Investigating Kyle Kendrick’s Woes and His Future

Through his 16th start on June 25, Kyle Kendrick had a 3.46 ERA. We were singing his praises as a much-improved pitcher and a sneakily-good signing by GM Ruben Amaro when he got the right-hander to agree to a two-year, $7.5 million deal in February 2012 to avoid arbitration. Since then, Kendrick has turned into a tire fire, allowing four or more earned runs in five of seven starts since. Over his most recent 37 and two-thirds innings, his ERA is an ugly 6.93.

Is Kendrick back to being the guy we knew in the first half of the 2012 season? For one, his strikeouts are down — he has struck out just 18 of 177 batters (10%), well below the career-high 17 percent he struck out last season. Thankfully, the walks are low as well (4.5%). He is allowing more home runs as a percentage of fly balls in this recent sample (12% to 9%), but it isn’t enough to be worrisome.

The more telling stat is that Kendrick has had a .350 BABIP over his last seven starts compared to .272 in his first 16 starts. The damage has come, for the most part, from right-handed hitters:

  • First 16 starts vs. RHP: .291 BABIP, 14% whiff rate, .105 ISO
  • Most recent 7 starts vs. RHP: .393 BABIP, 13% whiff rate, .184 ISO

Dividing up the seven-start sample further, let’s look at fastballs against “soft” stuff:

  • RHB vs. fastballs: 292 pitches, .381 BABIP, 5% whiff rate, .103 ISO
  • RHB vs. “soft” stuff): 117 pitches, .429 BABIP, 29% whiff rate, .367 ISO

Here’s a look at where those pitches were located before and after:

With his fastballs, Kendrick has thrown seven percent more in the vertical middle of the plate (36% to 43%) with a six percent reduction in pitches down (40% to 34%). Ten percent more pitches are inside (21% to 31%), consequently ten percent fewer pitches are away (56% to 46%).

Vertically, there are almost no noticeable differences in location. However, ten percent more pitches are inside (32% to 42%), four percent more pitches are over the middle of the plate (30% to 34%) and 13 percent fewer pitches are away (37% to 24%).

It looks like mostly a command issue for Kendrick. Lately, he has too frequently been hanging out in the hitter-friendly part of the strike zone, which has led to the reduction in swings and misses on fastballs and the tremendous change in fortune on balls in play. His BABIP will certainly regress from where it has been since the end of June, but he has made his own luck with some poor performances. As his performance on July 11 showed (7 IP, 1 ER against the Nationals), he can still bring it on any given night like we got used to seeing towards the end of last season and the beginning of this season.

Kendrick’s inconsistency does bring up an interesting question GM Ruben Amaro will need to ask himself after the season: will it be worth tendering Kendrick a contract for the 2014 season? The right-hander, who turns 29 in less than three weeks, will enter his fourth and final year of arbitration eligibility. He is earning $4.5 million this season and will certainly be awarded a significant increase in salary should the case go all the way to arbitration, likely in the neighborhood of $6-7 million, which would pay him like a 1-1.5 WAR player. Baseball Reference listed him at 1.6 WAR prior to last night’s start and he has been worth 1.8 and 1.5 WAR in the previous two seasons as well.

The Phillies, though, could complete their starting rotation without him in 2014. With Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee at the top, the Phillies could tender John Lannan a contract in his fourth and final year of arbitration, in which he would command about half the salary of Kendrick, having earned $2.5 million this season. After Lannan, Jonathan Pettibone could slot in at #4. The Phillies could sign a free agent to round out the rotation, or they could audition Ethan Martin and Adam Morgan in spring training.

One benefit to tendering Kendrick a contract would be that he could use the first half of the season to build up his trade value. After the All-Star break, assuming the Phillies are not in the race, the Phillies could ship him to a contending team and get a useful player or two. In fact, the Phillies could even pursue a trade during the off-season assuming they get his contract situation patched up early. Kendrick, as opposed to someone expensive like Lee, will almost always have more value to another team than he does to the Phillies, so his time with the organization should be drawing near.

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  1. yo

    August 07, 2013 08:08 AM

    Although there are now questions re: the signing, doesn’t MAG’s status an important consideration?

  2. Brian

    August 07, 2013 08:32 AM

    I can give him a pass on the last two starts. One was the day after his kid was born, and last night, he looked like a guy with a newborn – unshaven, easy distracted (staring at the broken bat).

  3. yo

    August 07, 2013 08:40 AM

    Bill, that’s what I’m referring to. I suspect that situation (and Halladay’s situation) will have a lot to do with the decision on KK.

  4. Matt

    August 07, 2013 10:51 AM

    What about Gonzalez, the pitcher we signed from Cuba? Also, is there any chance that we sign Halladay to an incentives-laden contract this offseason?

  5. Pencilfish

    August 07, 2013 11:01 AM

    With Lee and Hamels taking up two spots in the rotation, there are 7 possible candidates for the next three spots: Halladay, Kendrick, Lannan, Petitbone, Martin, Cloyd and Gonzalez (if he’s signed). If the Phillies keep 5 of them in the 40-man roster and then trade one or two. It has been pointed out the Phillies have an abundance of back-of-the-rotation starters. Why not use some as trade chips to address shortcomings in the BP?

  6. Scott G

    August 07, 2013 11:35 AM

    I mean, back-of-the-rotation starters probably wouldn’t bring back any more than a BP arm, but BP should be at the end of the list of Phillies concerns (as has been pointed out here several times).

