Morning Coffee with Mark Whelan: What’s Wrong with Ian Kennedy?


Jun 25, 2014; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Diego Padres starting pitcher Ian Kennedy (22) returns to the dugout against the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

It seems like just a couple of weeks ago that we were thinking about whether or not Ian Kennedy might be an All-Star possibility. He was top five in the National League in strikeouts, his ERA was inching toward the top 20, and while his record was only 5-6, the fact that he was almost a .500 pitcher on a team that gets about two hits a week probably worked in his favor.

Since then, his record has dropped to 5-9, his ERA has shot up from the low 3’s to 4.01, and nobody’s talking about him being an All-Star. He’s still striking out about a guy an inning, but we’ve got to be wondering, what happened? What’s wrong?

The answer is – nothing. This is the pitcher that Ian Kennedy is. 4.01 is a lot more in line with Kennedy’s career numbers than the 3.39 he had on June 4. As a matter of fact, it’s almost exactly his career ERA, which is an even 4.00 after giving up four runs in 6.1 innings, while losing to You-Know-Who in yesterday’s “game which shall not be named.”

Kennedy fits right in on the Padres. He had one monster year, and the rest of his career has been quite pedestrian. Kennedy finished 4th in Cy Young voting in 2011, putting up a flashy 21-4 record with a 2.88 ERA. Take away that one year, and his numbers for the rest of his career are 37-44 with a 4.34 ERA.

Since coming to the Padres, he’s 9-11 with a 4.09 ERA. And that’s pitching half his games in Petco Park. Actually, Petco has not been very homey to Kennedy. This year, he’s putting up a 3.80 ERA on the road, while allowing 4.19 per nine innings at the corner of Park Boulevard and Tony Gwynn Drive.

Kennedy throws a lot of pitches. He’s averaging 17.25 pitches per inning this year, which limits how deep he goes in games. Andrew Cashner, by contrast, averages 14.96 pitches per inning. That means it takes Kennedy 103 pitches to get through six innings, while Cash only throws 90. So Cashner comes out to throw the seventh, while Kennedy is finding a comfy seat in the dugout to watch Nick Vincent start the parade of relievers coming in from the bullpen. In a recent Padres Social Hour, Kennedy sat on the big leather couch and talked about how happy he was in games where he came out and pitched six solid innings. Said something like “If I could do that every game, I’d be satisfied.”

What would Nolan Ryan say?

Satisfied with six innings pitched. Perhaps if he were more concerned about going seven or eight, or heaven-forbid, throwing a complete game, he might be more careful about keeping his pitch count down. He has thrown two complete games in 157 career starts. Cashner has two CGs in 44 starts.

When the Padres’ offense took a beating at the start of June, Kennedy seemed to be experiencing sympathy pains. His June numbers have been terrible, and in his last four starts, he’s allowed 17 runs (16 earned) in 23.2. innings, for a 6.08 ERA. Not surprisingly, he is 0-3 over that stretch.

When Kennedy came to San Diego last year, we all hoped he could recreate the magic that made him among the best pitchers in the league that one year. And for a dozen games or so this year, he made us believe that might be possible. But players tend to revert to their career norms over time (or so Bud Black has been telling us all season about the offense). And it appears that Kennedy is reverting to the six-inning, 4.00 ERA, league-average pitcher that he has been for most of his career.