Over the last few years, the credibility of a pitcher’s win as a telling statistic has come into question. People have started to realize that there are so many factors that have to be taken into account during the course of a baseball game that a starting pitcher doesn’t necessarily control how a game turns out. So when people look at Ian Kennedy and see that he 19-4, there is a mixed reaction.
Kennedy obviously has a great chance of putting together the first 20-win season of his young career, but is he really as good as he sounds? Since he has accomplished this while pitching in the National League West, many would say no and would like to see him do the same thing in the American League. But actually, he would probably still be very solid option, even outside of the desert.
I’m not saying IPK would not be good anywhere else, but he definitely wouldn’t be an ace in the AL and there are numbers to back that up. First of all, his rather low groundball rate (39 percent) probably wouldn’t play well to the big lineups that include designated hitters. He has also been flirting with some disaster, pitching to an 80.4 percent left on base rate, something I’m not sure is sustainable. This is high, even for him. And as far as the wins go, 14 have come against teams with records below .500 and eight have come against the Giants, Padres and Dodgers.
Also, he has changed his approach this season and has gone very fastball-heavy. This is a good approach in a weak division that doesn’t have a lot of big hitters, but probably wouldn’t work too well against very good hitting teams. It allows him to pitch to a little more contact, work more economically and go deeper into games. The fastball has also been a much more effective pitch than it has been in the past, as he has posted a 31.1 wFB (-0.8 in 2010).
It also helps that a very good team backs him. Arizona leads the NL in ISO (.166) and UZR (56.6), the D-Backs are fourth in stolen bases (115), and they’re third in slugging percentage (.417). As I said before, there are other factors that go into a pitcher’s win besides his performance and this is one of them. Phil Hughes’ 2010 season is very comparable because the inputs are very similar.
This doesn’t necessarily mean he would be helpless in another division or in the other league. He has been something of a workhorse, pitching more than 200 innings in a season for the first time in a career and he still has a few starts left. Also, although he has been pitching to a little more contact, his strikeout rate has gone up a little bit (7.93 per nine innings) while he’s walking one fewer per nine. He has also become less susceptible to the homer, lowering his rate from 1.21 per nine to 0.85.
His peripherals are very good, there’s no doubting that, and a change in scenery probably wouldn’t make his numbers too much worse. He would probably wind up being around 80 percent of what he is now and I could see him being very solid middle-of-the-rotation guy in the American League. The question is whether we will ever be able to see what he’s really made of.