Last night, former Yankee farmhand Ian Patrick Kennedy put on a virtuoso performance for the Arizona Diamondbacks facing their division rival San Francisco Giants. He outdueled San Francisco ace Tim Lincecum for a key win in the all but settled NL West race, putting the division leading Diamondbacks up 6 games in the loss column with just 23 games to play. After being admittedly amped up to start the game and struggling with his command early, he settled down to allow just 1 run in 7 IP and become the National Leagues first 18 game winner. With every glittering performance he posts this season, a nagging thought emerges in the minds of Yankee fans. Could he have put up similar numbers had he stayed with the Yankees? No one will argue that we didn’t get a great return in Curtis Granderson, but did Brian Cashman make a mistake trading IPK and keeping the likes of Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes?
Ian certainly got a chance to show what he could do for the Yankees, though not nearly as extensive a look as Chamberlain and Hughes did. It didn’t go well, but that’s often the case with rookie pitchers. Greg Maddux got tattooed his first two seasons with the Cubs. Randy Johnson couldn’t find the strike zone until he was 29 years old. John Smoltz was lousy his first year and Tom Glavine was up and down for 4 years until he figured it out. James Shields, who shares a very similar profile to IPK, was bad in his first season with the Rays. Its the exception to the rule that comes up and succeeds right away, most pitchers need to take their lumps before they figure it out. Watching Ian last night, the way he was attacking hitters was a complete contrast to the nibbling, timid young man we saw in pinstripes. He’s even added a notch to his fastball, topping out at 94 on a few occasions. Could he have done the same had he stayed here in NY?
The most common refrain you hear that dismisses Ian’s work in the desert is “He’s pitching in the NL West”. There’s no doubt that this is a factor, its a division that features 3 of bottom 4 offenses in baseball in San Francisco, San Diego and Houston. But it’s also a division that also features Colorado, which is annually at or near the top of the league in Runs Scored and is a park that (despite its recent improvements) is still one of the great bandboxes in all of baseball. For his career, in 8 starts Ian is 1-1 with a 3.13 ERA pitching in Coors Field. Facing the Philadelphia Philies, annually one of the most potent offenses in the National League, in 3 starts he is 1-1 with a 2.25 ERA. Facing the tough Cincinnati Reds lineup that is #2 NL Runs scored this season, Ian is 2-0 with a 1.35 ERA and 0.975 WHIP in 2 starts. Small samples to be sure, but the idea that he can’t compete against the better offensive teams simply doesn’t hold. One should also factor in where he plays his home games. Chase Field is terrific ballpark for hitters. It has ranked in the top 5 in Park factors every year but one since 2005 and was 2nd only to Coors Field from 2008-2009. Kennedy has excelled there, going 13-7 with a 3.42 ERA and 1.139 WHIP for his career.
One should be careful when dismissing what goes on in the NL West. I don’t hear people dismissing Clayton Kershaw’s stellar season, or the careers of Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, all of whom also pitch that very same division. Ian isn’t in the same class as Lincecum or Kershaw as a pitcher, but his SO/9 and WAR has been top 16 in the NL for the past 2 seasons and is better than Cain each of those years. If Matt Cain became available, I’m sure Yankee fans would line up to acquire him, yet some of those same folks seem to discount what IPK has done. They shouldn’t. All season long the Yanks have been searching for a #2 starter, and it appears he’s been pitching in Arizona.
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