One of the toughest aspects of both being a fan and providing accurate analysis is separating perception from reality. Fans tend to anchor their opinions of a player early on, holding steadfastly to that perception even after the player improves or declines. This holds especially true for fans of a specific team, who watch the same players routinely and have difficulty acknowledging legitimate changes in their games.
It’s hard to suddenly feel confident in a player you once saw struggle mightily, just like it’s tough to remove your supreme confidence in a formerly elite player whose skills and numbers more closely resemble the middle of the pack. It takes time for these perception shifts to occur and this tends to lead to fans under- or overrating players throughout the transition.
Regardless of what we once thought about Kyle Kendrick the time has come to change that perception. Kendrick is a flat out different pitcher than he was from 2007-11, and it isn’t merely a small sample size fluke this season.
Kendrick ’07-’11: 4.1 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 45.6% GB, 4.41 ERA, 4.95 FIP
Kendrick ’12-’13: 6.6 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, 46.9% GB, 3.82 ERA, 4.27 FIP
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Kendrick’s results improved as he started missing more bats. However, his results started to improve in 2011, when he spent half the season in the rotation and the other half in the bullpen. As a reliever, he had a 3.7 K/9 and 3.7 BB/9 over 31 2/3 innings, compared to his 5.0 K/9 and 1.8 BB/9 over 83 innings as a starter.
In isolating his numbers as a starter in 2011 and adding them to his 2012-13 numbers, we get the following pitching line: 6.1 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 46.2% GB, 3.60 ERA. Without knowing who those numbers were attached to, a fan would likely get excited at the prospect of that pitcher occupying the middle of the rotation. Yet, the perception of Kendrick is disconnected from his actual performance as a starting pitcher from 2011-13, and the time has come to give the man his due. This is a different Kyle Kendrick and that’s exactly the point.
I’m not a huge fan of playing the ‘Guess That Pitcher’ game all time but it’s an important evaluative device when discussing perception. Kendrick may be viewed a certain way by the majority of fans, yet those same fans think much more highly of others with comparable numbers. Some of these comparable pitchers have vastly better reputations and, while their numbers are better than Kendrick’s since 2011, the difference isn’t nearly drastic enough to suggest that some merit lofty guaranteed deals while Kendrick represents a waste of payroll.
Compare the following nameless players from 2011-13:
Pitcher A: 7.0 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 48.5% GB, 3.16 ERA
Pitcher B: 6.2 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, 45.7% GB, 4.54 ERA
Pitcher C: 6.1 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 46.2% GB, 3.60 ERA
Pitcher D: 7.2 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, 46.1% GB, 3.47 ERA
Pitcher E: 6.3 K/9, 2.3 BB/9, 47.7% GB, 4.46 ERA
The ERAs vary from pitcher to pitcher but they all boast similar peripheral skill-sets. Yes, a strikeout per nine innings is material, but the disparity in no way mirrors the difference in perception when names are attached. In analyzing these numbers, I would rank Pitcher A as the best, followed by Pitcher D, Pitcher C, Pitcher B and Pitcher E. Now let’s attach names to the statistical faces:
Hiroki Kuroda: 7.0 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 48.5% GB, 3.16 ERA
Ricky Nolasco: 6.2 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, 45.7% GB, 4.54 ERA
Kendrick (as SP): 6.1 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 46.2% GB, 3.60 ERA
Chris Carpenter: 7.2 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, 46.1% GB, 3.47 ERA
Brett Myers: 6.3 K/9, 2.3 BB/9, 47.7% GB, 4.46 ERA
This isn’t to suggest that Kendrick is as valuable as Kuroda or nearly as talented as Carpenter, even at the end of his career, but rather that he is much closer to those profiles at this point than, say, the Mike Pelfrey type.
In fact, while some analysts are suggesting that Ricky Nolasco could prove to be a significant trade deadline boon to a pitching-starved team, Kendrick could actually represent a better and cheaper alternative. If the Phillies don’t deal him, and he continues to improve, he is even someone the team should seriously consider re-signing to a reasonable multi-year deal.
It is still early in the 2013 season but Kendrick has been doing this since Summer 2011. He has worked his butt off to improve, and while it was initially easy to mock his shadowing of Roy Halladay during past spring trainings, it’s a testament to how seriously he takes his job and just how much he wanted to get better. Those efforts are continuing to yield results and Kendrick is continuing to look more like a mid-rotation starter instead of the guy who probably wasn’t even good enough to net the Japanese hot-dog guy in a trade.
The last time I praised a back-of-the-rotation Phillies starter for his results and durability, he gave up 6 runs over 1 2/3 innings and then went on the DL for two months. If Kendrick has a bad outing in his next start, it’ll just be a bad start from a good pitcher and not a sign that some short-lived performance fluke has finally ended.