The Mystery of Ian Kennedy
By Noah Dougherty
Great quote taken from Mark Grace in the post-game show following last night’s loss:
“…all players get nervous…but it’s the great ones that turn their nervousness into excitement…while the good players can turn nervousness into fear.”
Let’s agree Ian Kennedy pitches poorly against the Brewers. He’s now given up ten earned runs in his last 18 1/3 innings against the team. He’s given up three homeruns and recorded five walks as well as five hit batsmen. Yes, five. All uncharacteristic of the Diamondbacks ace but safe to say the Brew crew has Kennedy’s number. Unfortunately for the team, he has pitched average or worse nearly all year-against all opponents. So we have to ask: Will the real Ian Kennedy please stand up?
After seemingly starting the year on cruise control in April and winning his first three decisions, Kennedy hasn’t been able to post a win since. He sits at 3-5 with a lousy 4.65 ERA. His ERA in May sits at 6.00. He has already lost more games in 2012 than he lost in 33 starts in 2011 on his way to a 21-4 Cy Young caliber season.
We can all agree that sometimes the win-loss record of a pitcher is not a true measure of how a pitcher is actually performing. Tim Lincecum was just 13-14 in 2011 but posted an excellent ERA of 2.74 on the year. You can’t win games if your offense doesn’t score runs. This has been a recurring problem for Kennedy and the offense thus far in his disappointing season. During his five game skid he has had- in order- 1, 1, 1, 3 (all scored after he left game), and 1 run scored during his starts. That’s a total of 7 runs scored in five games. Not exactly the easiest thing pitching from behind in nearly all of your starts. For a pitcher struggling to gain confidence on the mound, it makes it all the more difficult if you think a 2-0 deficit is more than your offense can overcome.
Speaking of pitching from behind- nearly all of the damage done against Kennedy this year has come when he falls behind in the count. Of the 32 earned runs he’s allowed so far, 19 of those have come while pitching from behind. That’s in just 12 2/3 innings. If you do the math, that’s an ERA of 13.50. He’s given up seven of his nine homeruns working from behind and walked 16 batters. Comparatively, in 2011 Kennedy gave up 29 earned runs in 51 1/3 innings when pitching from behind.
Getting behind in the count has been a consistent problem for the ace this year and that has translated into more runs given up earlier in the game. Of his 10 starts, he has given up at least one run in the first or second innings in eight starts. Five times he’s been tagged for a run in the first inning. So while it is difficult for a pitcher to win games without runs being scored, on the other hand it’s not doing any favors when the offense is always trying to battle back from early runs given up by a starting pitcher.
So what is the problem? Gibson had this to say after Kennedy’s poor performance last night against the Brewer’s: “He hasn’t been able to locate the ball, I don’t think he’s locating the ball down as well as he needs to do. He’s not able to throw his secondary pitches for strikes like he did. He’s close, just not able to get much elevation in his pitches.” This would explain the rise in homeruns allowed for Kennedy as well as his tendency to give up early runs. Kennedy says he feels as though nothing has changed from his delivery last season, his velocity hasn’t changed much at all and sometimes a pitcher just has a rough stretch.
The great pitchers learn from these rough patches and come out stronger on the other end. The average ones endure extended stretches without success before hopefully salvaging their career or maybe just fading away. Whatever it is, the Diamondbacks need their ace to figure out the mystery of why he isn’t pitching effectively soon. The team and Kennedy himself will know in the next couple months whether or not they have a great pitcher or just an average pitcher. Let’s hope it’s the former.