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.