Ian Kennedy's Career Is Being Revived In Kansas City
Kansas City surprised many by shelling out big money to bring in Ian Kennedy this offseason, but digging a little deeper than Kennedy's base stats makes it easy to see why the Royals expected a bounce-back campaign from the former Cy Young candidate.
Through two starts, the Kennedy signing looks like another savvy move by Kansas City's General Manager, Dayton Moore.
In his first start, Kennedy held a shutout through 6.2 innings against Minnesota, before being pulled from the game. He allowed five hits and one walk, while striking out seven batters.
He faced a much more difficult matchup in his second game, though, against an Astros team that ranked third in wRC+ against right-handed pitching last season. Kennedy tossed seven beautiful two-hit innings, eventually exiting with one run charged to his name and another win added to his resume. He also picked up seven more strikeouts, which was aided by the 14.4 percent swinging strike rate the Astros had against him.
Through two starts, Kennedy is 2-0 with a 0.66 ERA, 0.73 WHIP, and 29.2 percent strikeout rate. This pace is clearly unsustainable (He still has a 100 percent strand rate), but he also clearly looks a lot closer to the pitcher who won 21 games in 2011 than the pitcher who gave up the fourth-most home runs in 2015.
So, what has changed?
2015: Poor Performance or Bad Luck?
Kennedy's primary issue in 2015 was his susceptibility to the long ball. His 1.66 HR/9 was the worst of his career and ranked last among qualified starters. Kennedy has always struggled to keep the ball in the park, but he was certainly a victim of some bad luck last season.
His fly-ball rate was actually lower in 2015 than his career average, while his ground-ball rate was higher. So, what led to the massive home run total? Kennedy posted a home run to fly-ball ratio of 17.2 percent, which is significantly higher than his career mark of 10.7 percent.
Some better luck on fly-balls -- along with a move to Kauffman Stadium (ranked 26th in HR-Park Factor in 2015) should lead to far fewer home runs allowed in 2016.
Reasons For Optimism
In addition to an improved home field, Kennedy will benefit from a major improvement in defense. FanGraphs ranked the Padres as the league's second-worst defense in 2015, while Kansas City ranked first.
Kennedy is already benefiting from such defense, as evidenced by this incredible play by Alcides Escobar in his most recent start.
Kennedy also will enjoy more run support than he was offered in 2015, when he received just 3.27 runs support per nine innings, the third-worst mark in the league. Kansas City ranked seventh in the league in runs scored last year and appears poised to be one of the better offenses in baseball again in 2016. In Kennedy's two starts, the Royals have scored 13 runs.
Kennedy's struggles weren't due to a decline in talent, as he posted a strikeout rate of over 24 percent for the second consecutive season. His 24.4 percent strikeout rate ranked 19th among qualified starters last season. Kennedy's 10.3 percent swinging strike rate was the highest mark he's posted since 2009 with the Yankees. He clearly still possesses the filthy stuff that has resulted in six straight seasons of over 160 strikeouts.
Kennedy isn't likely to ever return to his 2011 form -- in which he went 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, and 198 strikeouts. He is almost certain to improve on his 2015 numbers, though, and could become the next name on a quickly growing list of players who have revived their careers in Kansas City.
Just look at what the Royals have done for the careers of Kendrys Morales, Wade Davis, Ryan Madson, and Chris Ryan Young over the past few years. There must be something in the water in Kansas City, and I'm not referring to "Fountain Lady."