KC Royals: Dayton Moore Outsmarts Pundits With Ian Kennedy Deal
By John Viril
KC Royals general manager Dayton Moore once again outfoxed pundits with his much-criticized Ian Kennedy signing in free agency last winter.
When Kansas City Royals GM Dayton Moore signed Ian Kennedy to five-year, $70 million deal, most analysts considered it a significant overpay. For example, Craig Edwards of Fangraphs.com viewed the Kennedy deal as a whopping $46.7 million in excess value. According to his estimate, KC signed Kennedy to the worst free-agent deal last winter.
Now, one year later, only Johnny Cueto gained comparable value among free agent contracts from last season. Edwards said that Kennedy gained this value by “being merely mediocre“. But, that’s something of an understatement. Edwards used Fangraphs.com’s version of WAR, which is based on adjusted Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP). That metric is designed to separate true talent from extraneous factors like variance, opponent quality, park factors, and team defense.
According to Fangraphs.com, Kennedy’s 2016 season was worth 1.7 fWAR, which is slightly less than an average starting pitcher (approximately 2.0 fWAR). However, if we look at Baseball-Reference’s version of WAR (bWAR) (based upon actual results), we see that Kennedy was worth a much more impressive 4.1 bWAR.
In effect, Kennedy’s 11-11, 3.68 ERA season with 195.2 innings pitched was more like a no. 2 starter than the no. 4 starter Fangraphs.com considered him in 2016.
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Fangraphs.com and Baseball-Reference’s WAR stats each have their own strengths and weaknesses. Baseball-Reference is a better measure of a player’s value in a particular season. Fangraphs.com’s WAR metric is typically a better measure for projecting future performance.
However, in this case, I can see why Dayton Moore considered Ian Kennedy far more valuable to the KC Royals than most projection systems estimated. Kennedy, as a fly ball pitcher, fits the Kansas City Royals strengths. Not only does he play half of his games in the expansive Kauffman Stadium, he also plays in front of an outstanding outfield defense.
Digging into Kennedy’s 2016 splits is even more encouraging. Kennedy gave up 21 gopher balls in the first half of 2016, but that number fell to 12 in the second half of the season. Unsurprisingly, Kennedy’s first half ERA of 3.97 dropped to an impressive 3.38 ERA in the second half. His splits also show significantly better success at home (3.41 ERA) than on the road (3.89 ERA).
Edwards still sees the Kennedy contract as an overpay. But, now his estimate is a far more palatable $10.5 million than last year’s $46.7 million figure. However, Edwards estimated that Kennedy produced $13.6 million of value based on 1.7 fWAR. If we instead look at WAR based on results rather than “true talent”, we see Kennedy was a screaming bargain at $32.8 million of production based upon 4.1 bWAR.
Looking at actual production means that Kennedy provided nearly half the value of the his $70 million deal in his first year (presuming an open market rate of $8 million per WAR). Heck, with the first two years of Kennedy’s deal at $21 million, he has exceeded that value last season. Since Kennedy could can opt out of his deal after the second year, Kennedy’s contract could become an impressive bargain.
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Let’s just hope that Dayton Moore is also right that his team is capable of competing for a title in 2017.