Who is the real Ian Kennedy???
Is it the dominating pitcher who tore up the National League in 2010-2011, posting an incredible 21-4 record with a 2.88 ERA? That Ian Kennedy featured a fastball that he could paint the corners at-will with and a change-up that was devastating. The season resulted in Kennedy finishing 4th in the National League Cy Young voting and 14th in the National League MVP voting.
Or is it the pitcher who threw in the 2011-2012 season for the D’backs? That Ian Kennedy lost some zip on his fastball, watched his movement on his pitches disappear, and was mediocre when his team needed him the most. The season resulted in Kennedy finishing 15-12 with a 4.02 ERA, six wins less and more than a run higher when it came to his ERA.
For the Arizona Diamondbacks to get to where they want to get to (NL West Champions, MLB Playoffs), the Ian Kennedy that is closer to the guy from the 2010-11 season needs to return. He doesn’t have to win 20 games, but he can’t lose 12. He doesn’t have to have a 2.88 ERA, but it can’t be over 4. If Kennedy is going to be the ace of this staff, the guy that manager Kirk Gibson throws out to win the toughest games the D’backs will play this year, he will have to go back to the shop to fix what failed for him last season, his control.
The stat that I focus on is WHIP (Walks/Hits per innings pitched). Last season, Kennedy’s WHIP went up .3 of one percentage point, a significant gain in WHIP for one season. He walked the same amount of hitters as he did the previous season, but he hit five more batters and he wasn’t as pinpoint with his control in the zone. More of his pitches saw more of the plate and consequently more hitters put the ball in play resulting in more base hits. He gave up 30 more hits in 2011-12, then he did the previous season. That led to him giving up 22 more earned runs as well. When you add in that he gave up 9 more home runs, you understand why his record was worse and the D’backs struggled.
Now, these might not seem like huge increases. But, when you are the ace of a staff, you match up against the aces of other staffs. These are studs in their own right and in our division, you have some of the National League’s best (Matt Cain, Clayton Kershaw, etc.). The margin for error in these games is so razor thin, that even the slightest of mistakes can cost your team the victory. The pitch that is three more inches over the heart of the plate than you wanted results in a double in the gap that costs you two runs versus a knubber off the end of the bat, etc.
In a division race that is going to be contested furiously throughout the season, Kennedy will need to be better. My fear is that we will be lucky to see a Kennedy that is somewhere in between the numbers he posted in 2010-11 and 2011-12. If he is able to post numbers near his career averages (14-9, 3.76 ERA per 162 game season), some would be disappointed. I, for one, would be happy. I think this is the type of pitcher Ian Kennedy is and we as D’backs fans will need some help from further down the rotation to get us to our goals this season.