There has been talk recently that the Kansas City Royals might be willing to move Ian Kennedy to the bullpen in 2018.
That is a move that has been discussed, but seemed like it wouldn’t happen. Now, if starting doesn’t work out, the team will try to get value out of Ian Kennedy as a relief pitcher. The question is, would that be valuable to the Kansas City Royals?
It might, most pitchers are able to get an uptick in production when pitching out of the bullpen. This is due to the shorter appearances allowing them to put out maximum effort on each pitch, rather than conserve themselves for longevity in a game.
When looking into how a pitcher might fare when changing roles there is quite a bit to consider outside of the numbers. For starters it is a completely different mindset to come out of the bullpen, especially when a pitcher is used to having the ball from the first inning.
Still, the numbers can paint a picture for what those moves could potentially look like. For Kennedy and the Kansas City Royals, it might be decent.
To illustrate this, I decided to potentially was some time and compare some of Kennedy’s numbers to Craig Kimbrel. Not because the two are similar at all, or because I think Kennedy could even become nearly as good of a reliever as Kimbrel. I was just curious as to the extent of the statistical blood bath.
It was not as awful as I was expecting.
By The Numbers
Numbers are not everything. They are useful in finding certain values in players, but some can tell a very misleading tale. I can think of no better place to start than those numbers that make Kennedy look great.
Spin rates are measured in rotations per minute. There is a lot of science, but generally the higher the spin rate the better. Kennedy’s RPM for his fastball and curveball are actually better than one of the best relieving arms in baseball.
His 2018 2,371 RPM four-seam fastball surpasses the 2018 of Kimbrel (2,358 RPM). The same goes with his curveball from the last season, which at 2,614 RPM is higher than Kimbrel’s 2,576 RPM breaking ball.
One more similar number before I start painting a poorer picture of Kennedy, their exit velocities for 2018 differ by only 0.5 MPH.
If only those were the only numbers to matter. I will not be able to emphasize enough that Kennedy will not turn into Kimbrel if moved to the bullpen. This is just an exercise.
Kimbrel compliments his curve with an upper 90’s fastball. Even though it doesn’t have the RPM that Kennedy’s four seamer has, the difference in average velocity of 5.2 MPH. Advantage Kimbrel.
Based on those numbers alone, Kennedy may have a decent shot at being a useful bullpen arm. What Kimbrel can do that Kennedy cannot is rack up the strikeouts. The closer’s strikeout percentage is nearly double the starters. As it should be. But the question is, can Kennedy do that in a relief role? Probably not.
Kimbrel’s curveball got a 51.6 percent swing and miss percentage in 2018, where Kennedy got 21.6. Those percentages for the four seamer were 33.4 and 16.3, respectively. The chase percentages also favor Kimbrel, but by a less drastic amount.
One more glimmer of hope, there is only a two percent difference in the in-zone swing and miss rate on each pitchers curveball for 2018. Here is the effect those 5.2 MPH have for the four seamer, Kimbrel had a 27 percent in-zone swing and miss in rate to Kennedy’s 13.5 percent.
Interpreting The Numbers
Look, I’m not crazy. Even though they have the same measurements, it can be like apples and oranges when comparing a starter to a reliever. This was just a glimpse at where Kennedy would stack up with arguably the best closer in the game today. But they are completely different pitchers.
Take that whole comparison with a grain of salt because even though there are some promising numbers, Ian Kennedy will NEVER turn into Craig Kimbrel. One more time, just in case. Ian Kennedy WILL NOT turn into Craig Kimbrel in any way, shape, or form.
The spin rates are interesting, and the other similarities might provide a glimmer of hope. But the reality is that Kennedy does not have the swing and miss stuff to be an elite bullpen arm. It does show that he could be a very serviceable bullpen arm, and he could surprise people.
A lot of people think Ian Kennedy belongs in the Kansas City Royals bullpen, and they might be right. If he pitches like he did last year, the transition may come sooner rather than later for the veteran righty.