Kyle Kendrick receives 2 year, $7.5 million extension

Per Jim Salisbury, the Phillies have signed a two year extension with fringe starter/reliever and burgeoning fashion model Kyle Kendrick, covering 2012 and 2013, for $7.5 million. Absent this extension, Kendrick was headed for his first arbitration hearing in his second year of eligibility, having settled with the team in 2011 for $2.45 million. Matt Swartz, via his salary arbitration projection model, had estimated the value of Kendrick’s case to be $3.2 million, so the right-hander beat expectations slightly and tacked on another year of job security.

Traditionally, Ruben Amaro and the Phillies have been loathe to let arbitration cases go all the way to hearing, so in that sense this doesn’t necessarily come as a surprise — the Phillies have reached a pre-hearing settlement with all of their arbitration cases this season, and did the same with all of their cases in the previous off-season. On the other hand, for a team historically wary of the arbitration process, their fixation on a player whom the system is seemingly tailor-made to overpay is perplexing to say the least.

Kendrick has all the right attributes for extracting money from arbitration without being especially talented. He can start games in the rotation or in a spot role, and, via the generosity of Charlie Manuel, has plenty of relief opportunities, so he tends to rack up a lot of innings. In 2011, making only 15 starts, he still managed to log 114 and 2/3rds innings pitched. Joe Blanton, the putative fifth starter for 2012, has significant health and durability questions surrounding him, so Kendrick is likely to play that dual role once again. He’s also managed to accumulate wins even when his actual pitching left plenty to be desired — in 2008, with an ERA north of 5, he notched 11 victories, and added 11 more in 2010, with an ERA that was 14% below league average. These counting stats he’s managed to accrue give Kyle and his representation a service record to boast about in arbitration and compare favorably to other pitchers, even if the quality of that service hasn’t been very good — and it hasn’t.

Kendrick is the type of pitcher that requires a ton of variables to work in his favor to be successful. He has one of the more pitiful strikeout rates currently found in the MLB. In fact, of pitchers with at least 300 innings pitched in the last 4 seasons, he has the absolute lowest at 4.26, sharing the bottom of the barrel with such luminaries as Nick Blackburn, Aaron Cook, Aaron Laffey, and Jeff Suppan. Nominally, because his primary pitch is a sinker, Kendrick is a “ground ball pitcher.” And it’s true that, lacking the ability to miss bats, inducing grounders is his only real route to success. Kendrick’s career ground ball rate, however, is right around league average, at 45.6%, and the only single season in which he was substantially above average was in 2009, when he only faced 112 big league hitters.

For a pitcher that can’t strike hitters out, doesn’t have any particular ground ball ability, and who makes a living in a hitter’s park, the only savior is luck. Kendrick has had plenty of it, both good and bad. It was probably a foregone conclusion that the Phillies would tender him a contract after a 2011 season that was certainly the best of his career, but one has to wonder if anybody checked on how he put that season together. His strikeout rate last season was as woeful as ever, at 12.3% compared to the league average 18.6%. His ground ball rate was still decidedly mediocre — 45.3% compared to the league average 44.4%. Kendrick’s BABIP, however, bottomed out at .261. Both his ground balls and fly balls fell in for hits at significantly less than the league rate, amounting to batted ball fortune to an extent that Kendrick had not previously seen in his career. A lot of that luck came with runners in scoring position, a scenario in which his BABIP was just .256, helping to suppress his ERA. These figures, plus an inflated strand rate of 76.1%, helped him build a season that superficially looked great (and that the Phillies were happy to have), but did not bode any better for his future production than the previous four.

Pitchers who can be helpful when they get all of the right breaks are plentiful, and are a dicey proposition on anything more than a one year, low-risk deal. Pitchers like Joel Piñeiro and Dontrelle Willis are about equally as likely as Kendrick to have success next season. But in each opportunity that the Phillies have had to non-tender Kendrick and move on to the next slot machine arm, they have elected not to do so, instead entangling themselves further with a pitcher whose cost will continue to increase regardless of contribution, thanks to the arbitration process. Indeed, the Phillies already had Kendrick signed to an expensive but single-season deal for 2012, inked back in January, but decided to give him a boost in average annual value and contract duration.

As a “Super Two,” Kyle Kendrick is allotted four years of arbitration instead of only three, and his final will come in 2014, after this extension expires. It’s impossible to project Kendrick with absolute certainty, but whether or not he manages another luck-fueled successful season in the next two, his case in 2014 will likely be even more expensive (since arbitration disallows the team from offering less than a set amount relative to the player’s previous salary), and his profile will probably be the same mix of unimpressive ground ball rates and dismal strikeout abilities. How the Phillies deal with him in the offseason following this extension’s expiration will be especially telling. For a team so supposedly concerned with the looming luxury tax threshold, which will remain in place with the new collective bargaining agreement, the Phillies seem to have no reservations about handing out money to their most fungible, replaceable components.

