Desert Ace
3 min read

Desert Ace

The name speaks of confidence, power, fame, and fortune. It reminds us of royalty and glitz. While Ian Kennedy doesn’t come from a long line of political powers, he has established himself as a power among National League pitchers.

“Whenever I hear 18 wins, I think of a good bullpen and a good offensive team, timely hitting, really,” Kennedy said in an Associated Press article.

That sums up the belief many of the more progressive baseball statisticians have in wins. Less is controlled by the pitcher than the stat suggests. But 18 wins in Arizona is impressive. Not since Brandon Webb have the Diamondbacks been able to boast that kind of success. But let’s take a closer look.

Saturday night, Kennedy and the Diamindbacks evened up their series with the Giants and extended their lead in the West back to 6 games.  Ian Kennedy now has the most wins in the National League, and with only 4 losses, he has the best winning percentage. After showing so much promise in the Yankees farm system, Kennedy is proving he can be one of the best young pitchers in the league.  And he’s doing it with simple development.

Kennedy’s walk per 9 innings ratio is the lowest it has been in his career at 2.36.  Leaving out his 2007 season with the Yankees when he pitched 19 innings and his 2009 season when he pitched 1 inning, Kennedy’s home run per 9 innings ratio is the lowest of his career at 0.88.  He’s not overpowering with strikeouts, but he is getting the job done with 167.  His FIP shows good defense behind him, and his ERA- is at 73 (meaning his ERA is 27% better than league average).

His stats speak for themselves, but what has changed?  Has he simply developed into an Ace pitcher?  Has he put everything together to make himself Cy Young caliber?

One fairly noticeable change is the addition of a cutter.  Prior to this season, Kennedy did not throw the cutter.  This year, he is throwing it 8% of the time.  With the cutter, he now has five solid pitches.  The second most noticeable difference is the amount of pitches batters are swinging at out of the strikezone.  This season, Kennedy has his second highest percentage of pitches swung at outside of the zone at 28.6%.  (His highest was 28.9% in 2007 when he pitched only 19 innings) Finally, Kennedy is getting ahead of batters.  His first pitch strike percentage is 63.1, and batters are swinging and missing at 8.7% of his total pitches.

The chart below, courtesy of Fangraphs, shows Kennedy’s velocity over the last few years.  He is clearly mixing his pitches better.  His highest velocity is higher than it has been in the past, and his lowest velocity is lower.

Ian Kennedy has done a lot to get the Diamondbacks where they are, and it is looking more and more like he will get a shot to be a number one starter in the postseason.  With a possible match-up of Kennedy vs. Halladay in the division series, fans should be treated to a pitcher’s duel at its finest.  I’m sure the Yankees aren’t complaining about receiving Curtis Granderson in the three-team trade that sent Kennedy to the Dbacks, but with their pitching trouble, how much could he have helped that team?

With an option year next season and an arbitration eligible year in 2013, it would be smart for the Diamondbacks to lock Ian Kennedy into a long-term deal now.  If he pitches like this next season, you can be sure an arbitrator will grant him 3-4 times the $423,000 he is making now.  But if you’re living in the moment, as Diamondbacks fans should be doing, Kennedy is showing flashes of the dominance this team showed in 2001.  10 years after they won the World Series, Arizona has a clear-cut ace and a chance to go all the way again.