When Ian Kennedy agreed to sign with the Kansas City Royals in the 2015 offseason, he figured to be part of the rotation but has thrived in the bullpen.
The Kansas City Royals signed Ian Kennedy in the 2015 offseason in which they were still celebrating their first World Seris title since 1985. Most figured he would bolster an already strong rotation that featured Edinson Volquez, Yordano Ventura (RIP), Kris Medlen, and Danny Duffy.
However, those high hopes started to dwindle when Kennedy saw his velocity continue to dip. His last truly good season as a starter was in 2016 when he pitched to a 3.68 ERA in 33 starts and struck out 184 batters in 195.2 innings of work.
In 2017 and beyond, the average velocity of his fastball dropped below 92 mph and he saw the ramifications from it. Kennedy carried a 5.38 ERA in 30 starts and allowed a career-high in home runs (34). His strikeouts per 9 innings dropped every year since joining the Royals: 8.46 in 2016, 7.66 in 2017, and 7.90 in 2018.
Granted 2017 and 2018 were injury-plagued seasons for Kennedy as he made just 22 starts a year ago. To preserve the longevity of his career, the Royals considered moving him to bullpen which is fairly common with pitchers in the twlight of their careers.
Look no further than former Royals closer Wade Davis who was converted to a reliever in 2014 and the team’s full-time closer in 2015. Kennedy has experienced similar success since being moved to the back end of the bullpen.
In 49 appearances this season, Kennedy has collected 22 saves in 49.1 innings of work while striking out a career-high 28 percent of the batters he’s faced and walking the fewest of his career (less than 6 percent). More importantly, Kennedy has seen a spike in his fastball velocity which has top out near 97 mph but has, on average, been around 94 mph.
Kennedy got roughed up pretty good in Sunday’s series finale, blowing the save but ending up getting the win. That will happen with any reliever but he’s generally been mostly good this season. Opponents have put the barrel on the ball at a 5.8 percent clip and an average exit velocity of just 88 mph, both career-lows for Kennedy.
He believes that he can continue pitching at a high level beyond this season as well:
"“I do want to keep pitching. You can sign one-year or two-year deals, because even though you’re older, teams know you can still pitch and help a team. You look around the league and you see that all the time. I think it was just the volume of throws you make as a starter. And I really use a lot of my lower body to pitch, and it took its toll. But now I’m throwing more often, but much less total volume per outing. I feel like I can bounce back quicker.” – MLB"
Kennedy is under contract through next season but his $16.5 million AAV salary is steep. He’ll likely have to take a pay cut if he wants to remain with the team beyond next season. I could even see some scenario where the Royals try to re-work his contract for next year with an option for 2021 as well.