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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.