Monday, January 24, 2011

Ian Patrick Productive

By the time Ian Kennedy burst onto the scene for the Yankees at the end of the 2007 season, there was quite a bit of hype building around him. He was just two years removed from winning College Pitcher of the Year while a sophomore at USC in 2005. He was a first-round draft pick by the Yankees after his junior year in 2006. In his first full professional season in 2007, he blew through the three highest levels of the minors by amassing a 1.91 ERA in 146.1 innings. That earned him a call up to the big league club in early September, who had a need with Mike Mussina struggling. He made three starts and pitched to a 1.89 ERA, allowing only 13 hits in 19 innings. A small sample for sure, but in conjunction with all of the other good that had taken place in his career over the prior three years, having that kind of early Major League success made things look really good for Kennedy. That only continued at season’s end, when he was named Minor League Pitcher of the Year. It looked like he would have a spot in New York’s rotation to open 2008.

All of this gave Yankees’ fans a lot to be excited about. Kennedy was only 22 and had already achieved a high level of accomplishment. At 23 years old when 2008 started, there were sure to be some growing pains, but it seemed like Kennedy had the tools to succeed. He didn’t have overpowering stuff but had gotten overpowering results at virtually every stop in his career thanks to pinpoint control, a filthy changeup, and good pitchability. His control style was a nice balance to the other two phenom prospects on the Yankees at the time, the power-pitching Chamberlain and the all-around Hughes. The excitement surrounding Kennedy was high, and he had already been nicknamed IPK in many circles, short for Ian Patrick Kennedy. This of course has been the subject of much attention on this blog ever since.

A big reason for that is that pretty much everything from that point forward with the Yankees went wrong for Kennedy in a baseball sense. He made 9 starts at the beginning of the 2008 regular season during April and May, getting shelled to the tune of a 7.41 ERA. He made one more start that season, the infamous 2 inning, 9 hit, 1 strikeout, 1 walk, 5 earned run appearance against the Angels on August 8 in which he didn’t feel he pitched that badly, didn’t get hit that hard, and had been pitching well overall since the All-Star Break (conveniently leaving out that every other start but this one since the break had been in the minors). With the Yankees in the middle of a playoff race, this type of obliviousness did not sit well with the fans, not when he gave up 50% more hits than outs recorded, let 3 of 9 hits go for extra bases, and gave up one less run than outs recorded, setting the Yankees up for a 10-3 drubbing. Apparently, this didn’t sit well with the Yankees either. He was sent to the minors before his next start.

Twelve months after most everything seemed to be going right for Kennedy, his performance and his character were being called into question in a major way. Understandably so. However, his 2008 season had been so spectacularly bad in both regards that many blew his lack of future prospects out of proportion. After all, he was still only 23 years old, and even despite his big league struggles and negative media attention continued to dominate the minors, putting up a 2.22 ERA in 77.0 minor league innings at 3 different levels. He continued that momentum into 2009, where he had a 1.59 ERA at AAA before a serious medical situation sidelined him for most of the season. He pitched one scoreless inning of relief for the Yankees in late September 2009, ironically on the same mound in Anaheim where he had last thrown a Major League pitch.

That inning was the end of his very brief Yankees’ career, as he was traded to the Diamondbacks in the Curtis Granderson deal that winter. Which is just fine for the Yankees, and I’m sure if given a second chance they’d do it again. But it sure would be nice to at least see what Kennedy could do at the back of our rotation right now. After all, there is only so much you can put into the fantastic nature of a flop like that while ignoring the other available data. Pretty much everything else from his entire career pointed to the notion that he could slot into the middle-back of a rotation and give you, at the very least, league average innings.

And just better than league average he was for the Diamondbacks in his first full major league season. He made 32 starts, pitched 194 innings, and only gave up 163 hits on his way to a 3.80 ERA. Yes it’s the National League, but that’s a hitters park, and overall reasonably translates to a mid 4’s in the AL, probably good enough for league average.

