Kyle Kendrick’s Flashes of Greatness

Kyle Kendrick is currently sitting on his second consecutive scoreless innings streak of at least 15 innings, and no, you’re not dreaming — this is real life. Orel Hershiser need not worry until KK reaches the 35-inning mark or so, but it is still an impressive feat for the soon-to-be 28-year-old right-hander. Between June 28 and August 3, Kendrick tossed 22 consecutive scoreless frames, and after last night’s eight-inning gem in Milwaukee, Kendrick is back up to 15 consecutive scoreless innings.

Why has Kendrick, with the career 12 percent strikeout rate and 4.84 xFIP, shown flashes of brilliance so far this year? The most obvious answer is that Kendrick vastly improved his ability to miss bats. Entering the season, Kendrick’s K-rate was just over 11 percent and peaked at 13.4 percent in 2009, a 26.1-inning season. This year, Kendrick has struck out 17 percent of the batters he’s faced. Since Kendrick will likely finish somewhere in the neighborhood of 600 total batters faced, that comes out to about 35 extra outs, relative to his career average, that don’t rely on luck or defenders converting a batted ball into an out.

The second notable change in Kendrick is an increased reliance on the change-up. He had thrown it roughly 15 percent of the time entering the season, but brought it up above 22 percent in 2012. Although it is not anywhere near the level of Cole Hamels‘ change-up, it has been good enough as hitters have posted a .313 wOBA against his change and swung and missed at it almost as much as all of his other pitches combined:

  • Change-up: 26
  • Cutter: 15
  • Sinker: 13

The role of the change-up for most pitchers is to mess up the hitter’s strategy, as opposed to an out pitch as Hamels uses it. If hitters go up to the plate licking their chops at Kendrick’s cutter, then he has to do something to make that strategy less rewarding, which he accomplishes by reducing his cutter usage and increasing his change-up usage. As a result, hitters are performing 40 points worse in wOBA against the cutter than they did last year in a comparable amount of innings. Despite that, they are performing better against the change-up, but it can be explained by last year’s .143 BABIP regressing (.316 now).

This isn’t to say that Kendrick is better than a fifth-starter type — his xFIP is 4.62 (career 4.64) and his SIERA is 4.40 (career 4.78). However, he has continued to evolve despite being pushed in and out of his roles between the starting rotation, the bullpen, and even Triple-A Lehigh Valley. As the Phillies have him under contract next year for $4.5 million, this can only be considered good news. With three very talented veteran starting pitchers at his disposal (Hamels, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee), Kendrick can pick their brains (as he has done in the past) and continue to make these incremental improvements.

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21 comments

  1. BradInDC

    August 20, 2012 12:06 PM

    Thanks for looking into this. Makes KK’s successes this year a little less baffling. Did you see anything in game by game details that would account for the couple quite bad starts he’s put up? Like, did he not use his change as much on Aug 8 when he last imploded?

  2. Ryan

    August 20, 2012 03:00 PM

    One of the reasons that I’ve heard thrown out there is that he keeps getting jerked back and forth between the bullpen and the rotation–not sure if there’s any truth to this or not whether any data backs it up.

  3. Miguel

    August 21, 2012 07:37 AM

    So does this mean that the rotation for next year is set?

    Halladay, Hamels, Lee, Worley, Kendrick?

    Or do we dare bring up someone from minors?

  4. Phillie697

    August 21, 2012 10:35 AM

    Who? Besides Cloyd, who everyone is convinced will get lit up in the majors (for reasons I don’t quite know why), who’s ready?

  5. Chris S

    August 21, 2012 10:59 AM

    Possibly Adam Morgan? Maybe not at the beginning of the year, but mid-season would be possible for him. College guy who has looked good in he A+ this year and is now in AA. Good K numbers and doesn’t walk many guys. He would get my vote as our #5 for next year.

  6. Mike E

    August 21, 2012 03:07 PM

    When will they add Jamie Moyer to the bullpen coaching staff…inquiring minds and all that.

  7. Nick W.

    August 21, 2012 03:50 PM

    @Phillie697

    I think I remember looking at his FIP and BABIP being alarming and showing his something like 1.20 ERA is kind of deceiving.

  8. mratfink

    August 21, 2012 04:21 PM

    @Chris S. the next minor league starter in line (if we go with kendrick next year meaning no shot for Cloyd) is probably Pettibone. He profiles as a 4 or 5 starter has decent stuff but nothing over powering but has a chance at actually sticking as a back of the rotation starter. Not a ton of upside (though a cost controlled 4 or 5 starter is nothing to sneeze at) but a high probability of meeting his ceiling. I fully expect to see him starting for the phils sometime next year (probably not beginning of the season though).

    After Pettibone, i would say that the phils have May and Martin next but want them both to get another year in the minors to work out their control issues but both have the stuff to force the issue sooner. Based on this year Martin is ahead of May. either way they are ahead of Morgan who only made it to AA midseason. Morgan will almost certainly be back in AA next year meaning he is not one of the first guys up next year.

  9. Phillie697

    August 21, 2012 04:27 PM

    No one said he has to pitch like Halladay, nor anyone thinks he’s 2.27 ERA good. Regression is inevitable, but to “will get lit up in the majors” bad? Really? Where is the support for that? The dude’s HIGEST walk rate at any level of professional ball in ANY year is 2.91 BB/9, with decent if not great K rates. Last year in AA, his K/9 and BB/9 were 8.35/1.27, with BABIP of .311 and ERA of 2.78. What’s alarming about those numbers? His FIP this year in AAA is 3.92; when did a 3.92 ERA become “will get lit up in the majors”? Just because he’s not THIS good doesn’t mean he’s not good.

