seemed odd that Kendrick couldn't get hitters out. It took some development, but Kendrick appears to have found a way to pitch that works for him.
At this point in his career, he seems to have developed a repertoire of pitches that he can control (low walk rate) and which are deceptive enough to get swings and misses (K rate to a career-high level). His pitches (sinker and change) naturally tend to keep the ball on the ground and in the park. The cutter gives him something to balance the low/away change and the sinker to keep the hitters honest, et voila! An effective pitcher is the result.
When watching Kendrick this season, his K rate may be the thing to monitor. If he is getting swings and misses, you are getting "Good Kyle." If those are not happening, or if there are Prince Fielders in the house, well, drink heavily.
Here are Kendrick's 2012 numbers and some projections:
2012: 11 - 12. 25 starts. 159.1 IP. 116 K. 53 BB. ERA: 3.90. FIP: 4.32.
James: 8 - 12, 180 IP, 4.75 K/9, 2.65 BB/9, 4.59 FIP
Steamer: 9 - 9, 148 IP, 5.40 K/9, 2.78 BB/9, 4.43 FIP
Oliver: 10 - 7, 152 IP, 5.51 K/9, 2.55 BB/9, 4.06 FIP
Me: 12 - 10, 170 IP, 6.00 K/9, 2.65 BB/9, 4.35 FIP
I'm hoping that he continues to whiff hitters and that his walk rate drops a bit. I expect he will be a starter all year, and I figured about 5.2 - 6.0 innings per start. My projections may be a bit optimistic, but Kendrick has shown steady improvement, though he is over the age hump now. Also, he'll be in one role and have security. That may help.
Godspeed, Kyle. And an internet high five to the first person who can find that Wile E. Coyote, Genius business card gif that reads, "Kyle Kendricke."