New York Yankee Pitcher Ian Kennedy Has a Positive Outlook on 2010

GregCorrespondent IOctober 14, 2009

ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 23:  Pitcher Ian Kennedy #38 of the New York Yankees throws a pitch against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on September 23, 2009 at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California..  The Yankees won 3-2.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

I don't know what to do right now, as we still have two more days until Yankee baseball.ย 

This should help you kill some time (it certainly helped me).

I'm a big Ian Kennedy fan. He absolutely tore up the minor leagues in his first full professional season, something that very few pitchers do. No, Kennedy doesn't have the front-line potential that Hughes and Joba have, but he still is a valuable asset. Check this out, his numbers speak for themselves:

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table

Those numbers are plain ridiculous.

If you saw those numbers without an accompanying scouting report, you'd immediately assume the guy had ace upside. He has struck out nearlyย 10 batters per nine innings while walking less than three. In the majors, the league average K:BB is right around 2.00 every season. Kennedy's career 3.55 dwarfs that.

While Kennedy's minor league resume stands out, there's no secret that he struggled mightily in the majors in 2008. He made nine starts and had an ERA above eight, which doesn't fit in with his minor league numbers at all.

After missing most of the season recovering from surgery after an aneurysm was found in his right arm, Kennedy is back on track, pitching as if nothing ever happened. He is currently pitching for the Surprise Rafters in the Arizona Fall League, and I'm happy to say we are getting Pitch F/X data from certain Arizona parks this fall.

Kennedy started the first game of the AFL season, and pitched very well. I thought it would be interesting to take a look at his Pitch F/X and see if he's doing anything differently.

To start, Kennedy's velocity is up a little bit.

In 2008, he averaged a mere 89 miles per hour with his fastball. In his lone Arizona Fall League start, he averaged 90.61 MPH.

Now, Kennedy isn't going to blow anyone away with his fastball, but even the increase to around 91 could make a big difference. There are very few right-handed pitchers who succeed with fastballs under 90, so averaging around 91 could be key for Kennedy.

It's a small sample of just 52 pitches, but I just figured it's worth noting that Kennedy threw less fastballs, more sliders, and more curveballs in this outing. If that trend continues, I suspect that Yankees prefer that he works a little more on those pitches.

Here are Kennedy's release points in 2008 (4/19/08 start) versus 2009 (10/14/09 start):

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Kennedy's release point looks a bit tighter to me this year. While some pitchers like to vary their release points, throwing every pitch from the same exact point can be very deceptive.
The difference isn't huge, but it's definitely there. The little things can sometimes make a large difference.

Next, we have a top view of Kennedy's pitches:
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First off, ignore the orange lines. Those are just misclassified pitches and there was only one of them in each start.
This picture changes a lot more than the first one. As we saw in the first picture, his release point has shifted slightly, but the horizontal movement has changed as well.

His curveball has much less horizontal movement than last year, and the velocity on it has also increased. It looks like he's throwing a tighter curve now, as opposed to a loopier one. His slider cut a little but more, but he only threw it four times.

Again, ignore the orange lines. Here is a side view of IPK's pitches:
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The first thing I notice here are the release points.
In 2008, his fastball was released from a slightly lower point than his other pitches. In his most recent start, his fastball release point didn't change, but his slider and changeup moved down to where he throws his fastball.

As I suggested above, the vertical movement on Kennedy's curveball suggests that he is throwing a tighterย pitch now. It has added velocity and less horizontal and vertical movement.
His 2009 slider also has more downward break than last year. If this keeps up with a larger sample size, it looks like Kennedy's slider could be much sharper than it was.

Now, I'm admittedly not a Pitch F/X expert, but it's always interesting to look at. There are definitely some differences in Kennedy's repertoire, but it barely changes my outlook for him. If he can build up more arm strength, I expect Kennedy to play a big role for the Yankees in 2010. Kennedy profiles as a league-average starter, which is a valuable piece, especially when he is being paid the league minimum.

I don't see a spot for Kennedy in the rotation next season, so I expect him to start out in Scranton. When the inevitable injury occurs, he should be first in line for a call up.

If the starting staff stays healthy, I would not be surprised at all to see Kennedy in a Hughes-like relief role. In the bullpen, he should excel; a good starter will always make an even better reliever.

Thanks to Brooks Baseball for the Pitch F/X graphs.


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