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Ian Kennedy: The Hitter Who Doesn’t

Posted By Jeff Sullivan On September 24, 2012 @ 1:57 pm In Daily Graphings,Diamondbacks | 17 Comments

I recall that Tangotiger likes to think of pitchers as batters as a control group. Here we have a bunch of non-hitters put into hitting situations, and so their statistics in such situations are worthy of investigation. The best control group might be American League pitchers, pitchers who’ve never been in the National League before — NL pitchers, obviously, get more than a little batting practice — but even NL pitchers get only a fraction of the batting practice that position players get, because they are pitchers and they all need to work on their pitching. All of them. So they work as an effective control group anyway.

Within that control group, though, there exists a variety of batting approaches. Not every pitcher as a batter is alike, nor would we expect them to be. There’s Yovani Gallardo, who bats like a power hitter. There’s Barry Zito, who tries his damnedest to get his bat on everything and who doesn’t at all concern himself with the quality of actual contact. There’s Tommy Hanson, who sucks. Every pitcher as a batter is at least just a little bit different from all the others, and this all brings us to Ian Kennedy. Today you’re going to learn something about Ian Kennedy that you presumably didn’t know, and that you presumably didn’t think you would ever bother to know.

Kennedy pitched on Sunday in Colorado, and while the Diamondbacks won, Kennedy got himself a no-decision. But we’re not here to talk about Ian Kennedy’s pitching, and we’re certainly not here to talk about Ian Kennedy getting a no-decision. Because Kennedy pitched in Colorado, Kennedy also hit in Colorado. Here is Ian Kennedy hitting in a 2-and-0 count in the top of the fourth:

Good swing, right? And a good result. Not a good result of the good result, for Ian Kennedy, but you can’t really complain when a pitcher gets ahead and hits a line drive. What you immediately think is most remarkable about this play is the tremendous catch by DJ LeMahieu. Congratulations, you’re wrong, all of you are wrong. What’s actually most remarkable about this play is that Ian Kennedy swung at a thrown pitch.

See, turns out Ian Kennedy has this thing about him when he’s standing in the box. Kennedy wasn’t much for swinging when he joined the Diamondbacks in 2010, and he didn’t swing a whole lot in 2011, either. Which is fine; pitchers generally suck at swinging, so they should limit how often they swing. Kennedy’s taken it to a new level in 2012, though. After Sunday, Kennedy has amassed 69 plate appearances this season. He has swung at just 28.5 percent of all pitches.

As you already knew, FanGraphs provides reliable PITCHf/x plate-discipline data going back to 2008. We may refer to this as being the PITCHf/x Era. Let’s look at the window from 2008-2012, split seasons, and set a minimum of 50 plate appearances. What are the lowest swing rates that we find?

  1. 2012 Ian Kennedy, 28.5%
  2. 2010 Nick Johnson, 29.8%
  3. 2008 Luis Castillo, 30.2%
  4. 2009 Jamie Moyer, 30.3%
  5. 2010 Brett Gardner, 30.5%

We can do better than this, though. FanGraphs also has plate-discipline data going back to 2002, and while the zone data isn’t real good, we can trust the provided swing rates. Let’s examine the 2002-2012 FanGraphs Era, again splitting seasons, again setting a 50-PA minimum. The lowest swing rates, not updated through Sunday:

  1. 2012 Ian Kennedy, 28.8%
  2. 2006 Reggie Willits, 29.2%
  3. 2010 Nick Johnson, 30.3%
  4. 2008 Luis Castillo, 30.7%
  5. 2005 Brad Halsey, 30.8%

Right now, Ian Kennedy is running what would be the lowest swing rate in baseball since at least 2002. Kennedy is in line to make one or two more starts before the end of the season, which means he’ll have a few more opportunities to watch pitches go by and not swing at them. Kennedy could solidify his place atop the leaderboard, or he could throw it all away with a few aggressive lapses in judgment. I’m going to assume that there’s a reason why Ian Kennedy doesn’t swing. I’m going to assume that that reason is that Ian Kennedy isn’t good at swinging, and I’m going to assume that that reason will continue to apply.

With how much National League fans talk about the NL’s strategic superiority to the regrettably DH’d AL, there’s strikingly limited discussion about pitchers actually hitting; people talk about pitchers hitting as an idea, but the actual numbers are swept under the rug, as if the plate appearances never happened. With more discussion, perhaps we would’ve known about Ian Kennedy’s tendencies before today. Kennedy came up as an AL pitcher, and while he’s been forced to bat in the NL, it seems that these days he’s mostly opting out of the whole thing. The Diamondbacks can tell Kennedy that it’s his turn to hit, but they can’t make him actually do it. What Ian Kennedy does in the box is entirely up to Ian Kennedy, and also the pitcher and catcher too.

As it happens, I didn’t initially set out to research Ian Kennedy’s swing rate. Rather, I was looking up which pitcher has walked the most pitchers so far this season. The answer, if you’re curious, is Paul Maholm, with five walks issued to opposing pitchers — all as a member of the Cubs. I wanted to know which five pitchers Maholm has walked. Maholm has actually walked three pitchers in 2012: James McDonald, Bud Norris, and Ian Kennedy. How does 3 = 5? Here are Gameday screenshots from the four times Paul Maholm has pitched to Ian Kennedy.

Four times in 2012, Paul Maholm has pitched to Ian Kennedy. Three times in 2012, Paul Maholm has walked Ian Kennedy. Two times in 2012, Paul Maholm has walked Ian Kennedy after getting ahead in the count 0-and-2. Paul Maholm has walked Ian Kennedy more times in four plate appearances in 2012 than he’s walked Prince Fielder in 55 plate appearances in his career. Sometimes it works against Ian Kennedy that he doesn’t like to swing. Sometimes it works against the opposing pitcher.

For his career, Kennedy’s posted a 10 wRC+; for 2012, he’s posted a -3. Ian Kennedy is a very unremarkable hitting pitcher, with one very remarkable trait.


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