Ian Kennedy didn’t exactly come from out of nowhere in 2011. When you’re a top prospect of the Yankees farm system it’s nearly impossible to slip under the radar.
After failing to develop as quickly as they hoped–and deciding that center fielder Curtis Granderson was a must have–the Yankees dealt Kennedy from the Big Apple in a 2009 three team trade which also saw the Diamondbacks deal young pitchers Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth. The D-backs also acquired the well-traveled Edwin Jackson from the Detroit Tigers in the megadeal that today looks pretty good for all three teams that were involved. Even without the enormous expectations that would have surrounded him in New York, Kennedy endured a mediocre 2010 which saw him continue to battle his career long control problems. Kennedy appeared to be headed for a bottom of the rotation role with the Diamondbacks. He was looking like simply an innings filler who fans would hope could produce a .500 record and 4-ish ERA. After the 2010 season, the deal looked especially dire for the Diamondbacks since Max Scherzer looked like he’d be a fine #2 in Detroit and Daniel Schlereth was becoming a mainstay in the Tigers bullpen.
Everything changed in 2011. Thanks to the ability that rookie manager Kirk Gibson saw in him despite his limited production, Gibson pegged Kennedy as the opening day starter. He rewarded Gibby’s trust in a big way–he bounced back in 2011 to the tune of a 21-4 record and a 2.88 ERA. As Scherzer and Schlereth slipped a bit in Detroit, Kennedy’s monster 2011 went relatively unnoticed thanks to the Clayton Kershaws and Justin Verlanders of the world who caught all of the national attention.
The biggest reason for Kennedy’s success in 2011 was his focus on improving his control. Kennedy decreased his walk totals from 70 to 55 despite pitching 28 more innings in 2011 (194-222). As a result his WHIP dived from 1.20 in 2010 to 1.09 in 2011 and his strikeout total jumped to a career best 8.03 per 9 innings, despite not being known as power pitcher. Kennedy doesn’t blow batters away, he’s at his best when using pinpoint control and a solid game plan to keep opposing hitters off balance. Despite all of his improvements, Kennedy finds himself at a crossroads in 2012. No longer under the radar, will Kennedy be able to deliver another outstanding season now that he’s in the spotlight?
Perhaps the biggest question entering the 2012 season is who is the real Ian Kennedy? Is he the one-time top prospect who mowed through the NL in 2011, or does he revert to his 2008-2010 self. A pitcher who got himself in trouble with control issues and didn’t have a 95 MPH fastball to bail him out when needed. Listening to Kennedy, Gibson and the rest of the organization, there seems to be no doubt who the 2012 Kennedy will be.
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