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41 comments

  1. ColonelTom

    February 19, 2012 05:43 PM

    I kind of understood tendering him a deal for 2012 (on the “devil you know” theory), but did we learn nothing from watching Ryan Howard suffer a serious injury before his extension kicked in? Why are we paying $5M more for a fungible commodity we already had? Does Kendrick have incriminating pictures of Amaro with farm animals? Inquiring minds want to know.

  2. Josh G

    February 19, 2012 09:23 PM

    What happens if we send him down to the minors?

  3. AG3

    February 20, 2012 01:51 AM

    I miss Pat Gillick.

  4. hk

    February 20, 2012 07:09 AM

    Josh G,

    The Phils would most likely get comparable pitching for a fraction of the price. However, since his contract is guaranteed, it’s hard to see that happening now. RAJ’s face doesn’t have enough room for more egg on it.

    AG3,

    You just asked for a whole bunch of Adam Eaton comments from the “in RAJ we trust” crowd.

  5. jonny

    February 20, 2012 08:37 AM

    This is almost as much of a head scratcher as Kendrick and his very consistent luck are. You know what would make this all make more sense? If we were to find out that RAJ found Kendrick pitches with a lucky horse shoe adorned with rabbit feet and 4 leaf clovers in his jock. Then it would all make more sense….

  6. Josh G

    February 20, 2012 09:35 AM

    @hk

    I meant what happens to the contract value if we send him to the minors. Does “guaranteed” mean “does not get prorated to minor league rates”?

  7. nik

    February 20, 2012 10:50 AM

    Kendrick did pitch noticeably better late last season. He has added a cutter and a change-up in addition to his sinker, so looking at his cumulative stats may not be exactly accurate of how he may perform going forward.

  8. hk

    February 20, 2012 11:33 AM

    @ Josh G,

    Yes, that’s what it means.

  9. hk

    February 20, 2012 11:51 AM

    Nik,

    You are right that Kendrick did pitch better in August and September in the small sample size of 35 1/3 IP (5 starts and 4 relief appearances), primarily against sub .500 teams. However, it’s a pretty big leap of faith to accept that the last 35 1/3 IP will be more representative of what KK produces in the future than the first 563 IP of his MLB career.

  10. KH

    February 20, 2012 12:10 PM

    KK is one of the luckiest men on the planet for sure. Super hot wife and millions of dollars is way more then what god gave him would indicate his fortunes would be.

  11. ColonelTom

    February 20, 2012 12:59 PM

    @Nik,

    That may be true, but why not give it a year (or even a few months) to find out if the improvement is real? I can’t imagine that KK would refuse this 2013 extension if it were offered in, say, July. If he does, there’s always arbitration, and I’d take my chances on his not performing well enough to get more than $5M next year at a hearing.

  12. ColonelTom

    February 20, 2012 01:03 PM

    This is classic RAJ. Remember when he guaranteed Rollins’s option in 2011 without getting anything in return? (It’s worth noting that one of the justifications at the time, that J-Roll would be more likely to sign an extension before hitting free agency, didn’t come to pass.) RAJ still has a player’s mentality, and he obviously believes that players perform so much better with additional contract security that it makes it worthwhile for the team to take on significant financial risk.

  13. Miles M

    February 20, 2012 02:06 PM

    ColonelTom- well said

  14. John

    February 21, 2012 11:09 AM

    Throw out his disastrous 2008 campaign, and his career numbers look much better. 4.02 ERA, 1.3 WHIP, 4.2 K/9, 2.3 BB/9, 1.75 K/BB. Not great, but decent, and trending better. Combine that with Dubee (and others) saying that he’s been showing genuine improvement and the fact that he’s only going to be 27 this year. Plus, I’ve never read anything that has him complaining about being sent down and up, and being left out of the postseason every year since 2007. If Madson and Hamels deserve “extra appreciation” for being home-grown and doing what was asked of them, why doesn’t Kendrick get any slack? Personally, I think a few months back the Phils could have offered him $9 mil for 3 years, and saved themselves more space on the AAV. If you compare him to 5th starters around the league, and he holds up favorably, and he’s only the number 6 for the Phillies.

  15. Bill Baer

    February 21, 2012 11:12 AM

    You can’t just throw out one-fourth of the sample size because they don’t line up with your narrative.