Which would be a lot better for the Yankees right now than what Sergio Mitre is likely to offer...which is why you don’t just give up on a young kid just because he is struggling, as long as he is showing signs. Kennedy’s minor league performance was that sign. You can have talent, but you have to learn how to pitch and how to conduct yourself at this level. Even just in these narrow stats I’ve given, there is evidence of Kennedy learning. He only gave up 163 hits, which is great, but walked 70, which typically is too many. But perhaps Kennedy has realized that his fastball isn’t big enough to consistently challenge hitters in 2-0 and 3-1 ball counts when they are looking for it, so he is better off making his pitch, and if he ends up walking a batter that is better than letting one go 450 on him. He has enough poise and trust in his stuff to do this and operate with men on base. That’s the difference between being a 23 year old who has never really failed and a 25 year old who has.

Good for Kennedy. I don’t think the Yankees ever gave up on him and his ability to produce for them. I think they saw a deal that made sense and went for it. But I think a lot of fans did in a big way. There were a lot of laughs had at his expense in this space. There are many others that have received similar treatment. Big hype, big failure, out of mind. Sometimes they won’t bounceback, but sometimes they will, and that’s why patience is required. Coming from as low as he was in 2008 to where he was as quickly as 2010 is proof of that. Just two years ago we were using the middle name Patrick to describe those that were disconnected from reality regarding their performance. Now we could use it to describe productivity.


the gm at work said...

Holy crap! Am I reading Runner's World Magazine? Because I can't imagine anyone else billing straight-up mediocrity as such a resounding success!

In all honesty, I think your post is rational, factual, and fair. It really is. It's a good story of a guy who may have been rushed to the majors too quick, so his fall from grace was exaggerated. The fact that he ran his mouth like a jackass ("This is the only bad outing since the All-Star Break" - what a joke) didn't help this guy's matters either.

The other side of this argument is that this guy is a 21st-pick-overall guy and he turned out to be average. That "pinpoint control" has led to the league lead in wild pitches, and it seems that last year he did his fair share of being taken 450 (26 home runs, though most were early in the year - illustrating your point about learning).

We had these big three in IPK, Hughes, and Joba, and one has turned out to be average (and yes, better than Mitre), another has turned out to be slightly above average, and one is now a fledgling relief pitcher. Is it overhype in the first place? Possibly. But the way a lot - yourself included - were amped up about these guys, you gotta think of it as a disappointment that they're not all front-line starters.

Yanks got decent value out of this guy in the trade. But his legacy still has to be a guy who is average but thinks he's the best in the world.

Patrick said...

i think the fact that he's a 21st overall pick relative to the results, while carrying some relevance, just doesn't translate in baseball the way it does in football or basketball. we see guys drafter higher do less and guys drafted lower do more all the time. we also don't know what the final ruling on kennedy is yet, as he's only had one full season. he could get better, could get worse, or he could continue providing above average production. this is important to point out no matter what we say about him now. i'd point that out for hughes and joba as well.

on that note, if you applied this post to all three of them from 2007 until now, of course it's a major disappointment. part of it is no doubt overhype, and i think that has been a learning experience for many yankees fans, myself included. this was the first group of young prospects that were hyped from the start that the yankees had had in quite some time (wang and cano were far more under the radar). there was a lot more weight put into what they did in the minors and their initial major league performances than i think what many would now. but, the other big part of it is that this was a unique situation. this wasn't purely overhype. these were three young pitchers in their early 20's who were dominating the minors and performing lights out at the major league level. i think most knowledgeable, objective observers would have expected at least more out of these three than what they've currently done. and of course there are questions about if the yankees could have gotten more out of them if they had handled them differently. but if this post tells us anything, it is still too soon to reach conclusions. kennedy is 25, chamberlain is 25, and hughes is 24 coming off a pretty solid campaign of his own in his first full season as a starter.

but the main point is, you have to tip your cap to kennedy. his 2010 performance was in no way spectacular, and as i said above he still has a ways to go in terms of what the final verdict on him will be. at the same time, considering where his performance and character perception was just two seasons ago his 2010 was quite a change in course, and quickly at that. by all accounts he shut his mouth and pitched and pitched well. there are a lot of teams - NL stats or not - that would like to add a 25 year old coming off a 111 era+ season in his first full one as a starter. good spot by kennedy getting himself back to that level.