    The offense and starters are more important pieces to the puzzle. The starters pitch considerably more innings than relievers, and the relievers are only relevant if the hitters can score enough runs while the starters prevent enough runs. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter if the BP is capable of holding leads that don’t exist (due to pitching or hitting) or if they can’t keep games close (if the hitters can’t produce).

    It’s almost as if concentrating on filling the bullpen should be considered a luxury once the other holes are adequately filled.

  7. Tim

    August 07, 2013 12:01 PM

    What was odd about the MAG deal is that the Phillies already had plenty of options for middle of the rotation starters. Kendrick and Lannan will be signed (unless injured in the next two months) at around 6-7m and 4-5m, respectively, to avoid arbitration. Pettibone, who is pre-arbitration, is a viable option for fifth starter. Roy Halladay could be re-signed to a one-year deal for less than 10m (perhaps as few as 5m) in an incentivized deal. Paying MAG around 8m seemed redundant, unless they are serious about trading Lee or non-tendering Kendrick, Lannan or both.

  8. Pencilfish

    August 07, 2013 09:04 PM

    Scott G,

    The starters are basically set. What you see is what you get. The Phillies might trade or non-tender KK or Lannan and go after a FA like Garza, but no seismic changes will occur there. The offense is set at 1B, 2B, SS, CF and LF. Asche and Ruf probably are in the mix for 3B and RF, but we don’t know what will happen to Ruiz. Who do you think will be available in 2014 and the Phillies should pursue?

    You are an optimist if you think trading back-end starters will net the Phillies a difference-maker at C, 3B or RF. Getting those BP pieces is more realistic.

  9. Pencilfish

    August 07, 2013 09:17 PM

    Scott G,

    “the relievers are only relevant if the hitters can score enough runs while the starters prevent enough runs”

    Perfect example tonight. Top of the 9th, game tied 2-2, 2 on and 2 outs. Charlie brings De Fratus to face the Cubs’ 3B, after Garcia walks 3 batters in one inning. De Fratus pumps 5 fastballs at 93-94 mph. The batter catches up to the last one on a 3-1 count, and he crushes it. Game over.

    Your statement above is mostly correct, but you forgot good BP arms can also keep the game close for your offense. The current BP throws gas on the fire instead of putting it out. Why bother have good starting pitching then?

  10. Scott G

    August 08, 2013 08:22 AM

    I discussed the “keeping the game close”. The Phillies offense scored 2 runs all game. They were the reason the Phillies lost. Not the bullpen. You’re pointing the finger at DeFratus when the finger should probably be pointed at Garcia and Manuel. Garcia walked 3 consecutive batters. Manuel used Garcia in a tied game.

    The Phillies weren’t going to win that game at any point once Hamels left and the offense only scored 2 runs.

    Obviously every team’s bullpen is going to lose games at some point, but your “the bullpen keeps the game close for your offense” statement kind of proves my point. The offense has to be capable of saving the team/game for the bullpen’s “keeping the game close” to be relevant.

  11. Pencilfish

    August 08, 2013 10:09 AM

    I am pointing the finger at the entire BP. Garcia walked 3 batters, but he didn’t throw the meatball that landed in the stands.

    “The Phillies weren’t going to win that game at any point once Hamels left and the offense only scored 2 runs.”

    No one knows what would had happened in the bottom of the 9th or in extra innings. To pretend otherwise is pointless. Every BP loses games at some point, but the Phillies BP is among the worst in MLB. What is the point of having good starting pitching if you don’t have at least an average BP?

    But suppose I agree with your statement in its entirety. Who would you bring to the roster in 2014 to fix the offensive issues you think need to be addressed? Find a C, RF and 3B that fix the lefty-heavy lineup, the low OBP, OPS, RS and poor situational hitting. The lineup must be capable of overcoming a BP with an ERA north of 5.00.

  12. Scott G

    August 08, 2013 05:12 PM

    Sorry pencil, pretty busy at work. I’ll gladly offer what I think should happen, but I don’t think it’s fair for me to have to fix things I probably wouldn’t have put into place in the first place

  13. Pencilfish

    August 08, 2013 09:53 PM

    Scott G,

    Fair enough, but I’m just pointing out that trading guys like the Youngs, Ruiz, back-end SP, etc will only get us fringe guys. If that’s the case, then let’s pick up some BP arms. Fixing the offense will be much more difficult, because good RH bats for C and RH won’t be easy (or cheap) to sign or trade for. A lot also depends on answering the following questions:

    a) are Ruf and Asche for real?
    b) will Doc be back?
    c) is the pre-2012 Howard gone forever?
    d) can Revere be replicate his pre-injury performance consistently?

  14. Philip Evans

    August 08, 2013 11:28 PM

    The work he devoted to the development of a changeup, cutter and slider from 2009 through ’11 paid off in a big way last season as his strikeout rate jumped from a career average of 4.1 Ks per nine innings to 6.6 K/9 without a sizable increase in his other rate stats. He appeared in 37 games, 25 as a starter, logging 159 1/3 innings and going 11-12 with a 3.90 ERA. Kendrick allowed an extra-base hit in a career-low 8.3 percent of his plate appearances. He threw strikes and generated swings-and-misses at the highest rate of his career, which helped him hold lefties to a .701 OPS that was 148 points better than his career average.

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