Thursday, March 18, 2010

Is Kyle Kendrick For Real?

Roy Halladay is a 2-time 20 game winner, a Cy Young Award winner, he comes from the best division in baseball, and he was involved in one of the biggest baseball trades in a long time. Yet he seems to be garnering significantly less attention than rotation hopeful Kyle Kendrick. Can this really be possible? Maybe it is because most baseball fans know what they are getting in Halladay and when they get dominating performances out of him it just seems like the norm. Maybe it is because Philadelphia fans have been talking about him for over 3 months and have read all the articles that they can handle. Of course that is impossible. Maybe it is because Halladay is intentionally hiding from the media. Whatever it is, Kyle Kendrick seems to be getting all the attention. This, coming from a pitcher who was not a high round draft pick, who does not have an overpowering fastball, who failed in his short time as a major leaguer, and who spent the majority of last year in the minors.

Kendrick's last 3 seasons have been eventful to say the least. Kendrick was the unheralded hero on the Phillies 2007 squad that ended a 13 year playoff drought. Kendrick was brought up in replacement of Freddy Garcia, who was injured, or just being thrown in a dumpster somewhere, as his era was 5.90 and climbing. Kendrick, at the time, was 22 years old and having a very nice season at AA Reading. The Phillies reached pretty far with Kendrick, as the high minors were very empty and the major league squad was incredibly thin in starting pitching. To say Kendrick performed admirably or exceeded expectations would be a severe understatement. He went 10-4 in 20 starts, and posted a 3.87 era. The Phillies needed every single win that year as they clinched on the very last day of the season. Without Kendrick, the Phillies would not have come close to allowing the Mets to display the biggest collapse in baseball history.

Kendrick went into 2008 with supreme confidence and may have been a little too cocky as it seemed that he was completely unprepared for spring training and the regular season. To make matters worse, the one thing that Kendrick had going for him, his confidence, took a serious hit when the entire Phillies franchise pulled a prank on him. Everyone from Brett Myers to Ruben Amaro Jr., was involved in the prank that told Kendrick that he was traded to Japan for the hot dog eating champion, Koboyashi Iwamura.

Once the regular season started, Kendrick was quickly finding out how tough it was to stick as a major league pitcher. He had such success in 2007 he didn’t find the need to make adjustments as it seemed the league wasn’t familiar enough with him. As with many pitchers, as the league becomes more familiar with a pitcher, the less success that pitcher usually has. When this occurs the pitcher better be able to make adjustments or his time will not last too long. This happened to Kendrick from his very first start in 08 and it only got worse. In 2008 Kendrick’s era sat in the 5.00 range for the majority of the season until he was pulled from the rotation at the end of September. Kendrick finished the season with a 5.49 era and an astounding 1.612 WHIP. The interesting thing was that in Kendrick’s 30 starts, the Phillies had a record of 18-12. That was still not enough to keep Kendrick in the rotation as he just kept on putting up dismal outings when it mattered most. After a full year and a half in the Phillies starting rotation he was left completely off the playoff roster and was forced to watch the World Series run from his couch.

I want to say that this was the low point in Kendrick’s career, but that is not the case. In the upcoming spring, the Phillies setup an open competition for the 5th starter spot with Kendrick, young JA Happ, veteran Chan Ho Park, and top prospect Carlos Carrasco. The Phillies clearly wanted Kendrick to win the job but he pitched so horribly in spring training again that they had no choice but to send him to the minors. The Phillies hoped that this would be a good situation for Kendrick as he wouldn’t have to focus on results but could focus more on developing his other off speed pitches. Kendrick clearly disagreed with the organization and instead viewed it solely as a demotion.

The approach in which Kendrick took was absolutely horrible and it really deterred him from succeeding early on in 2009. Kendrick had a FIP of 3.93 and 4.70 to go along with a WHIP of 1.35 and 1.50 in the first 2 months of the season. Once Kendrick decided to place an emphasis on learning and developing his new pitches, his season really turned around and the organization really took notice. Kendrick posted a FIP of 2.76 and a WHIP of 0.85 in July which is really when he started getting comfortable with his new array of pitches. By season’s end, Kendrick ranked 5th in ERA, 3rd in WHIP, and 10th in innings pitched within the International League. By the time the Phillies were ready for September call ups, Kendrick was first on the list and he proved that he was ready to be back in the majors. When Kendrick was given his opportunity he did not disappoint as he posted a 3.42 ERA in 26 innings. Even though 26 innings is hardly enough time to truly assess a pitcher, it was clear that Kendrick had vastly improved in his one season at Lehigh Valley.

The issue with Kendrick was that he had a good sinker that had very good movement but that was basically it. He did throw a slider as well but it was rudimentary which made the sinker way too predictable for a major league pitcher. Once a pitcher becomes predictable in this league his days become numbered very quickly. This is the main reason that Kendrick was forced down to the minors. In his time in the minors, Kendrick worked on developing a changeup and improving his slider. Based on the innings he pitched in September last year, along with his spring training appearances this year, it is safe to say that Kendrick succeeded at reaching the goal that the organization set for him 2009.

The thing that appears most interesting about Kendrick is that he is throwing a cutter with great movement and control out of nowhere. We all knew that Kendrick had a good sinker and he was confident in his changeup, but before spring training there was absolutely no news about Kendrick adding a cutter to his repertoire. Obviously I’d be an idiot if I didn’t mention Roy Halladay. It can’t be a coincidence that Kendrick pulls a cutter out of nowhere the same time that Roy Halladay, who throws probably the second best cutter in baseball, arrives.

It’s no secret that Kendrick has latched on to Halladay and is trying to mimic his pitches, his movement, his location, even his ginger beard. It really is quite funny to see on camera because you can’t find a shot of Roy without Kyle standing right next to him. Kendrick has reportedly been showing up to practice even before Halladay and Manuel, which usually sits at about 5 a.m.  If Kendrick ever had the ability to improve as a pitcher, or athlete, or baseball player, he has clearly taken every step necessary to do it. Few have worked harder in spring training and in the offseason and it really seems to be paying off for him.

Even though they seem like meaningless Grapefruit League outings, Kendrick has been absolutely amazing and has basically been perfect in his 9 innings. Kendrick has not allowed a run this spring, but even more impressive is that he’s issued 0 walks and allowed only 4 hits. The only pitching aspect that Kendrick could improve upon this spring is his strikeout rate. Few pitchers are able to succeed in the majors while striking out less than 5 batters per 9 innings, so Kendrick does need to miss a few more bats. With the way Kendrick's pitches are moving this spring, I really can't see that being an issue.  In the first spring training game against the Yankees I really couldn't believe my eyes watching Kendrick pitch.  He looked as good as Halladay if not better in those 2 short innings.  The cutter, sinker, changeup, all have looked, dare I say "filthy?"  I am really trying to not overrate the 9 innings he's pitched in spring training but it's hard not to like what he could potentially add to our rotation.  All in all, Kendrick has shown great pitch selection, variation, movement, location, and the ability to become a leach to the best pitcher in baseball. Now it is up to the Phillies organization to show that they are able to learn from their mistakes and not screw up like they did last year (Happ/Park).

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