    It’s amazing how people will go out of their way to defend some very mundane players.

  16. Phylan

    February 21, 2012 11:20 AM

    Take out 2008 and his K rate is still abysmal and his ground ball rate is still pedestrian. It doesn’t make him any different of a pitcher even if we allow it to be taken out for no justifiable reason at all. Madson and Hamels get money and plaudits on their own merits — that is, being really really good pitchers. They don’t need “extra appreciation,” and Kendrick doesn’t merit any. Is he good for a 6th starter? I guess, maybe. But how many teams hand out 2 year $7.5 million to their 6th starter?

  17. Mitch Goldich

    February 21, 2012 11:25 AM

    I see John’s line of reasoning. We need a sample of Kendrick’s stats from seasons he wasn’t distracted by rumors about being traded to Japan.

  18. Dan K.

    February 21, 2012 11:51 AM

    In other news, Hamels is saying very, very encouraging things regarding signing an extension with the Phillies.

    Now it could certainly be all about image for him, but it will work. That now is another thing on his side; he’s lefty, he’s elite, he’s homegrown, and he appears to really want to be here. Ruben must be aware of the impending riot if he doesn’t get him signed.

  19. ColonelTom

    February 21, 2012 11:54 AM

    @John – “Combine that with Dubee (and others) saying that he’s been showing genuine improvement and the fact that he’s only going to be 27 this year.”

    The peripherals don’t lie – he’s a back-end starter, and that’s a fungible commodity. I didn’t mind offering him arbitration, but why tie up $4.5-5M for your #5 starter when you may need that cash to re-sign Hamels? Someone like Kendrick will be available at the end of next offseason cheaply, once we (hopefully) have Hamels under contract and know what the remaining budget is.

    On a back-of-the-envelope calculation, they’ll be up about $12M from this year after we account for salary increases due, arbitration/FA payouts to Pence, Victorino, and Hamels (assuming Pence gets about $13M, Victorino $12M, and Hamels $20M in 2013), picking up the options on Ruiz and Polanco, and letting Wigginton, Contreras, Thome, Blanton, and Qualls walk (including buyouts on the first two).

    They’re going to have to punt one of Victorino, Pence, or Hamels after this season to get below the luxury-tax threshold for 2013. The $4M+ commitment to Kendrick makes that outcome just a little bit more certain.

  20. hk

    February 21, 2012 12:09 PM

    I wonder if there is a connection between the Kendrick extension and a possible Hamels extension. I believe that the pitchers and their wives are good friends and maybe the Phils think (or know) that having Kendrick here in 2013 may influence Hamels’s decision. Or maybe – and more likely – I’m grasping at straws trying to find a positive spin to put on this signing.

  21. Jeff

    February 21, 2012 12:48 PM

    Is that the “salary projection model” in the picture with him?

  22. Phillie697

    February 21, 2012 12:54 PM

    Sigh… I would NOT have such problems with this deal if RAJ doesn’t sign ridiculous deals like Howard and Papelbon. I can chalk up giving a good guy $7.5M as PR for other players, saying “hey we take care of our guys, especially the ones willing to put the team first.” Except, of course, we know that’s not what went through RAJ’s mind, plus he doesn’t have $7.5M to throw around for such superfluous purposes because of Howard and Papelbon.

    At this rate he BETTER find a way to extend Hamels, or else there is going to be hell to pay, and I don’t care if we win 110 games this year.

  23. Wilsonvaldezisinthehalloffame

    February 21, 2012 12:55 PM

    on odd numbered years kendrick is as good as hamels

  24. John

    February 22, 2012 10:30 AM

    O.K. – I’ll try again, and try to correct a few errors, or clarify my intentions.

    1. I should have subtracted 2007, too, but I was too lazy, as it was easiest to throw out just one year. From what I see, he seems to have made modest progress since his demotion in 2009, though his peripherals and predictors still leave much to be desired.

    2. Shortly, (and recently) people have discussed the need to lock up Hamels long term, or Madson, and inevitably the idea of “because he’s homegrown” will show up. Logically, I would assume the same should apply to Kendrick, though certainly at a much lower salary rate. Looking at the bigger names in SP coming on the free-agent market in 2013 (Hamels, Cain, Greinke), who will provide the best return value? I’d like the Phillies to go with Hamels, but if he’s looking for Cliff Lee Money, would the money be better spent getting a little less production from Cain or Greinke if the savings in years or AAV is significant? If all three were free agents with no previous ties to the Phillies, what would the answer be?

