It’s been a helluva busy morning. Your boss is on your case to get that report in by the end of the day. You only got to spend five minutes checking out Razzball today. Work sucks. Thankfully, it’s lunchtime, and just in the nick of time too. You’re famished. You’re on the clock though. Don’t have a whole lot of time to dick around and enjoy a sit down meal. You need to grab something quickly. Panera’s out. Look at that ridiculous line. Is there a “you pick three” special today or something? Chick-fil-A and Chipotle are out too. It seems like everyone is eating out today. But there are only four cars in the McDonald’s drive through. Looks like it’s the McHeat lamp special for you today! Cheap, quick, and somewhat edible. Not the worst thing in the world, but not exactly what you were looking for either. More of a “plan D” than anything else.
Ian Kennedy seems to be the McDonald’s of starting pitchers. An emergency fallback option. Can’t afford David Price, Zack Greinke, Johnny Cueto, or Jeff Samardzija? Sign a Kennedy. Missed out on Carlos Rodon, Taijuan Walker, and Luis Severino earlier in the draft? I guess Kennedy will have to suffice. He’s just a late round pick anyway. You can always drop him at any time. But is he really that bad of a fantasy option?
In a word – no. Grey has Kennedy ranked as the 76th best starting pitcher for the 2016 season, and he’s currently the 65th starting pitcher off of the board in NFBC drafts (247.80 ADP). Here are a few reasons why he’s being undervalued this year:
• Over the last two seasons, there were 13 starting pitchers who produced a K/9 greater than 9 as well as a K/BB ratio greater than 3 (min 300 IP): Clayton Kershaw, Corey Kluber, Price, Jake Arrieta, Max Scherzer, Chris Sale, Jon Lester, Madison Bumgarner, Felix Hernandez, Jacob deGrom, Chris Archer, Stephen Strasburg, and… Ian Kennedy.
• Kennedy has been hurt by the longball over that two year span, but much moreso at his former team’s home ballpark, San Diego’s Petco Park, than elsewhere. At Petco, he allowed 29 homers in 186 innings (1.4 HR/9) as opposed to 18 homers in 183.1 innings (0.88 HR/9) away from San Diego. His ratios (3.68 ERA & 1.25 WHIP on the road vs 4.16 ERA & 1.33 WHIP at home) reflect the results of those home run rates.
• This offseason, Kennedy joined the defending World Series champion Kansas City Royals. Over the past two regular seasons, fewer home runs (105) were hit at KC’s home ballpark, Kauffman Stadium, than at any other stadium in MLB. While Petco Park was in the bottom 10 in HR allowed over that span (128), there was still a 23 homer difference, or 11.5 per season, between the two parks.
• As a flyball pitcher (38.2% FB% since 2014 – 17th highest among qualified SPs), Kennedy is reliant on his outfield defense to make plays for him. In 2015, the Royals led MLB in OF defensive WAR (20.0) while the Padres were 26th in that category (-35.1). If you prefer the Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) metric, the Royals outfield led MLB by a mile (95.3; the Rays finished 2nd with a 64.6 rating), while the Padres outfield finished 21st out of the 30 MLB teams (-19.7).
• Is strength of schedule an issue? Moving from the National League to the American League is generally a bad thing for a pitcher, but that’s not necessarily the case in every situation. In 2015, all four of Kennedy’s NL West divisional opponents finished in the top 12 in MLB in terms of OPS vs right-handed pitching (Rockies – .772, Giants – .741, Diamondbacks – .739, Dodgers – .732). Here’s how Kennedy’s new AL Central rivals fared (Tigers – .732, Indians – .720, White Sox – .700, Twins – .694). Kennedy goes from having all four divisional opponents in the top 12 in MLB in OPS vs RHP to having only one opponent in the top half of MLB (Tigers) in that category. The White Sox (25th) and Twins (26th) were among the worst teams in baseball in that area.
Bottom line: It might not be wise to count on Kennedy as one of your top three starting pitchers, but when factoring in his strikeouts and improved situation (ballpark, defense, opponents), he looks like a top 50 fantasy SP in 2016, and he’s likely to come at a discount. Draft with confidence.
Projection: 188 IP, 13 wins, 3.72 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 177 strikeouts