Feel free to shake your head in confusion, read this with a questioning eye or even announce wildly that the title must be a misprint, but whether you believe it or not, the truth is that right now, Kyle Kendrick is the best pitcher on the Philadelphia Phillies starting staff.
While you may be ready to laugh me out of the room for making such an outlandish comment, there is validity, and a great deal of it backed up by stats, in what was just said.
Had this been said, surmised or evenly boldly predicted a few months ago however? Well, that would have been unimaginable, unthinkable and downright crazy. Not necessarily to speak badly of Kendrick, but come on. After all, even with an injured Roy Halladay and a struggling Cliff Lee, the Phillies still had their latest million dollar man in Cole Hamels.
Surely, it would be Hamels, the NLCS and World Series MVP who finished in the top five of Cy Young voting in 2011 and who had his best career winning percentage in 2012 that would lead the Phillies with a 2-1 record, and be the only one of the starting five with a sub 3.00 ERA, right?
That illustrious distinction belongs to Kendrick, someone whose future with the team had been up in question even after he was almost traded by Brett Myers to Japan in a classic prank Phillies’ fans won’t soon forget.
So where is the rationale?: Why has Kendrick become the best pitcher? Why has his stuff been so effective? How is he doing better than Hamels, Halladay and Lee?
Honestly, I wish I had the answer.
Kendrick’s stuff isn’t all that different from what he was throwing in 2012. His main out-pitch is still his cutter, which sits in the range of 86-87 mph. His fastball clocks in around 89-90, maxing out at 91, and the rest of his stuff is rather unspectacular. His change-up has been a work in progress and he doesn’t really have swing-and-miss stuff either.
But that fastball, while unspectacular to scouts and the naked eye, does have a strong quality to it. It is a sinking fastball which allows Kendrick to pitch effectively to both right and left handed hitters. It isn’t perfect, but he has used it to his success as a groundball pitcher.
And maybe that is why Kendrick has been so successful this season. In his worst career years, 2008 and 2010, his ground ball to fly ball ratio was well under 1.0. In 2013 however, Kendrick is recording exactly half of his outs via the ground ball, averaging a little over 1.0 GO/FO.
There could be more to Kendrick’s success however, starting with the fact that he is beginning to miss bats with some well placed pitches. While it is nothing to gawk over, Kendrick has struck out 24 this year and is averaging close to a career-high with 6.42 SO/9. Kendrick has also not awarded too many free passes this season and currently sits with a career-best 3.oo SO/BB ratio.
Calm and collected, Kendrick has approached each of his five outings this season with a mental outlook one has not seen from the 28-year-old since his rookie year in 2007. He has scattered 29 hits over 33.2 innings and has yet to give up more than eight base knocks in any single game.
In fact, since his first start of 2013 in which he gave up five runs over 5.2 innings, Kendrick has been a different pitcher. He has two starts, including a complete game, in which he has recorded 16 total shut out innings and in his other two starts, he has given up just four runs in 12 innings.
Halladay? Three starts where he has given up at least five runs.
Lee? Three starts where he has given up at least three runs.
Hamels? Three starts where he has given up at least three runs.
Kendrick, meanwhile, has just that one start in which he has given up more than two runs. Of the four pitchers, he has two starts where he has given up zero runs, which bests Lee, Hamels and Halladay combined, who have just one.
I know statistics only tell half of the story, but one just has to look at the pure intensity and confidence that was previously lacking on the face of the pitcher on the mound tonight to see that Kendrick really is the best pitcher for the Phillies, at least after the season’s first month.