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The New and Improved Kyle Kendrick

Posted By Bill Baer On April 29, 2013 @ 8:43 am In MLB,Philadelphia Phillies,Sabermetrics | 23 Comments

You ask, I deliver. Commenter JRFarmer posted this:

Any chance we can get a Kyle Kendrick analysis article? Obviously, his results are exceptional, but how do his advanced stats look (retro-dictors, etc)? Is it sustainable?

I’d actually like to make it even broader to address what changed last year, as 2012 was a tale of two seasons for KK. In the first half, he was shuffled back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen. He had some crummy starts and he had some decent starts, typical Kendrick fare. He then went the entire month of July without giving up a single run, pitching out of the bullpen in seven of his eight appearances. Through August 8, he had a 4.86 ERA. In his next two starts, he would shut out the Marlins over seven innings and the Brewers over eight, both starts on the road. Between that Marlins start and the end of the season, Kendrick posted a 2.43 ERA in 63 innings.

It was after the Marlins start we found out Kendrick had been counseled by just about all of the trusted authorities in his life: manager Charlie Manuel, pitching coach Rich Dubee, and his father. Kendrick said:

“Sometimes I overthink stuff or get cutter-happy,” Kendrick said when asked about his inconsistency. “Last game I threw 30 cutters; that’s not me. Dubee and I talked about going with who I am, being who I am.

“When I have success I’m doing what I did tonight: Just sinker, pound the sinker, throw changeups and get early contact. I threw four cutters tonight; that’s who I am.”

Paul Boye wrote about this last year as well. He chose to draw the line at July 1, but I would even go as far as that Marlins start. Boye showed that Kendrick’s ability to generate swings and misses boomed as a result of cutting down his reliance on his cut fastball while increasing the use of his change-up and two-seam fastball.

Via Brooks Baseball, here is the breakdown of Kendrick’s pitch selection by year:

 

Due to MLBAM’s pitch classification system, you can consider “FC” (“fastball – cut”), and in Kendrick’s case, “SL” (“slider”) to be the same. You can see he had never used it more than in 2010-11, and it has declined fast in 2012-13. Meanwhile, his sinker usage is back up.

From the beginning of 2009 through August 3 last year, Kendrick threw 962 sliders/cutters to left-handed hitters out of 3,271 total pitches to lefties (29 percent) against which they posted a .375 wOBA. To put that in perspective, David Wright and Joe Mauer finished 2012 with a .376 wOBA. Since then, he has thrown 84 sliders/cutters to lefties out of 736 total pitches (11 percent), against which they have posted a .340 wOBA (2012 comp: A.J. Ellis, .341).

Instead of throwing cutters, Kendrick has thrown more change-ups. In the first sample, Kendrick threw 615 change-ups to lefties (19 percent) and allowed a .319 wOBA. In the second sample, Kendrick has thrown 236 change-ups to lefties (32 percent) for a .264 wOBA.

Lefties were always Kendrick’s biggest issue, which is why I suggested the Phillies use him as a ROOGY (right-hanted, one-out guy) in previous years. But look at how his xFIP against them has improved substantially:

xFIP PA vs. L
2007 5.23 247
2008 5.76 376
2009 5.14 54
2010 5.22 383
2011 5.17 216
2012 4.64 336
2013 4.06 68

His strikeout rate against lefties has gone from seven percent in 2007 to 17 percent between 2012-13. You can also see that, of the few cutters Kendrick still throws, his placement has changed as well. He is, for the most part, away from the middle of the plate.

Right now, Kendrick has a 2.41 ERA on the season. Obviously, that’s not sustainable over a full season. He does, however, have a 3.50 xFIP and 3.89 SIERA, which are very realistic for a pitcher with a three-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio and without as much of a drastic platoon split. If Kendrick were to finish with an ERA in the 3.75 area, that would not be surprising in the least based on information we know now.


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