Ian Kennedy was a first round pick of the Yankees from USC in 2006; he started 2007 in High-A ball, then was promoted to Double-A and then Triple-A. He pitched well at all of these stops, compiling a 1.92 ERA in 140 1/3 innings. In September, he was called up by the Yankees and pitched 19 innings, during which he struck out 15 batters. Based on this performance, Kennedy was given a spot in the rotation for 2008 and subsequently forgot how to throw strikes. He walked 20 batters in 23 2/3 innings (while striking out 16) and was sent to Triple-A; when he was recalled later in the month, he walked fewer batters but gave up 4 home runs in 14 innings. He hurt his shoulder in August in his first appearance back from the minors and didn’t pitch in 2009. During the offseason, he was part of the Curtis Granderson-Edwin Jackson-Max Scherzer trade, and for the most part was an afterthought on the move to Arizona.
Kennedy is a flyball pitcher, which generally spells trouble for pitchers in Arizona. Despite being a flyball pitcher, he had done a fairly good job of limiting home runs in the minor leagues. Going from the American League East to the National League West was only going to help also. In the minors, he had very good strikeout rates, but while pitching for the Yankees those numbers didn’t translate to the big leagues. Much of Kennedy’s success going forward is going to hinge on him finding a way to miss more bats while not giving up home runs.
So far in 2010, Kennedy is walking a fine line. In 6 starts and 37 innings, he has struck out 30 hitters, walked 10, and given up 7 home runs (which is currently the most in the league). Nearly 15% of flyballs hit off of Kennedy are leaving the yard, a number that should come down some but is a yellow flag given Kennedy’s history with the long ball. He’s getting crushed at the bottom of National League lineups, but he’s been fairly lucky with respect to his BABIP splits so far, leading to a higher than expected number of stranded runners.
There are a lot of forces in play here, so Kennedy is an interesting guy to watch the rest of the year. His home run rate is worrisome, but potentially fluky. His ability to throw strikes is a question mark but absolutely necessary. He’s getting outs when he needs them, which really isn’t a proven skill. And the hitters doing the most damage are not the best hitters in the opposition’s lineup. My guess for Kennedy’s 2010 season: 28 starts, 160 innings, 4.25 ERA, 130 strikeouts, 55 walks, 20 home runs allowed, and an 9-7 record. He’s only 25, so if nothing else, this should be a season on which to build. Like the Diamondbacks need another young player with potential.