Is Kyle Kendrick…Good?

Kyle Kendrick has long been my whipping boy, a figure I lash out at and burn in effigy with tongue aflame at every misstep, my reluctance to praise him a difficult thing to overcome. And yet, here we are at the onset of September and I can no longer stifle the plaudits Kendrick is due.

We’ll start in July. Kendrick entered the month with a 5.35 ERA on the heels of allowing five ER in seven innings to the Pirates in a 5-4 loss, his record tumbling to 2-8 and his OPS allowed standing at .857. It wasn’t looking pretty, and it didn’t help that the team was only at the beginning of a 1-11 stretch that, at its conclusion, would push the Phils into last place by five games, 15 behind the first-place Nationals. A perfect storm, and Kendrick was my eye wall.

But things have changed since the calendar flipped to July, and Kendrick is a new man. At least, he’s putting on a good show.

IP ERA K/9 BB/9 HR/9 Opp. OPS
Through June 30 74.0 5.35 6.32 3.53 1.22 .857
Since July 1 51.2 2.09 6.66 2.10 0.88 .585

Samples are a bit disparate and a little too small to be anything but “intriguing,” but I think that’s just what they are: intriguing. The slight uptick in K rate is too small to be of note, but the walks have taken a 40-percent drop and the balls have been staying in the yard a fair bit more, as well.

The obvious question then becomes: why? What’s driving the longest sustained run of success in Kyle Kendrick’s six-year – yes, we’re up to six now – Major League career? The expected first turn would be to BABIP where, likely to no surprise, there’s an enormous difference when separating Kendrick’s season into the two time periods above.

Through June 30, Kendrick allowed a .332 BABIP. Since? .230. A full one hundred-point drop and spare change will make anyone look better. But is there more to it? After all, BABIP doesn’t account for home runs, and there’s been a drop there, too, as we see in the table above.

We’ll start by taking a closer look at Kendrick against left-handed batters, his arch-nemeses. For his career, lefties have tuned KK up to a .297/.367/.495 line, essentially a less powerful version of 2012 Robinson Cano. Since that magical July transition, though, catch this: lefties have hit just .183/.232/.301, with two homers in 99 plate appearances. That’s more like Jordan Zimmermann at the plate. Yep, the pitcher.

A big reason why could be a total overhaul in pitch selection.

Change% Cutter% 2-Seamer% Whiff% Strike% Chase%
Through June 30 20.3 32.4 35.4 17.3 59.4 29.3
Since July 1 36.1 11.9 51.1 24.9 65.1 37.4

In terms of total pitches, we’re comparing 667 total pitches (top) with 364 (bottom), so again, disparity is worth considering, but there are major changes here. Kendrick has eschewed the cutter is favor of change-ups and sinkers, which is natural given that the movement of those pitches from a right-handed pitcher will pull them away from a left-handed batter.

And, wouldn’t you know it, it’s working like a charm. Kendrick is placing more of those pitches in the zone and catching corners (45.5 percent with sinkers and change-ups as opposed to 36.7 percent pre-July), walking fewer batters and permitting just a .471 OPS with that combined arsenal. Kendrick has not been and will not ever be a flamethrower; he needs movement and secondary stuff to limit damage and compensate for the extra three-plus MPH his fastball does not have.

The GB/FB ratio has actually been flipped in this instance – Kendrick has allowed more fly balls than ground balls on sinkers/change-ups since the start of July, as opposed to the inverse before – but the HR/FB percentage has dipped from 6.5 percent to 3.6, and the well-hit average of those pitches has also fallen from .290 to .250, a more comfortable level.

In truth, just like with all pitchers who lean on deception and defense to help them get by, there is some smoke-and-mirroring going on here. I don’t believe Kendrick has unlocked a breakthrough that will make him a bargain at $4.5 million next season, but I do think this change in approach will yield better results moving forward, even if they won’t always be quite this good. He’s adapting (or trying to), if absolutely nothing else.

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  1. Keith

    September 05, 2012 10:25 AM

    Kyle Kendrick… The “new” Joe Blanton of the Phillies. That’s not meant to be so much of an insult as it is a tiny prayer that he can be consistent.

    Blanton, despite lack luster numbers was at least consistent. You could always expect him to give up 2-4 runs an outing, but he got the job done. Had some stellar performances, had some disasters, but all in all a decent man to throw out there for your 4th or 5th option.

    If Kendrick can just “get the job done” as he’s been able to do in the latter half of the season, then I think we can tolerate him in the back half of the rotation.

  2. pedro3131

    September 05, 2012 10:29 AM

    So I make a little old comment at the back end of the comments section of the kk contract thread and am met with disbelief, and now you’re all seeing the light.

    Do you see this as sustainable even given the context that we saw a similar trend, with a similar sample size, and based off a similar theory (new pitches being used) at the end of last year?

  3. Phillie697

    September 05, 2012 11:18 AM

    pedro3131’s comment, in Feb. 2012:

    “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”

    This is the danger of trusting two months of data and suggesting that someone has “turned the corner.” KK did this last year, and as April-June amply demonstrated, it was not sustainable, and he is not that good.

  4. Richard

    September 05, 2012 09:50 PM

    “as April-June amply demonstrated, it was not sustainable, and he is not that good.”

    April-June didn’t “amply demonstrate” that at all. He had a very ill-defined role, bouncing back and forth.

    All signs point to a pitcher making adjustments, trying to be better. And he’s had some longer stretches of sustained success than he’d had before. It might help him to not be jerked around a lot.

    It helps, also, to occasionally be charitable. As Paul says: “He’s adapting (or trying to), if absolutely nothing else.”

    Obviously, he’s not going to maintain his extremely low BABIP. But, fact is, you don’t know whether he’s figured out some things, if he can sustain his higher K rate, etc.

  5. Phillie697

    September 06, 2012 01:52 PM

    I do know he hasn’t been a good pitcher historically, and that’s not based on any “faith” or lack thereof. That’s fact.

  6. pedro3131

    September 06, 2012 08:06 PM

    The reason I’m not sold is he demonstrated a similar uptick at the end of last year, duping me into thinking he could potentially justify his contract. However, then he pitched the first half of the year. He lost my faith during the Dbacks game he pitched where he got torched by a team that was struggling with their hitting at the time.

  7. Pablo Roberts

    April 05, 2013 05:42 PM

    Really! He is still a starting pitcher? Must have photos of upper management in comprised positions.

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