Prior to his arrival to the San Diego Padres at the 2013 trade non-waiver deadline, Ian Kennedy had been coming off a disappointing first 21 starts with the Arizona Diamondbacks as a talented, but homer-prone pitcher. The former desert snakes ace had posted a 5.23/1.42 ERA with a .261 BAA through 124 innings, all dubious highs in his three-plus seasons in Arizona.
Since the change of scenery? Well … let’s just say that the long ball problem hasn’t gotten any better.
While there have obviously been improvements as the right-hander took his ERA down to 4.24 through 57.1 innings (10 starts), it was still a far cry from the 2.88 in 2011 that made him a breakout 4.9 fWAR player. More alarming is the fact that the jump to Petco actually bumped his HR/9 rate from 1.31 with the DBacks to a whopping 1.41 with the Friars, a career-high.
I guess pulling those fences in really did the trick, eh?
So considering that, and the fact that he’s only going to get more expensive in the final two years under team control starting in 2014, why would the Padres want to try extend him long-term?
Well, most of that comes down to what you want to see, I suppose. See, while Kennedy did do his share in giving up the long ball in the 2013 season, it does come on only 57.1 innings with some pretty feast-or-famine type numbers. In 10 starts with the Padres, the right-hander actually allowed no home runs in five of them, but gave up two or more in three of the poor outings (two of those coming on the road).
When he’s bad, he’s been really bad — as in seven home runs in 14.1 innings bad. What that belies, however, is how good he’s been in the other seven of the 10 starts: 2.72/1.19 ERA/WHIP, 0.42 HR/9, 8.58 K/9 through 43 IP.
Oh, and that actually includes a six-run, 4.1 IP stinker in which he gave up five walks too, just to further illustrate what kind of upside he’s shown. The fact of the matter is that while the numbers only tell a bit of the story, Kennedy took significant strides to get back into top-of-the-rotation from with the help of the Padres’ pitching coaches.
It’s going to sound a little like cherry picking because even most of the big numbers suggest he was exactly who fans saw overall (0.0 fWAR, 3.97 xFIP), but he did do a significantly better job at giving up fewer hard-hit balls (19.9 percent line drive rate vs. 24.7 with Arizona in 2013). As well, he generated ground balls at a career-high rate, doing so at a 42.9 percent clip (vs. 36.1), good enough for a career-high 1.15 GB/FB rate (vs. 0.92).
Yes, he did give up more walks with San Diego, but keep in mind that he did make tweaks to his repertoire, relying on his curveball more (15.1 percent vs. 10.8), so perhaps some of that can be chalked to up a new philosophy.
What the results ultimately did mean despite the homers is that he was less hittable (.239 BAA) on an improved .279 BABIP (vs. .301) … which doesn’t even say much about the fact that his whiff rate improved to a career-best 10.8 percent with the Padres (vs. 9.1).
It’s a big leap of faith for the cost-conscious Padres, but if they can get past the home run, Kennedy has basically pitched like ace material in his short time in the west. Moreover, they might not get a better opportunity to sign him on a reasonable deal than now. He is a Scott Boras agent after all, and coming off his worst season in the last four years, the team could look to buy out his final two seasons of arbitration eligibility for his prime FA years.
With him locked in as a surefire 200-inning pitcher (Eric Stults was the only Padres pitcher who got there, and it was his first time ever; Andrew Cashner was capped and health has always been a question), the upside of him becoming a stalwart or even a valuable trade chip down the line is too good to pass up for the Padres. And if they don’t do it this offseason and he rebounds in ’14, his value is considerably diminished as 2015 is his final year under team control.
An extension may kind of an dream scenario, though, given that he is a Scott Boras client, and those guys don’t tend to sell themselves low …