    3. I assumed that 2011 production (excepting for injuries) is generally the best predictor for 2012, and is better than 2010 production, which is better than 2009 production, which is better than 2008 production as a predictor, etc. Apparently all past production should be considered equally? That certainly bodes well for the Phillies offense. Not so well for the starting pitching, judging from some of the years Hamels and Lee have in their pasts.

    4. Kendrick’s not good. But I don’t think he’s as bad as his 2008.

    5. Finally, Who would have been his possible replacements? What other starting pitchers under 30 with his (lack of) injury history and comparable 2011 production signed for less money this off season? I don’t know. I admit I don’t get to follow other teams as much as I’d like to any more, so I’d like to see some comparisons, if there are some out there. The only ones I can think of are older, had worse 2011’s, or are coming off injuries.

  25. Phillie697

    February 22, 2012 12:27 PM

    Cain has that funky “sustainable” low BABIP and HR/FB% that may or may not be a product of the park he plays in, and I certainly don’t want to pay $70M+ to find out.

    Greinke and Hamels are actually comparable pitchers, and if I had to be completely objective, I might even rate Greinke a tiny bit better, just a tiny bit. How much would he command on the open market when compared to Hamels? I don’t know. I really want to assume that Hamels will give us a slight hometown discount tho, which will make it worthwhile for us to sign him before the season ends. Otherwise, I suppose, although I cringe to say this, waiting might not be such a bad idea.

    How THAT matters to the Kendrick discussion is beyond me tho. Greinke and Hamels are valuable assets that you won’t find elsewhere, whereas there are probably dozens of pitchers just as good as Kendrick who will come cheaper than he just got paid. That’s the most important part to remember. And age doesn’t matter here either. Age matters only to the extent that a young player is projectable to improve significantly as he ages. I don’t think ANYONE has projected Kendrick to be anything other than replacement level no matter what age he is. So with that in mind, like I said, there are DOZENS of pitchers out there who are just as good as he is.

  26. LTG

    February 22, 2012 01:44 PM

    On projecting:

    Usually projection systems weight years so that the most recent year gets the most weight in determining a player’s “average” performance. But this does not justify throwing out information or excluding a set of data.

  27. LTG

    February 22, 2012 02:25 PM

    I don’t think Cain has been pitching long enough for his low BABIP to count as statistically significant. There is a certain non-zero probability that a pitcher will have a lower-than-normal BABIP. There is then also a certain non-zero probability that the same pitcher will have a lower-than-normal BABIP for x years in a row. If I recall, when the numbers are plugged in, Cain’s BABIP performance is not out of the realm of luck yet, i.e., the probability isn’t so low that it is more reasonable to attribute it to skill. Has anyone done the number-crunching on this and have it handy?

  28. Bill Baer

    February 22, 2012 03:01 PM

    FWIW, I covered Cain’s BABIP exactly one year ago at BPro:

    www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=13014

    My conclusion:

    I think we now have enough information to conclude that Cain’s over-performance of his ERA retrodictors is legitimately assisted by three factors:

    – His spacious home ballpark
    – Significantly above-average infield defense, especially in the range department
    – A legitimate ability to induce weak pop ups and opposite-field outfield fly balls due to his fastball

    EDIT: Also, last year’s production is not a good predictor compared to finely-tuned projections available.

    www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/testing-projections-for-2011/

    Projection RMSE
    Steamer .8324
    Cairo .8736
    SIERA_proj .8746
    xFIP_proj .9014
    FIP_proj .9033
    tERA_proj .9050
    Marcel .9066
    PECOTA 1.024
    ZiPS 1.030
    Oliver 1.042
    Last Year’s Stats 1.282

  29. Dan K.

    February 22, 2012 03:58 PM

    About that question about which of the three (Hamels, Cain, Greinke) I’d rather have if none of them had previous ties with the Phillies: Hamels.

    I’m biased because I’ve always been a fan of his, but here are unbiased reasons;

    1) As pointed out, Cain is the most uncertain of the 3 to perform outside of his home park. For that reason I want to spend top-tier money on him the least of any pitcher.

    2) Greinke has anxiety issues. The Phillies are on his no-go list because we’re a big market team. We’d have to overpay him big time to get him to sign here, and then even if we did, how do we know his anxiety won’t kick in every game (we all know it’s impossible to keep CBP quiet)?

    3) Hamels (unlike Greinke) is left-handed. That can not be overstated. Elite LHP are few and far between.

    4) Hamels’ bread and butter is his elite FB-CH combo, which is the ideal combo in terms of platoon splits. Cain and Greinke both rely more on their slider than the change (Greinke especially so, he has only thrown his change 8.5% of the time over his career compared Cain’s 12.9% and to Hamels’ 28%).

    So yeah, I’d rather have Hamels. That’s just me, though.

