Kansas City Royals: It is time to appreciate Ian Kennedy


One pitcher who takes a lot of criticism for the Kansas City Royals is Ian Kennedy. It is time to appreciate him now though.

Ever since Ian Kennedy signed his 5-years/$70 million deal in 2016 with the Kansas City Royals, Kennedy has been beaten down by fans. Whether that is because of the structure of his contract, having an opt-out after 2017, or the fact that he signed the second highest contract in franchise history, Kennedy has not really received a fair shake in Kansas City.

I believe it is time for that to change. Not only because of what he did in 2016 but because of what he did before his injury in 2017 and how he has started 2018.

Kennedy is a really good pitcher. In fact, he could easily be the best pitcher in the Royals rotation. That might not be saying much, but it is something to acknowledge.

Before digging too far into the “personal opinions”, let’s dig into where he ranks and how he has done with the Royals.

By the numbers

Kennedy joined the Royals in 2016. The hope was that he would help continue the Royals success after going to back-to-back World Series and winning in 2015. What seems to be lost is how well he actually did in 2016, mainly because of what his numbers looked like in 2017 and his salary. Which, in my opinion, is pretty unfair.

2016 numbers

In 2016, Kennedy finished the year with a 3.68 ERA over 33 starts and 195.2 innings. He also threw 184 strikeouts (8.48 K/9) compared to 67 walks (3.09 BB/9) during that time. His only knock was the 33 home runs he gave up.

When looking at how Kennedy ranks among MLB starters, I think you will be surprised at how good he was. Among starting pitchers, his 3.68 ERA ranks 30th in all of baseball and 14th in the American League.

When you look at how he performed on just the Royals, it shows how valuable he was. When looking at full years starters (sorry Danny Duffy) Kennedy was first or second in nearly every statistical category.

  • Strikeouts per nine innings – first
  • Innings pitched – first
  • Strikeouts – first
  • Walks per nine innings – second behind Jason Vargas
  • Strikeouts to walks ratio – second behind Vargas
  • ERA – second behind Vargas
  • Walks – second fewest behind Vargas
  • WHIP (walks/hits per inning) – second behind Vargas
  • Opponents batting average – second behind Vargas

When looking at each individual game it gets pretty interesting. Looking at the big picture, he finished the year 11-11. However, in 13 games Kennedy gave up either zero (6 games) or one (7 games) runs. In seven other games, Kennedy gave up just two runs.

That is 20 of his 33 starts where Kennedy gave up two or fewer runs. And Kennedy averaged just about six innings per start. In fact, he had 20 quality starts over the season.

Needless to say, 2016 was a really good year for Kennedy. During that time he was making just $7.5 million as well. Considering where he was ranked among all MLB starters, and on the Royals, that is hard to beat.

2017 numbers

The start of 2017 was amazing for Kennedy. Unfortunately, his amazing start is quickly forgotten because of how he pitched after coming back from his hamstring injury.

When looking at his full-year numbers, Kennedy finished the year with a horrid 5.38 ERA over 30 starts and 154.0 innings. He also struck out 131 batters, walked 63 batters, and gave up 34 home runs. This averages out to just over five innings per start, 7.66 strikeouts per nine innings, and 3.68 walks per nine innings.

He also had 12 quality starts and 13 games where he gave up two or fewer runs in a game.

All of those numbers are significantly worse than what he did in 2016

But how was he before his hamstring injury?

Kennedy hurt his hamstring while pitching against the White Sox on May 4th. Before that game, Kennedy had pitched in five games in which he posted a 2.30 ERA over 31.1 innings. He struck out 28 hitters, walked 14, and gave up three home runs. He also had three quality starts over those five games, averaging 6.22 innings per start. During those games, he averaged 8.1 strikeouts per nine innings and 4.05 walks per nine innings.

After those five games, his season fell apart. Over his final 25 starts, he posted a 6.19 ERA over 122.2 innings. He averaged just 4.89 innings per start, resulting in just nine quality starts. He also struck out 7.59 batters per nine innings while walking 3.46 batter per nine innings.

When looking at his numbers pre-injury verse post-injury it is staggering how different they are. And it is very clear that he never fully recovered from his injury. And something to keep in mind is that he skipped doing rehab starts to get back to the rotation quicker, which might have been the season changing mistake.

In fact, he gave an interview at the end of the year in November where he said his injury basically took away his changeup. Which when you look at his pitch breakdown, that is very accurate.

From 2016 to 2017 you can see a spike in his cutter and curveball usage, while his changeup and fastball drop. His cutter usage increased by 3.6% and his curveball usage increased by 1.9%. His fastball usage decreased by 4.6% and his changeup usage decreased by 1.0%.

The uptick in some pitches and decrease in others show that he had to make in-season adjustments, which could make his statement believable and reasonable.

2018 numbers

Taking into consideration how 2017 went, Kennedy made what seemed to be a very unpopular move by not opting out of his contract to become a free agent. Which when you look at it, the Royals essentially signed Kennedy to a 3-year/$49 million contract.

In the grand scheme of things, this is a good contract for what Kennedy can do. Which, when you look at how he has started the 2018 season, his $16.5 million salary is worth it.

To start the 2018 season, Kennedy has pitched in two games (both quality starts), going 12.0 innings, allowing just one run (0.75 ERA), striking out 13 hitters (9.75 strikeouts per nine innings), walking two hitters (1.50 walks per nine innings), and allowing eight hits.

This start is not much of a surprise based off of how his Spring Training went as well. Over his five starts, he threw 18.0 innings, struck out 23, walked seven, and posted a 2.50 ERA.

Final Thoughts

Obviously, Kennedy is not going to continue pitching with a 0.75 ERA all year. He will have games where he is roughed up, and he will have games where he dominates.

The main goal we should all be hoping for though is health. When healthy he is a pretty consistent pitcher. I believe he can easily be the better pitcher, if not the “ace”, on the Royals rotation.

Who knows, maybe he will be good enough, and teams will want him bad enough, that he will be traded come July.

But I feel like it is time to cut Kennedy some slack. As fans, we should be getting excited when Kennedy takes the mound. We should also be happy that the Royals have a pitcher that is as reliable as Kennedy is on the team. Even though some want the Royals to lose, seeing good baseball still needs to happen. That is possible with Kennedy on the team.

What do you think #RoyalsNation? Should we all jump on the Kennedy train? Do you have hard feelings towards Kennedy? Let us know below!