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Player Background

For a while, I thought his name was Ian O’Kennedy. There are some theories out there, but no one really knows why.

After a great 2011, Kennedy was not as good in 2012 and even worse in 2013. Things were not pointing in the right direction, if we assume these things can point. But Kennedy, like a respiratory system of a child afflicted by bad allergies sent to the desert in one of those documentaries about a famous person who still loves to ride horses to this day, saw his production rejuvenated in his first full season with the Padres.

What Went Right in 2014

Short answer: a lot. Long answer: Kennedy put up career highs in strikeouts and strikeout percentage, while putting up his best ERA (3.627) and WHIP (1.289) since 2011. The win gods showed indifference towards Kennedy in ’14, but given the performance, he could have easily had another 3-4 wins (he had 13) as he pitched his usual workhorse-ish amount of innings (201). So the results were great relative to expectations, but how’d he done do it? Some words:

  • He threw harder in 2014, his age-29 season, than in any other season of his career. His average four-seam fastball velocity of 92.57 mph per the fine peoples at Brooks Baseball was at least one mph faster than his average four-seam fastball velocity in any other season.
  • While he improved against right and left handed batters, he showed significant improvement against the latter, who had given him significant problems in 2012 and 2013. Kennedy was able to cut his ISO allowed to lefties down to .165 after allowing ISOs of .202 and .229 the prior two seasons. Relatedly and most importantly, he did a better job of keeping lefties in the yard (thanks Petco) bringing his HR:FB rate against this hitter type into single-digit percentages for only the second time in his career.
  • Kennedy’s success against lefties seemingly cannot be entirely attributed to Petco. He also changed his pitch mix, throwing fewer changeups and more curveballs. What follows may be similar to the information that led Kennedy and the Padres to this change in pitch mix:

Against LHH

Pitch Usage (%)

AVG Against

SLG Against

Year

Changeup

Curve

Changeup

Curve

Changeup

Curve

2011

14.60

14.17

0.329

0.164

0.529

0.239

2012

16.89

10.19

0.319

0.309

0.462

0.600

2013

21.45

13.05

0.250

0.222

0.424

0.333

  • A lot of numbers here, but first note that sans 2012, when it seems something was up with Kennedy’s curveball (not sure if it was mechanical, lack of trust in the pitch, an injury, randomness, or something else, but it looks like an outlier, not just in the above sample, but across his entire career), Kennedy’s curveball has been better against lefties than his changeup in the most recent part of his career. After Kennedy reestablished the curveball in 2013, Kennedy, the Padres, or someone made the call for more curves and less changeups against lefties in 2014 and the results (below) were great.

Against LHH

Pitch Usage (%)

AVG Against

SLG Against

Year

Changeup

Curve

Changeup

Curve

Changeup

Curve

2014

16.54

20.11

0.324

0.193

0.529

0.284

  • Kennedy also threw slightly more curveballs and fastballs to righties in 2014 in place of some changeups with moderate success.
  • No longer under the Kirk Gibson spell (or just chance), Kennedy even significantly cut down on his hit batters.

In sum, Kennedy was able to throw harder and improve his pitch mix to excellent results in 2014.

What Went Wrong in 2014

Nothing really. He probably got a bit unlucky with ERA and wins relative to his peripherals, but that is not even something really going wrong. This probably means that 2014 is more his ceiling than 2011, which now looks like an outlier.

What to Expect in 2015

Please find Kennedy’s 2015 PECOTA projections below:

IP

ERA

WHIP

SO

W

SV

174

3.59

1.17

161

10

0

So the innings pitched figure is a bit of a head-scratcher. Since becoming a starting pitcher full-time in 2010, Kennedy has pitched an average of 202 innings per season with a low of 181 innings in 2013. Maybe PECOTA is docking him for his 2009 shoulder surgery, but I will not be, because Kennedy has missed zero time with arm injuries since then (he did miss 10 days with an index-finger laceration suffered while doing dishes). With more innings pitched, his increased velocity, and his new pitch mix, I am going to project Kennedy for about 20 more strikeouts. (I would project him for more, but he will be pitching to inferior pitch framers in 2015, which we will discuss more below.)

Given the 2014 improvements, I would project him for a slightly better ERA, but given the chance that the Padres start Wil Myers in centerfield, Kennedy—a fly-ball pitcher—could face some BABIP difficulties. Furthermore, Kennedy loses two great pitch framers in Rene Rivera and Yasmani Grandal and gets two not-great framers in Derek Norris and Tim Federowicz. In total, I am going to stick with PECOTA for the rate stats, but I do see some downside, particularly in WHIP.

While the ERA may not be as good as it could be in 2015, the improvements to lineup and bullpen (Huston Street is out, but the bullpen was already strong sans Street and they added Brandon Maurer and Shawn Kelley to go along with starting pitcher depth, which should also help the bullpen) should put him in the 13-17 win-total range.

All in all, I am expecting more of the same (that being 2014) from Kennedy in 2015, with a little downside in strikeouts and WHIP, and some upside in Wins.

The Great Beyond

Kennedy is a free agent next year. Obviously, given his fly ball tendencies and his HR:FB rates of the past, a hitter-friendly park could really hurt him. That said, if he leaves the Padres, he is almost certain to find a home with better outfield defense and catcher framing. Given all the variables changing (thanks Mr. Preller), it will be very interesting to see how Kennedy performs this year. I also have no idea what to make of his increased velocity last year. More than anything, though, I think we are likely to see a lot of slightly above average innings. Given Kennedy’s lack of ceiling, he will continue to go at a time in drafts when most are looking for upside; thus, it is not difficult to see him being a bargain for several years to come.

Thank you for reading

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Guancous
2/25
Who would everyonr keep for a bench spot in a vacuum: Ian Kennedy or Erick Aybar?
craneplace
2/25
In a points league Aybar. In roto, I'd lean Aybar too (even thought the stolen base-caught stealing trend is not great), but it's more of a coin flip. This might not help, but given some of the hype around Aybar this offseason, I might look to trade him in a roto league if I found the right buyer.
BarryR
2/25
I don't buy into Pecota's WHIP projection on Kennedy. He's thrown 590 innings over the last three years with WHIPs of 1.30, 1.40, and 1.29. That's a pretty huge sample. I would be very surprised if his WHIP was under 1.25, let alone under 1.20. Combine that with the, to put it politely, subpar, defensive OF and catching, and a far more likely result is in the 1.30 range.