Monday, February 1, 2010

The Ian Kennedy Chronicles

  • Will Ian Kennedy's Fortunes Change In Arizona?

I've never been shy in repeating (ad nauseam) about how right I was in my 2008 assessment of Ian Kennedy. Not only did I say that he was nowhere near as good as the other young Yankee starters Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain, I said that of the three pitchers, he was most likely to either not make the club out of spring training; or make the club, get pounded and be sent back to the minors.

Because Kennedy was seen to be the most "polished" of the three pitchers, he was expected to have immediate success in the big leagues. While pitchers like Hughes and Chamberlain----who have far better stuff that Kennedy----occasionally need time to bridle their more evident gifts, a pitcher who has to rely on location and movement to dominate in the minors is going to use that experience to maintain his success in the majors.

At least that's the theory.

The reality is that regardless of how "polished" and "poised" a pitcher is, he has to have stuff. He has to have it. And if he doesn't have it, then he's going to get punished. As did Ian Kennedy. In addition to that simple truth, Kennedy always appeared to be a tinkerer; someone who thought too much out on the mound. Thinkers tend to not be listeners; and so it was with Kennedy as things came apart in 2008 that there was always a minor mechanical tweak; a new wrinkle on a pitch; a floating reason why he wasn't dominating as he did in the minors; something that would be remedied in his next start. You need only look at his big league performance to see the end result of said hardheadedness and fiddling.

It wasn't just Kennedy's horrific numbers that were the major problem in 2008. It was his notorious gift for delusional self-analysis that caused veteran teammates to look at him oddly as if to say, "what's wrong with this kid?" In a clubhouse with Derek Jeter and his enforcer Jorge Posada, who'd been through the wars, there had to be an air of bewilderment that Kennedy would...not....stop.

Veteran players don't want to hear lip from rookies to begin with; but when that rookie is getting rocked all over the place and is still finding ways to somehow justify not only his performances, but his presence in the big leagues, it's only a matter of time before everything comes crashing down. The signs were there in 2007 when he had his impressive September call up; the signs that it wasn't going to be as easy for him as it looked.

Mediocre control pitchers cannot be walking 9 hitters in 19 innings. In the minors, hitters are going to swing at pitches that are close to the strike zone; they're going to help a pitcher out; and the penchant for making a pitcher pay for making a mistake isn't as pronounced----that's why it's the minors. Any pitcher who's relying on something other than raw power in the minors and has some feel for what he's doing on the mound is going to have success. Everyone in the minors can crush a fastball; so when there's a pitcher who's got decent command of the strike zone and a serviceable breaking pitch, he's going to have success.

It doesn't work like that in the majors.

Kennedy rough big league experience was a symptom to the larger problem. In the majors, the hitters aren't going to offer at pitches as a favor, especially from a rookie; they're not going to be tricked with cuteness. They're also going to hammer mistakes.

It's a cycle. A young pitcher tries to get the close calls he got in the minors and the umpires (not immune to a little rookie initiation to send the message as to who's in charge) don't give the close calls. Once he doesn't get the close calls and starts to throw pitches that are nearer to the heart of the plate to get strike calls, and if he doesn't have the power fastball and devastating breaking ball or changeup to make a hitter miss, he gets creamed.

Kennedy's stuff is not that good.

No matter how many different pitches he tries to formulate; what he conjures to unlock the "secret" to success in the big leagues, it won't happen because he doesn't have the stuff. There's no escaping from that reality.

You may ask how I know so much about this. Well, I know about this because I was the same way!

During my unimpressive "career" in school and on the sandlots, I suffered from similar fantasies as Kennedy. I thought I was better than I was; I was always coming up with a new pitch; I was smarter than everyone else; I didn't listen; and most importantly, I had a big flapping mouth.*

*I've changed a lot, huh?

Would I have been better off not trying to throw an array of pitches that included a screwball, a changeup, a split-finger, a forkball, a sinker and whatever else popped into my addled mind? Of course. A fastball and a curve are more than enough to get hitters out before getting to the higher levels.

It's sometimes enough to get hitters out in the big leagues.

But only if he has the "stuff". And if he listens. And keeps his mouth shut.

Kennedy doesn't have the stuff to be anything more than a back-of-the-rotation starter at best. He doesn't listen. He's too impressed with himself and his plans and schemes to fix what's really wrong on the mound and maximize his limited abilities; and he's never going to get anything done in the majors until he learns how to do as he's told and stop making excuses for why he's getting roped all over the lot.

It may not matter though.

Because he doesn't have the stuff.

A pitcher can be nursed into a semblance of success, but only if he listens. Is Ian Kennedy ready to listen? Or is it going to take someone to do as I suggested in mid-2008----and I mean this----knock him around a little bit to get it through his head that he neither knows what he's talking about, nor should he be talking about it to begin with; that he isn't going to get anywhere until he starts following orders rather than re-inventing the wheel because of what worked in the minors.

We'll know soon enough whether Kennedy's struggles with the Yankees taught him a lesson. Pitchers and catchers report in a couple of weeks. If Kennedy comes up with another series of pithy and clever quotes of what he plans to do with the Diamondbacks, we'll know; we'll also know the end result; and it won't be good.

  • Reds sign Orlando Cabrera to a 1-year-contract:

A 1-year contract at $3 million for a veteran player of Orlando Cabrera's resume sounds low before looking at how things have played out. Cabrera is one of those players----like Johnny Damon and Orlando Hudson----who has use, but is trapped in a purgatory of not wanting to take a giant paycut; nor switch positions to have a job. They have a certain stature in the game to be able to be somewhat inflexible and not have it appear as if they're being divas.

