Buying Ian Kennedy

Padres pitcher Ian Kennedy is ready for a rebound. After just 11 innings, it’s starting to look like his move to San Diego will pay off. Kennedy opened the year as a late-round flyer in most fantasy leagues. After three years of consistent production in Arizona, everything seemed to fall apart for Kennedy last season. Kennedy not only walked more batters, but also saw his home run rate jump to obscene levels. This continued even after a mid-season trade to one of the largest parks in the game. When the dust settled, Kennedy’s ERA was a disappointing 4.91. Since he wasn’t an elite option before the drop-off, Kennedy became nothing more than late-round fodder. Based on what he’s shown thus far, it looks like the old Kennedy is back.

It’s only been 11 innings, but Kennedy has shown one really promising thing through his two starts. His velocity is up about a full mph higher than it was last April. Kennedy averaged 91.21 mph with the pitch last April. He’s been able to jump that up to 92.20 mph this time around. This is important for two reasons. First, velocity tends to stabilize pretty quickly, meaning Kennedy is likely going to sustain this gain throughout the season. Second, an uptick in velocity is one of the first recognizable ways to find a breakout pitcher.

Pitchers who experience that uptick in velocity typically see an increase in strikeout rate and a decrease in walk rate. They also tend to post lower ERAs. While a lower ERA was all but assured for Kennedy entering the season, seeing him increase his strikeout rate and cut his walk rate would go a long way in upping his value. In Kennedy’s case, the walk rate is going to be the major key here.

Kennedy experienced some issues with control last year, leading to a career-high 9.2% walk rate. This is particularly problematic for a guy like Kennedy. Though he posts acceptable strikeout numbers, he’s far from elite in that area. And given that his stuff isn’t considered overpowering, he’s the type of guy who needs to limit free passes in order to maximize his value.

In his first two starts, Kennedy has surrendered just two walks. Again, it’s a small sample, but you’re going on the hope that Kennedy can get back to his career-norm. On top of that, it helps that Padres pitching coach Darren Balsley was able to start tinkering with Kennedy’s mechanics last season, according to Scott Bordow of azcentral.com. That continued through the offseason, and during camp, so Kennedy has had a couple of months to get right. Balsley noticed Kennedy wasn’t getting on top of his pitches, which made it harder for him to create downward movement. That may have been a major factor behind why Kennedy saw his home run rate spike last year. Coincidentally, Kennedy’s ground ball rate is currently the highest it’s ever been, so perhaps that’s a sign he is actually keeping his pitches low.

Kennedy’s overall numbers thus far look good, but there’s still a chance other owners haven’t taken notice. After a rough start against the Dodgers, he straightened things out against Miami. Most pitchers are expected to do well against the Marlins, so there’s still a chance he’s flying under the radar. He’s not the type of pitcher who will automatically lead teams to the championship, but he can slot in as a solid 3-4 on most fantasy staffs if he can regain his form.




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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.


8 Responses to “Buying Ian Kennedy”

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  1. abjohnson16 says:

    As a guy who took said late round flyer on Kennedy (200th pick) I love seeing this info. On a related note have there been any articles that I missed highlighting velocity increases for 2014? I follow Zimmerman and have seen his quick notes about them but have been looking for a more fleshed out piece. Was able to jump on Corbin last year after an article and took the same offense heavy draft strategy banking on finding a couple SP break outs.

    Thanks again for the great content as always!

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  2. Marcello says:

    If you flip over the analysis and look at the biggest FB velocity decreasers, looks like Justin Masterson is down 3mph. Any reason to worry that a injury is in the near future? or has there been a change in plan of attack?

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  3. langlois24 says:

    Doug Thorburn, who writes over at BP, commented in his endorsement of Kennedy that Kennedy will be close to Tom House, the coach with whom he has worked the longest and most successfully. Being that Thorburn is a House pupil, it seems to be a safe source.

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  4. JR Ewing says:

    I’m always interested in hearing about velocity uptick in young guys or in these refurbished quality SP types. I think Ian is a good deep SP target. I don’t think we should put too much stock in the move to SD, though. Since they moved the fences in for 2013 this hasn’t been the Petco of old. Especially for LHBs. I don’t think a righty fly-ball pitcher like Ian gets as much of a benefit for this move as people still think he would, since most seem to keep expecting Petco to keep playing as a top pitchers park.

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  5. Matt says:

    Corey Kluber or Ian Kennedy? Kluber’s velocity may have dropped 2 mph.

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  6. Kurt says:

    For Kluber I wouldn’t worry too much – with some of these pitchers the cold weather – for example Clev can impact FB velocity. Harder to get a feel for secondary pitches as well. Also, don’t forget some pitchers take longer to get in form that others. I wouldn’t take declines in velocity as gospel until mid-May. If the avg velocity is down by 2-3 mph by then – worry.

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  7. Dave says:

    Trade Cain or Lynn for Kennedy?

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  8. Spa City says:

    Kennedy is going for a buck or two in OttoNeu. Having lost Medlen and Moore already, I am pretty much done investing more than a few bucks on any pitcher. Better to have a lot of cheap Ian Kennedy level pitchers and save $ for position players.

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