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2021 report card: Ian Kennedy

Did he do his job after being acquired? Well....

MLB: Colorado Rockies at Philadelphia Phillies Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The team needed someone, anyone, to help bolster the backend of the game. They got a closer in Ian Kennedy that did bolster them, but not before giving many fans a lot of palpitations. The question is: was he any good?

2021 stats

(w/ Philadelphia) 24 IP, 1.17 WHIP, 26.5 K%, 9.8 BB%, 2.63 HR/9, 4.13 ERA (6.21 FIP), -0.4 fWAR

The good

Kennedy was brought into a save situation 13 times as a member of the Phillies. Ten of those times, he walked away shaking the catcher’s hand. Three times, he left the mound having surrendered that lead. He absolutely contributed some of blown saves the team surrendered, but also staunched a lot of bleeding for them. At the time of his acquisition, the team was bleeding saves, so the fact that he was able to come in a give them saves is a good thing. He did what he was supposed to do...

The bad

...but he still wasn’t the lockdown closer that this team needed.

Maybe that was the issue when he was acquired. With the team so desperate to find someone in the realm of “reliable”, perhaps the expectations for Kennedy were too high. He was very good while in Texas, but the differences there and in Philadelphia are vast. As a member of the Phillies’ bullpen, he acquired an acute case of backbreakinggopheritis.

And these were just the home runs that eliminated the Phillies’ lead in games.

Kennedy really, really struggled with the long ball here in Philadelphia. His 2.63 HR/9 is by far the highest number of his career in any role with at least 20 innings pitched (2020, he only threw 14 innings). In fact, in the entire history of the team, he is one of only 5 pitchers to have a HR/9 over 2.6 in 20 or more innings as a reliever. That’s not good.

The issue was that his ability to generate groundballs disappeared. As a member of the Phillies, he got a groundball only 16.1% of the time, a career low rate for him. He depended too much on the fastball, something I wrote about last month, and it would cost him often.

The future

It is entirely possible that the Phillies bring back Kennedy for 2022. Once again, they’ll need arms in the bullpen and Kennedy shouldn’t cost all that much. Should he be the closer for the team? That is a little more doubtful, but if they could secure some kind of one-year deal at a modest salary, bringing Kennedy back wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

Final grade: D

The expectations for Ian Kennedy should not have been high. He wasn’t a closer and only had the role in Texas because there really wasn’t anyone else to do the job. Coming to Philadelphia, he became the closer by default, but it’s not the role suited to him. So while it’s hard to dock him points for performing as he did in a role he shouldn’t have been in, he was in that role and he did not do well. We can point to at least three games (the blown saves) that he cost the team and there were several others where he did just enough to make people watching feel queasy before he ended the ballgame. That’s why he’s getting the grade he is getting.