It's this rock-and-a-hard-place circumstance that has Cabrera moving to his fifth organization since 2007. He's a good player, but not someone who's in heavy demand that he'll get an immediate job during free agency. He's a "chips fall" guy. Once the main names start to come off the board, teams take a second look at him; teams that might not indulge in the free agency game as avidly as others.

That's how Cabrera wound up with the Reds.

Does he help them?

There's a movement afoot to anoint the Reds as possible Wild Card contenders this year. PECOTA has them (today at least) at 81-81, which normally would mean mediocrity; but if PECOTA's accurate (yah, right!!!), that would have the Reds hovering around contention for a playoff spot late into the season.

I don't see it.

They have some solid enough starting pitching, but their outfield is one of baseball's worst; they're relying on the injury-prone Scott Rolen to stay healthy and repeat his comeback year from 2009; and Joey Votto's emotional problems would concern me.

With Cabrera, the Reds are better today than they were yesterday, but that doesn't mean they're contenders, because they're not.

  • Viewer Mail 2.1.2010

Joe at Statistician Magician writes RE A Few Good Men and stats:

I know that you were quoting the movie. I haven't seen it in years, but I do remember the notorious first line.

Second, PECOTA is a tool, nothing more. It is an attempt at *something* not an attempt at *everything*

Third, something that I have noticed, is that the RIGHT statistics along with subjective analysis is the best way to approach the game of baseball. SO for example, if YOU took the time to understand things such as 'WAR' and wOBA, then you could use them, when needed or desired, rather than simply dismissing them most of the time. The point is, we all use statistics to some extent. Why not use the ones that are more accurate? Stats that take into account most facets of the game (WAR).

Anything is an attempt at "something". We're getting existential here on PAULLEBOWITZ.COM.

Your stat zombie is showing Joe as you're getting a little condescending and pompous and it's not flying here.

To the best of my recollection, the only time I ever mentioned WAR in a posting was when was dragged into a Baseball Think Factory scrum that I had nothing to do with in any capacity. Aside from that, I've never even discussed it. Having never discussed it or wOBA, my admittedly rudimentary math/logic skills will yield the result that I've never dismissed either of them.

Yes, I do know what they are and I do understand them.

I make my judgments how I make my judgments, whether you like them or not.

PECOTA is a tool. Conveniently, the dogmatic creators and proponents of PECOTA are tools as well. It all fits perfectly as far as I'm concerned.

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE the Mets:

I agree that the Mets did not need a wholesale make-over. They had really good players who got injured last year. Lots of overreaction going on.

The overreaction is partially due to a piling on effect. Some of the criticism of the club is justified, but it's gotten so far over-the-top, I don't know how any reasonable person can take it seriously anymore.

I get the impression that there's a genuine air of optimism around the Mets inside the organization. They're almost embarrassed to express it publicly because of the endless ridicule and PTSD from the disaster of 2009, but it's there.

Because the Phillies and Braves have weakened themselves to the degree that they have; that the Marlins are always respectable; and the Nationals, while not being anywhere close to improved to the point that others think, aren't a punching bag anymore, the implication is that this will be bad for the Mets; I don't see it that way. I see it as an opportunity because other teams will be in the same morass as the Mets leading to an easier road to contention in the division.

The Mets are going to shock more than a few people this year. Mark my words.


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Onix said...

2009 projections report:

PECOTA - avg. difference of 6 wins per team, 6 of 30 predictions off by 10+ wins

Prince - avg. difference of 8 wins per team, 12 of 30 predictions off by 10+ wins

Do you really want to hammer on PECOTA for its lack of accuracy?

I enjoy this site. It's like FoxNews of baseball sites. You keep harping on the one thing you get right (Marlins) and ignoring the many many many things you do not.

She-Fan said...

The Fox News of blogs. Hmm. I was going to say something about Ian Kennedy, but I need to ponder Onix's comment first.

Jeff said...

Doesn't PECOTA harp on their big win too (the 2008 Rays)?

If this site is like Fox News then can I be Sarah Palin? In my rendition, she will not only be attractive, but SMART too!

Beeeebzy said...

This Onix fella's a friggin' GENIUS. Using Stat Zombieism to counter an attack on Stat Zombies? Genius. It's like fighting fire with a TI-83 graphic calculator.
His argument blew my mind.

And comparing this site to Fox News? Genius. I bow down to him because I am not worthy. I guess that's why he felt the freedom to share his statistical expertise on this site. Since he likens it to Fox News:

"The Special Olympics is to winners as FOX News is to experts. If you show up, you are one." - Jon Stewart

Onix showed up, therefore he is an expert.

How dare you question his number-crunching skills? You infidels!
So what if the only wood he's handled in relation to baseball is the pencil he uses to punch in numbers on his calculator. SO WHAT? Does that make him less knowledgeable about the sport than those who have had years of experience playing it? NO! Logically, according to an algorithm created by Baseball Prospectus, never having played baseball makes you more knowledgeable than former baseball players by a ratio of Infinity to 1.

While you all are busy following baseball games and gaining a deeper understanding of the nature of the sport, he's in a basement somewhere figuring out the 756208525072057th digit of Pi. So how dare you question his baseball knowledge?

We should all thank God for baseball experts like Onix. Without them, we wouldn't have ESPN.

Having said all of that, I doubt that Onix will appreciate the admiration for his analysis in my comment because, sadly, sarcasm is wasted on the stupid.

Onix said...

Beeeebzy - Well said, you got me. For what it's worth I usually use a well crafted mechanical pencil, not a cheap, wooden one.