Kyle Kendrick Has Had Some First-Inning Issues

Jayson Werth‘s three-run home run in the first inning off of Kyle Kendrick in Sunday’s first-half finale was about the most predictable thing that could have happened. Kendrick entered the game having allowed 21 earned runs in 18 first innings. At the end of the first ion Sunday, his opening frame ERA was an ugly 11.37. Kendrick blanked the Nationals over the next four innings, then allowed one more run in the sixth before leaving with two outs. Mario Hollands later allowed one of Kendrick’s inherited runners to score, giving Kendrick a line of five earned runs allowed in 5 2/3 innings.

In the first inning this year, hitters have posted a .460 weighted on-base average against Kendrick. In all other innings, they’re hitting .288. To give you an idea of the difference, the MLB leader in wOBA so far is Troy Tulowitzki at .448; Gerardo Parra, Alejandro De Aza, and Allen Craig can be found at .289. It’s night and day.

Why does Kendrick struggle so much in the first inning? Looking at his peripherals in the first inning compared to the rest of the game, there isn’t much of a difference. There’s only a small percentage difference — enough to be explained by simple statistical variation — in pitch locations and his ability to miss bats, generally speaking. His velocity hasn’t been noticeably lower, and his pitch mix is roughly the same. He induces ground balls at nearly the same exact rate in both splits as well, and faces left- and right-handed hitters at nearly the same ratios.

Location Up Mid Down In Mid Away
1st Inning 19.4% 35.3% 45.3% 33.1% 23.4% 43.4%
Other Innings 22.5% 33.5% 44.1% 29.9% 23.6% 46.5%

 

Pitch Type Sinker Cutter Change-up Slider
1st Inning 47.2% 20.5% 20.5% 7.3%
Other Innings 45.7% 25.3% 19.3% 7.1%

 

Batters Swing Miss In Play Zone Chase
1st Inning 42.3% 17.8% 47.8% 44.5% 27.7%
Other Innings 47.3% 19.1% 46.8% 48.8% 29.4%

Kendrick has a .397 BABIP in the first inning and .278 the rest of the game. His career average is .294, and it’s .302 overall for the season. Considering that Kendrick almost always faces the opposing team’s best hitters in the first inning, it would make sense that his stats would skew unfavorably in the opening frame compared to the rest of the game. National League pitchers overall have a 4.20 ERA in the first inning, the worst of any inning, just ahead of the fourth (4.17). Kendrick has also allowed seven of his 15 home runs in the first inning, following the trend of pitchers at large.

While Kendrick’s early-game struggles are fascinating and appear to be an outlier, it doesn’t seem to be anything more than a fluke. If Kendrick really did have some kind of issue starting off a ballgame, we would see a difference in the first inning compared to all other innings. It could have been that Kendrick has trouble getting a feel for his fastball early on, or he’s over the middle of the plate much more often, or that he can’t induce as many swings and misses. But there is almost no difference in his performance during and after the first inning. Considering the trend of the league, and the fact that his BABIP is so much higher, it seems like we can chalk this case up to randomness. Don’t forget, while Kendrick has made 19 starts this season, his first-inning performance constitutes a sample of only 19 innings, so a lot can happen without any real reason other than RNG.

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10 comments

  1. edwin

    July 14, 2014 07:39 AM

    Bill, Outlier or not, perhaps he just doesn’t have what it takes mentally to be a major league pitcher in a starting rotation. You can throw all the stats around you want but without the mental aspect, which I have always believed he lacked, he is not much more than a AAA pitcher who has stayed in the rotation for far too long. He just doesn’t have what it takes and looks completely lost without any possibility of being found.

    • Bill Baer

      July 14, 2014 08:05 AM

      He’s not great by any means, but his ability to stay healthy and eat up innings does have value. Since 2007, only 94 pitchers have logged at least 750 innings and posted an adjusted ERA better than Kendrick’s 92. If you distribute them evenly among 30 teams, that’s around a middle-rotation guy.

      Kendrick shouldn’t have been given $7.5 million for 2012-13 nor $7.675 for this season, but don’t let that color your perception of his value.

      As to the mental aspect, I reject any armchair psychoanalysis.

      • tom b

        July 14, 2014 12:07 PM

        i think kendrick gives you everything he has to give, i agree,he’s average to a little below average at best. the problem is giving that much money to that kind of pitcher. buchanan and pettibone both gave a fair facsimile of kendrick and there are plenty of other options.

      • Pencilfish

        July 14, 2014 01:35 PM

        Not sure why you take issue with KK’s contract last year and this year. You consider them excessive overpay?

        Arroyo got 2yr/23.5M, Feldman got 3yr/30M, Colon got 2yr/20M, Haren got 1yr/10M, Kazmir got 2yr/22M, etc Perhaps it is the dearth of quality SP that drives GM’s to offer these deals for back-end SP’s or maybe it is simply the natural evolution of the market. 1/yr7.6M is excessive to ordinary people, but by MLB standards, this is not outlandish.

      • Chris S.

        July 14, 2014 04:18 PM

        @Pencilfish just a heads up Kazmir has been fantastic this year and should not be included in your list. He pitched well last year as his xFIP indicates he should have been at an ERA of 3.36 and his FIP was 3.51. This year he has an xFIP of 3.36 and an FIP of 3.20 while being worth 2.3 fWAR.

  2. Ryan

    July 14, 2014 09:37 AM

    You’d be crying small sample size if he was a reliever. 18 innings–a total of three starts for him–is nearly nothing statistically.

  3. ishouldhavetookstats

    July 14, 2014 02:22 PM

    Not sure if this is statistically significant, but the chart does show about 5% difference in the Up & Middle locations during the 1st inning. 5% to the top of the line up seems to be a lot? Just as an observer, that 5% might have more significance than just 5%, as it clearly does seem like KK is much more “all over the place” in the 1st – meaning he is Up & Middle by mistake, whereas later in the game, he goes Up & Middle on purpose or as part of a miss preceded by a better sequence.

    Here’s a good article discussing pitching in general & sequencing (it’s a bit Malcom Gladwell in that it takes obvious, intuitive concepts & dresses them up with new buzz words & charts and sold as snake oil, but still informative): www.sbnation.com/longform/2014/6/18/5818380/effective-velocity-pitching-theory-profile-perry-husband

    • WayneKerrins

      July 14, 2014 08:06 PM

      Decent read thanks for sharing.

  4. Francisco (FC)

    July 14, 2014 09:12 PM

    Kyle Kendrick Has Had Some First-Inning Issues

    Saying KK has had some first-inning issues is like saying Chernobyl had some radiation issues.

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