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The Player: Ian Kennedy

The Terms: Kansas City Royals for 5 years, $70 million

The World Series champions had watched Johnny Cueto head west and were staring down the barrel of a green starting rotation, creating the need for a veteran hurler, and with the pitcher pool drying up they opted to roll the dice on Ian Kennedy having a successful return to the American League. IPK is coming off of six years in the National League, and though the career .128 hitter likely won't miss the feel of lumber in his hands, he will be moving to the presumably tougher league and pitching in front of a home crowd that has cheered baseball deep into the last two Octobers following 30 years of futility.

Career Stats

GS

IP

ERA

WHIP

H%

HR%

BB%

K%

204

1234.7

3.98

1.276

22.2%

2.9%

7.9%

21.8%

Kennedy has long been prone to giving up home runs, but 2015 was the worst season yet: 31 bombs, a 4.4 percent rate and 1.7 home runs allowed per nine innings. He was coming off the best season of his career in term of home run prevention, with a longball rate of 1.9 percent in 2014, but not even San Diego's marine layer could contain the barrage as 19 of his 31 homers allowed last season were bequeathed at Petco Park. Interestingly, Petco had an odd season on the whole, ranking as fairly neutral in terms of park factor.

The right-hander pitched 168.3 innings last season, his sixth straight campaign with at least that many frames but his lowest total since he became a full-time starter. A hamstring injury took him off the mound for most of April and he was ripped for eight runs in his first game back, a start that increased his final ERA by more than a quarter-run.

His BABiP went down from .315 in 2014 to .301 last year, yet his hit rate went up from 22.3 percent to 23.3 percent, an odd discrepancy which underscores the impact that home runs had on the last two seasons. The gravity of regression will help to pull Kennedy's home run rate back to earth, and his new home ballpark should contribute to fewer baseballs leaving the yard given that Kauffman was tougher on home runs than Petco was last year. He'll need the help, as Kennedy's 4.19 ERA over the past four seasons checks in 10 percent below the league average, and his 1.32 WHIP and 4.06 FIP over the same timeframe supports his pedestrian run prevention.

The Stuff

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

FB Velocity

89.8

91.1

90.7

91.4

92.6

92.3

FB Frequency

58.9%

63.5%

65.3%

59.8%

62.1%

62.3%

CH Frequency

18.4%

15.6%

17.1%

21.0%

13.9%

14.5%

CB Frequency

17.4%

10.2%

7.6%

11.9%

16.3%

15.1%

CUT Frequency

5.3%

10.6%

10.0%

7.4%

7.6%

8.1%

Kennedy is one of the rare pitchers who has added velocity throughout his major-league career, and he has thus far shown a trend of ascending to a new level one year, taking a small step backward the next season only to then continue forward to a new plateau. If the trend continues, then IPK will crack 93 mph on his average fastball next season.

What Kennedy lacks is a true out-pitch, as his repertoire features a deep stable of serviceable pitches yet is devoid of any singular pitch that strikes fear in the hearts of opposing batsmen. He gave up an ISO of .150 or higher on each of his four pitch types last season, including an opponent's slugging of .430 or higher on each offering. The fastball was the biggest culprit, being responsible for 21 of the 31 homers that he surrendered and resulting in a .528 slug (and a .270 ISO) in at-bats that ended on the fastball. Historically, the curveball has been Kennedy's most effective weapon and the same was true in 2015, but he was undone by a .410 BABiP when the curve was put into play.

Mechanics Report Card

2012

2013

2014

2015

Balance

65

65

60

60

Momentum

60

60

60

60

Torque

50

50

55

55

Posture

65

65

65

65

Repetition

50

40

50

45

Overall

B+

B

B

B

For an explanation on the grading system for pitching mechanics, please consult this pair of articles.

Kennedy is a former student of Tom House and the National Pitching Association, so it stands to reason that I like what I see from a mechanics standpoint. His stability is particularly impressive, including excellent balance that typically holds strong in all three planes, culminating in excellent posture at release point. His balance has taken a small step backward from the peak of a couple years ago, with an exaggerated drop to his center-of-gravity (Y-plane, vertical balance) after maximum leg lift. His side-to-side balance (X-plane) remains excellent into foot strike, but there is noticeable wobble to his delivery after the he touches down. The posture spikes a 70-grade on his best deliveries, and he has been able to sustain top-end marks with minimal spine-tilt throughout his professional career.

The power grades are even more impressive when considering how well Kennedy maintains balance and posture throughout the delivery, as there is a natural trade-off that exists in which stability often suffers as power is increased, given that it's tougher to harness the delivery at higher intensities. The plus momentum has been a staple of Kennedy's motion since his amateur days, and the 60-grade comes as a result of a strong early move of momentum that gets his energy going toward the plate from first movement to maximum leg lift; he shifts to a faster gear during the stride phase of his delivery. The torque seems to get better every season, with an ever-increasing load with the upper-half paired with a healthy delay to his trigger that allows the hips to rotate after foot strike, increasing torque prior to when the upper-half fires. The one missing piece is repetition, an element which boils down to precise coordination of all of the elements within the kinetic chain to within hundredths of a second. Repetition is typically the last element to develop in a pitcher's mechanics, and in the case of Kennedy it has been an elusive element throughout his career, surfacing for weeks at a time only to disappear without a trace.

The Verdict: The price of a ring

A contract that came cheaper than that of Mike Leake or Wei-Yin Chen, the deal is more appealing when stood up next to some of the other multi-year offers to middling starters this winter. The fact that Kennedy rejecting his qualifying offer last November means that the Royals also gave up a draft pick in order to sign him, so the 27th overall selection of the 2016 draft was sacrificed along with the $70 million that Kennedy will be paid for his services over the next five years. The combined cost feels steep, regardless of comparable offers, particularly when considering that Kansas City has a young core of players that are becoming increasingly expensive and the team will need to have funds available down the road in order to keep those players in Royal blue. With this signing, KC has now committed $113.1 million to 22 players for 2016, which stands as the highest payroll in franchise history (last season was $112.8 million).