    I’m tired of RAJ/Cholly for not wanting to play young players. Had they played Dom the last two years, gave him a proper chance, and he ended up sucking with a OPS of .700? We would have lost nothing and gained the knowledge that, “oh well, he’s not that good. Let’s move on.” Instead, two years later, we’re STILL wondering if he’s good or not, all the while having gained nothing by having him rot in AAA, and he’s now 2 years older. There are words to describe people who think they have a good thing but are afraid to take steps to verify whether they are right or not; the word “coward” comes to mind at the moment.

  10. LTG

    August 21, 2012 05:10 PM

    I haven’t read anyone say that Cloyd will get lit up. I have read some say that Cloyd is no better than KK and perhaps a little worse.

  11. Phillie697

    August 21, 2012 05:28 PM

    @LTG, which makes no sense either. KK never had the same K rate Cloyd had in the minors, and Cloyd has shown even better control than KK despite KK’s best quality being that he doesn’t walk batters much. There is absolutely no evidence he’ll do worse than KK unless you’re a scout who gets to watch him a hell of a lot more than I do AND has the skills to figure out how good a player will be just by watching him. From where I stand, Cloyd should be given a chance, because I think he’s a prospect, and he’s better than KK.

    The one season KK spent in AAA: 143 innings, 3.9 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, .262 BABIP, 3.99 FIP. Yes, this is the guy we’re saying is somehow better than Cloyd. Boggles my mind.

  12. LTG

    August 21, 2012 08:06 PM

    In fairness, I think the thought is that Cloyd will have to adjust to the MLB and KK won’t. For that reason, KK’s results can be expected to be better than Cloyd’s for next season, even if Cloyd shows signs of eventually being better than KK.

    I don’t really have an opinion of my own on the matter because I don’t trust MiLB stats. I would much rather hear scouts’ opinions.

  13. Dan K.

    August 22, 2012 02:58 AM

    RE: Cloyd,

    The skepticism comes from his lack of pure “stuff.” None of his pitches rate out as plus (I think he has one or two above-average, MAYBE). The biggest concern, though, is his fastball. He works with a sub-90 fastball which, as a righty, generally doesn’t play at the ML level.

    Personally I’d rather give him a look now while the year is lost anyways (get your surgery already, Vanimal!) to see if maybe it can play. If not, what have we lost? But there’s the reasoning behind it.

  14. LTG

    August 22, 2012 09:33 AM

    Thanks, Dan. This is very helpful. And I’m with you on Worley. Does keeping the over .500 streak alive mean that much to the FO? Is Worley even able to help that cause anymore?

  15. Phillie697

    August 22, 2012 01:03 PM

    All of that is well and good, and I won’t espouse my belief for or against any of those “reasons,” except to say that they are imo irrelevant. There is nowhere for Cloyd to go. We either give him a shot or basically we declare that he’s not worthy of MLB. Yes, we would be declaring that a guy who currently sports a 2.27 ERA in AAA is unworthy of MLB before we even give him a try. Again, which part doesn’t boggle your mind?

  16. LTG

    August 22, 2012 01:43 PM

    Dude, he could start out in the pen and get spot starts before being thrown into the rotation. And I’m sure he’ll get a look in September and then again in spring training. All the other claims about his ability are 1) to quiet the hype because he isn’t the next Hamels and 2) express an expectation for how his try-out will go. In other words, consider me unboggled.

  17. Phillie697

    August 22, 2012 03:40 PM

    @LTG, I just don’t trust RAJ and Cholly. That’s why I’m ranting.

  18. BobSmith75

    August 22, 2012 03:54 PM

    “Had they played Dom the last two years, gave him a proper chance, and he ended up sucking with a OPS of .700? We would have lost nothing and gained the knowledge that, “oh well, he’s not that good. Let’s move on.” Instead, two years later, we’re STILL wondering if he’s good or not, all the while having gained nothing by having him rot in AAA, and he’s now 2 years older. There are words to describe people who think they have a good thing but are afraid to take steps to verify whether they are right or not; the word “coward” comes to mind at the moment.”

    Phillies did play his last for 56 G and he Brown didn’t produce adequately. This also wasn’t a rebuilding team last year either. Brown will have had plenty of chances this year to succeed.

    Maybe the Phils have mishandled Brown’s development in the past but they haven’t this year and this suggestion that he should have been the starter in LF/RF ‘just because’ is kind of a foolish notion. Brown is getting his chance now and will have had 1/2 a season of playing regularly to show something.

  19. LTG

    August 22, 2012 03:57 PM

    Brown should have been the starting LF over Ibanez. His hitting stats were better than Ibanez’s and even his fielding was better. Brown would have been better to have on that winning team.

  20. Phillie697

    August 22, 2012 04:26 PM

    @BobSmith75,

    Apparently 1/2 season is enough for you to find out if a player is good. Dom Brown last season had a .322 wOBA, which is actually not too bad, even tho we famously jerked him around. Do you know who else had similar numbers for two years but his team kept playing him? Jay Bruce (first two year, wOBA of .328 and .329, respectively). Don’t know about you, but I would love me a Jay Bruce on the Phillies right now.

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