Ian Kennedy first appeared in the major leagues with the Yankees in 2007. In 2011 he was 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA with The Diamondbacks as he led them to the NL Division series only to be defeated by the Milwaukee Brewers. In virtually every other season, Kennedy pitched like a solid middle-of-the-rotation arm.
Veteran pitchers who have shown solid results can find baseball a lucrative endeavor. In 2016 Ian Kennedy signed a 5-year/$70M contract with the Kansas City Royals. 2016 was another solid season for him, but he fell off a cliff in 2017 pitching to a 5.38 ERA and a 5.61 FIP. 2018 was not better as he dealt with injuries, including a left oblique strain, and mediocre results (4.66 ERA and 4.61 FIP).
With Homer Bailey in the fold, the Royals decided to send Kennedy to the bullpen hoping his stuff would play up in shorter spurts. So far so good on that experiment. In 34 appearances thus far in 2019, Kennedy is sporting very effective results (3.60 ERA, 2.32 FIP, 1.29 WHIP, 3.25 DRA, and 131 ERA+). He is also striking out 10.80/9. Those results come on top of some bad luck, so he might be even better than the results indicate (.365 BABIP).
What year do you think Ian Kennedy went to the bullpen pic.twitter.com/DviTaajI9K— Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) July 1, 2019
On the other hand can he keep up a hard hit percentage of just 29.6%, which is in the 87th percentile in MLB? Other areas that the former starter is excelling include: 81st percentile in fastball spin rate, 76th percentile in curve ball spin, 81st percentile in K%, 85th percentile in exit velocity, 90th percentile in xBA, and 93rd percentile in xwOBA. Kennedy is very good to great in virtually every pitching category highlighted by Baseball Savant. He is turning out to be a very effective relief arm.
There is a small issue in acquiring Kennedy, unfortunately. Remember the Royals signed him to that relatively substantial contract. Most of the dollars in that contract come to Kennedy this season and in 2020. Whatever team that would trade for him would have to pay the remainder of $16.5 mil this season and $16.5 mil next season. The good news is that Kansas City will be motivated to move him. The bad news is the contract amount is cost prohibitive for Milwaukee, and allows bigger market teams the advantage of taking on salary as opposed to giving up higher end prospects to get the Royal’s closer. Everything depends on what Kansas City values most, salary dumping or prospect return.
Ian Kennedy tells https://t.co/6TSm0LErFq he wants to keep pitching in the big leagues after his Royals deal is up after 2020. And his new home in the closer's role could help make that happen. https://t.co/n9AWeY8NcR via @MLB— Jeffrey Flanagan (@FlannyMLB) July 5, 2019
Milwaukee would likely have to cover a substantial amount of his remaining contract while giving up some prospect capital. What the ratio of player salary to prospect yield happens to be will be anyone’s guess. Could the Brewers sneak in and make a trade that works for both parties? Kansas City tends be a good trade partner with Milwaukee, so anything is possible.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Savant