On Monday’s FanRag Fantasy Baseball show on FNTSY Sports Radio, my guest Jim Finch and I discussed several noteworthy Spring Training performances. There were so many to cover that we did not have time to talk about Ian Kennedy’s shutting out of the Cactus League, but it’s worth a quick look in this space.
This past Sunday, Kennedy extended his string of scoreless innings in Cactus League competition to 11 1/3, as he blanked the Cubs over six innings, allowing three hits with seven strikeouts and no walks. Even if we include Kennedy’s two-inning performance against the Venezuelan national team, he would have an 0.68 ERA with a 14-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio this spring.
Kennedy is a 32-year-old who has made at least 30 starts for each of the last seven seasons. His strikeout and ground ball rates have been consistent over that entire span, and his walk rate has hovered between 7.3 and 9.2 percent over the last four seasons. Yet Kennedy’s performance has been so unusually good this spring, it begs the question as to whether there is anything to be gleaned from what amounts to roughly two regular season starts worth of innings.
It would be difficult to draw conclusions from so few innings, but the task is even harder, given that there are PitchFX data available for only two of his starts: his outing against Venezuela and his March 14 start versus the Angels. The most notable outcome is that Kennedy has been able to induce seven ground balls from the 14 four-seamers he has allowed to be put in play. Normally, he would allow grounders at a rate that would result in two or three fewer over the same number of balls in play. The increase could simply be the result of random variation and not even worth noting.
I am noting it, however, because the increase does coincide with a lower location for his four-seamer. Again, there is not enough of a sample here to conclude anything about Kennedy’s future performance, but we now know to monitor how well Kennedy is able to keep the ball down going forward.
Kennedy is either going late or going undrafted in most standard mixed leagues, so you have two choices in your upcoming drafts. You can speculate on him with a late pick (or a low bid) in the hopes that these few spring innings are the seeds that will sprout into a new, improved version of the Royals’ righty. He has a 1.3 HR/9 over the last five seasons, so any movement towards lowering that mark could make Kennedy a more reliable option. Alternatively, you can hope he goes undrafted and put him on your watch list, ready to pounce at the first sign of a sustained increase in ground ball rate.
Kennedy is a good strikeout pitcher who has already benefited from a favorable home environment and good defense. With Kennedy’s chronological peak behind him, maybe that’s as good as it gets for him, but I wouldn’t mind making a minor investment in him to see if he might offer something more.
Statistical credits: Brooks Baseball, FanGraphs, Baseball-Reference.
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