  30. LTG

    February 22, 2012 04:15 PM

    So, two of those factors are out of Cain’s control. Is there a way to quantify how much each of those factors contributes to his outperforming his retrodictors? How much would Cain regress if he moved to CBP and had the Phillies’ defense behind him? What if it were the Braves defense last year?

  31. pedro3131

    February 23, 2012 01:42 AM

    Here’s a quick little exercise to demonstrate why the ability of ball players to turn things around, even after 5+ seasons…

    Player X
    S1: 41.2IP, 6.05 BB/9, .252 BABIP, 3.64 FIP
    S2: 58.2IP, 4.45 BB/9, .292 BABIP, 5.04 FIP
    S3: 104.1IP, 4.4 BB/9, .271 BABIP, 3.39 FIP
    S4: 158.2IP, 5.96 BB/9, .247 BABIP, 4.38 FIP
    S5: 153.1IP, 5.4 BB/9, .289 BABIP, 4.04 FIP

    Can anyone guess who this guy turned out to be?

    I’m not suggesting Kendrick is going to have the kind of meteoric rise my example did, but it’s important to note that as good as statistics are we can never count out a guy getting better

  32. sean

    February 23, 2012 09:44 AM

    hey Dan K your reason of “anxiety issues” is totally off base. for one thing, greinke wanted to be traded to the yankees before the brewers traded for him. But i guess he had anxiety issues! greinke should have no problems pitching anywhere

  33. Ryan

    February 23, 2012 09:55 AM

    Sandy Koufax was so well sought after as an amateur, that he was declared a “bonus baby.” In those days, if your signing bonus was that high you went directly to the major leagues. KK was a 7th round draft pick with a K/9 in the minor leagues of 5.8. Lol.

  34. LTG

    February 23, 2012 10:43 AM

    Hah! S1 = 19 year-old Koufax. I guess he was no Bob Feller.

  35. pedro3131

    February 23, 2012 10:54 AM

    Surely I expect KK to start posting above 10 K/9’s, sub 2 ERA’s and 25 win seasons….

    I think the point I was responding to was someone dismissed a late season surge (with a new pitch as a potential culprit) on the basis of small sample size. I agree in general with this, but at the same time, it’s not 100% assumed he’s can’t improve. I don’t really think he’s going to turn into a good value for this deal, but with the small sample size of his new pitch, who’s to say that won’t induce mild to drastic changes in some of his peripheral stats when displayed through an entire year?

  36. LTG

    February 23, 2012 12:50 PM

    As far as I can tell, the drastic change for Koufax was the drop in walk rate. KK does not have much room to improve there, nor did he show signs of improving it last year. The analogy just is not helpful.

  37. pedro3131

    February 23, 2012 02:05 PM

    So in the past 2 years he’s developed a cutter and curveball (curve being specific to this past year). You also see a slight rise in k/9 rates between his early career (you also in general see a raise of about .3 per anum), sans cutter/curve and the past two years. Is the discrepancy as vast as wild/cy Koufax? Of course not, but you can also see a slight upward tick.

    Is there a way to quantify the ceiling of this upward momentum? Clearly, the Phils have it higher then we do, but it’s conceivable he can generate more value. If I could theorize, for a second, that his higher K/9 rates are a result of his greater reliance on these two new pitches, then we can develop a hypothesis that this trend will continue as he continues to develop these pitches, and throw them more. However without pitch specific swing and miss data, and even then given the small sample size of his curve, it would be hard to prove my theory.

  38. Dan K.

    February 23, 2012 06:32 PM

    @sean,

    According to whom? I followed Greinke closely when it became apparent he was going to be traded, and according to every single source I read, all big market teams were on his no-trade list for anxiety reasons.

    Show me proof of your claim and then I’ll consider changing my thinking on the matter.

  39. Phillie697

    February 24, 2012 11:37 AM

    Kendrick’s value IS his already low walk rate. Any lower he’d be Cliff Lee without the ability to miss bats (which is why he’s not very good).

    If you can do this for KK, I’m pretty damn sure you can do this for the dozens of other pitchers that I’ve said are just as good as he is. Universe doesn’t exist in a vacuum where only KK has an upside.

    @Dan K.,

    You’ve persuaded me. I forgot the lefty/righty comparison when I evaluated the two of them. Okay, Hamels is better even objectively speaking.

  40. Patrick

    March 09, 2012 06:06 PM

    KK has improved every year he ever played. this year will be not exception. He has an outstanding work ethic, and now that management has finally shown the guts to convey their confidence in him, watch out. This is a sleeper star in the wings, and remember, you heard from me first.

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