Ian Kennedy and the Arizona Diamondbacks: A Perfect Match

Phil GardnerContributor IIISeptember 21, 2011

Ian Kennedy gets "pied" after his 20th win of the season
Ian Kennedy gets "pied" after his 20th win of the seasonChristian Petersen/Getty Images

Coming into the 2011 season, Ian Kennedy had never won 20 games. Even if you would have taken his career stats accumulated over his first 4 seasons in baseball, he still would be just halfway there. For Kennedy, it had been a career of falling short on promise and struggling to earn a spot. This season, it’s been anything but that for the Diamondbacks starter.

A product of the Yankees farm system, he was fast tracked to the MLB during the 2007 season. As a 22-year-old rookie, he quickly won over the fans and organization with 19 innings over three excellent starts down the stretch in September. He kept the scoring low and looked ready to deliver on expectations as a Yankees first round draft pick. In the fall of 2007, he was named as the 26th best prospect in baseball

He was handed a spot in the starting rotation the following spring, but it didn’t last long. He was thoroughly trounced in all of his starts, delivering just a single quality start in nine starts. When the Yankees finally removed him from the rotation at the end of May, his ERA was 7.41.

He’d get one more start in August, surrendering five runs in a pair of innings, and pitched just one MLB inning the following season. With that, his Yankees career was over.

He was sent to Arizona as part of the deal that gave the Yankees Curtis Granderson. The Tigers received Max Scherzer from the Diamondbacks, as well as Austin Jackson and Phil Coke from the Yankees. In a rare instance, the trade worked out brilliantly for all sides involved.

With Ian Kennedy, the Diamondbacks bought low, but have absolutely cashed in on the results. His first season with the Diamondbacks was decent, he tossed almost 200 innings with a 9-10 record and a 3.80 ERA. Although not very impressive compared to the rest of baseball, he was easily Arizona’s top starting pitcher.

For 2011, Ian Kennedy has gone the way of the Diamondbacks. He was a young player who hadn’t yet delivered on his promise, but he’s come through in a big way and helped lead his team. He’s the undisputed ace of the Diamondbacks, logging over 200 innings and becoming the MLB’s second 20-game winner of the season. His 2.88 ERA is ninth in the NL.

Kennedy is a classic example of a player who needed a change of scenery. While 2010 wasn’t necessarily impressive, it was a far cry from the 6.06 ERA he accumulated over his career with the Yankees. Had he stayed in New York with the media scrutiny and pressure to win championships from April 1 onwards, he likely wouldn’t have had the same successes.

He was one of the three top prospect starters for the Yankees during the 2007 and 2008 seasons. One of them was Phil Hughes, who is frantically trying to find himself and earn a playoff roster spot on the Yankees. The other was Joba Chamberlain, who has had trouble finding his mental game following the flip flopping between starting and relieving. Currently he’s recovering from Tommy John surgery.

And then there’s Ian Kennedy. He was sent packing from New York, but has still developed into a strong starter. It’s early to sell his career quite yet, but seeing MLB’s 26th best prospect develop into a 20-game winner certainly seems promising.

In Arizona he has the chance to be the top dog for the Diamondbacks, and play with a team as youthful as he is. They aren’t a team loaded with the top paid talent in baseball; they’re a team that’s collectively on a learning curve and trying to grow together into a contender.

The Diamondbacks are just what Ian Kennedy needed. And with their 5.5 game lead over baseball’s reigning world champions, Ian Kennedy’s 20 wins are just what the Diamondbacks needed as well.