Ian Kennedy is no longer a valuable starting pitcher. But the Kansas City Royals did find a way to make him useful in 2019.
Ian Kennedy may seem like an unlikely pleasant surprise candidate. In 2016 he signed with the Kansas City Royals as a free agent starting pitcher. He made 16.5 million dollars last year and he failed to start 20 games for the first time since 2009. He was “demoted” to the bullpen.
Sometimes management is not just about creating opportunities for your highest performers. Much of good management is finding the right seat on the bus so that everyone possible can contribute to the team’s success. And in moving Ian Kennedy to the bullpen, the Royals did just that. They found the right job for Ian Kennedy at the right time in his career.
Entering his age 34 season in 2019, Ian Kennedy appeared to be on his last leg. He only made it through 119 innings in 2018. His FIP was 4.61 and his strikeouts per 9 were under 8 for the second season in a row. His WHIP was beginning to creep up near the 1.4 range. He had become a solidly below-average pitcher.
Moving Kennedy to the bullpen seemed to bring him back to life. Kennedy was excellent as a reliever for the Kansas City Royals in 2019. His strikeouts per 9 innings were the highest of his career. His FIP was under 3 for the first time in his career. His walks per 9 innings were the best it has been since 2012 and he did it all with the unluckiest BABIP of his career, at .343.
The downside to developing a closer at the end of his career for the 2019 Kansas City Royals is that it was almost completely worthless. Paying a pitcher over 14 million dollars to close out meaningless games is just about the worst investment a major league baseball franchise could make. In fact, there is even an argument to be made that without a good closer maybe the Royals would not have managed to lose so many games and still only get the 4th best pick in the next draft.
Kennedy should be moved. We should eat whatever salary is necessary to get the best return in an Ian Kennedy trade. He should have been moved last season. Unless the Royals are serious about signing some decent free-agent starting pitchers for 2020, trotting out a 35-year-old closer for another season where you lose more than 90 games makes no sense.
But none of that should take away from what Ian Kennedy achieved in 2019. He put together a wonderful bounce-back season. He has found a legitimate second act as a closer.