Philadelphia Phillies: Can Kyle Kendrick Earn a Rotation Spot in 2013?
There are some possible, if implausible, explanations for some of his first starts after the trade deadline.
His spot start following Joe Blanton’s trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers was going to be a one-time thing prior to Tyler Cloyd (12-1 at Triple-A) being called up, right? Not quite.
Then the Phils must have kept him in the rotation for his 15th start of the season so he could earn a $100,000 bonus in his contract before heading to the bullpen? Well, now he’s made 18 starts.
So, how has a pitcher who had a 6.96 ERA in June and an ERA as high as 4.86 nearly three weeks ago remained in the Phillies’ starting rotation for so long?
Furthermore, is there any way that Kendrick, who now has nearly the same win total as Roy Halladay, can earn a spot in the team’s rotation for 2013?
Kendrick has now given up just two earned runs in his last 21.2 innings.
Whether or not his last three starts are indicative of things to come remains to be seen, but Kendrick has started to do a better job of using the remaining games as auditions for a spot in next season’s rotation.
And the Phils have yet to rule him out for the job.
Here are four things the Phillies may be considering when it comes to Kendrick’s chances of earning a spot in the team’s rotation for 2013.
Is Tyler Cloyd or Jonathan Pettibone Ready?
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The Phillies started this season with their top pitching prospects scattered between Double-A and High-A ball.
By the start of August, the Phils had two players in Triple-A who could be in the major leagues either this season or next.
That is, unless the team sticks with Kendrick in the starting rotation.
Tyler Cloyd, one pitcher who has proven himself at Triple-A, has gone 12-1 with 93 strikeouts and a 2.35 ERA at that level this season. Combined with his numbers from Double-A, Cloyd is 15-1 with 113 strikeouts and a 2.26 ERA on the season.
So why hasn’t he been called up?
For one, Cloyd’s fastball only reaches the high 80s. Might the Phillies rather his velocity increase instead of calling up a finesse pitcher who wasn’t considered a top prospect at the start of the season?
According to fangraphs.com, Cloyd also has a 4.06 FIP.
In addition to Cloyd, the Phillies have another pitcher who has found success at Triple-A, in Jonathan Pettibone.
Pettibone has gone 4-0 with 27 strikeouts and a 1.70 ERA at Triple-A, after going 9-7 with 81 strikeouts and a 3.30 ERA at Double-A to start the season.
Pettibone is ranked 11th among Phillies’ prospects, according to mlb.com.
However, Pettibone has made just five starts at Triple-A, and just turned 22 years old. He’s also walked 17 batters in 37 innings at Triple-A.
Both Cloyd and Pettibone may get a look from the Phils in September, and could be competing for a spot in the starting rotation during spring training, should the team trade a starter.
But since neither has been called up yet, it could mean that the Phillies are allowing Kendrick a chance to earn a spot in the 2013 rotation.
Less Reliance on His Cutter Has Worked so Far
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Kendrick’s cutter provided reason for optimism during spring training that, should an injury arise, the Phillies’ starting rotation would be just fine with him filling in for an extended period of time.
The Phils couldn’t have been expecting him to post a 4.89 ERA in 18 games, including 13 starts, in the first half of the season.
But besides the high ERA, Kendrick also had another number that was high prior to the All-Star break.
During the first half and into the second half of the season, Kendrick rarely threw his cutter less than 20 percent of the time, according to fangraphs.com.
However, fangraphs.com also shows that in his last three starts, he’s only thrown his cutter more than 4.6 percent of the time once.
In that span he’s gone 3-0 with 16 strikeouts to three walks, and lowered his ERA to 4.12 from 4.86 earlier in the month.
The Baltimore Orioles have even had Dylan Bundy, their top pitching prospect, stop throwing his cutter. In an article by Steve Melewski on MASNSports.com, Dan Duquette, the Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations for the Orioles, said that the cutter takes away from the development of a young pitcher’s curveball, as well as from the velocity of a young pitcher’s fastball.
Kendrick is a veteran, but he’s spent the past two seasons in both the bullpen and starting rotation. Could a reliance on his cutter have affected his other pitches?
Although this is uncertain, what’s more proven is that his last three starts have been some of his best, and he’s thrown his cutter less at the same time.
If this continues for his remaining starts, the Phillies could think that they’ve found a fifth starter whose 2.43 ERA since the All-Star break is a more accurate indication of what to expect from him in the future.
No Need to Spend Big on a Free-Agent Starter
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The Phillies could have a lengthy to-do list this offseason if the team doesn’t finish the regular season on a good note.
As of now, third base, the outfield and the bullpen are all areas the team will need to address after the season.
Keeping Kendrick as the fifth starter, however, could help the Phillies save money when it comes to the starting rotation.
If the Phils don’t feel as if Cloyd or Pettibone will be ready for major-league action by the start of the season, they can either move Kendrick back to the crowded bullpen and sign a free agent starter, or continue using him in the rotation.
Kendrick is set to make $4.5 million next season.
Even if no prospects are deemed major-league ready, the Phillies could still decide to put Kendrick in the rotation once again, rather than paying a free agent starter a similar amount of money.
With all of the other areas that they will have to address during the offseason, the Phillies could view not having to spend extra money on a free agent addition for the starting rotation as a big advantage.
If He Continues Pitching Well, His Trade Value Might Increase
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So, what happens if the Phillies have a prospect that could use some more minor league appearances, but still proves that he is ready for the major leagues at some point next season?
If Kendrick’s performances match the success he’s had in his last three outings, his versatility as a reliever and starter could interest another team. The Phillies could then find themselves in a position where they can make a trade without setting the team back since another pitcher would be waiting in the wings.
Kendrick has only recently lowered his ERA as a starter this season to 4.14, while his ERA in 12 relief appearances is 3.95. His ERA out of the bullpen last season was 3.41.
If he were to have a string of solid starts next season, a team in need of pitching help could be intrigued by his ability to pitch in different roles.
Meanwhile, even if contending, the Phillies could deal an impending free agent whose spot would then be available for a prospect to get a long look in the rotation.
The Phils would go from having a weak link in their rotation to having a soon-to-be free agent with trade value.
It’s unlikely that the Phillies would give Kendrick a spot in next season’s rotation simply to maximize his trade value. But if they feel more minor league starts are needed for one of their prospects, starting the season with Kendrick in the rotation could have multiple benefits.