The Good, The Bad and the Future for the D-backs Rotation

Barry Enright, Dan Hudson and Ian Kennedy need a cool nickname, since it looks likely we'll be seeing them in our rotation through 2015 or thereabouts. I'm not trying to force it, but suggestions are welcome. Three Musketeers? Three Amigos? Three Kings? The Heroic Trio? The Three Faces of Fear? Three Coins in the Fountain? Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster? Yeah, guess who just put "three" into the search box at IMDB.com and let rip? Though must track down, "I Killed My Lesbian Wife, Hung Her on a Meat Hook, and Now I Have a Three-Picture Deal at Disney," which was Ben Affleck's 1993 directorial debut, apparently.

Anyway...

While you're chewing over that, after the jump we'll take a statistical look at our "Three [nickname to be announced]", their performances so far, and what we might expect from them going forward. They'll be in declining order of sample size, i.e. innings pitched for us this season, and also age.

Ian Kennedy
Age W L ERA G IP H R ER HR BB IBB SO HBP WP ERA+ WHIP H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
25 9 9 3.87 29 179.0 150 81 77 24 65 2 157 10 16 109 1.201 7.5 1.2 3.3 7.9 2.42

The Good
Questions about Kennedy's stamina, and his return from the aneurysm which required surgery last May, have largely been answered. Kennedy threw only about 140 innings combined, between the minors and majors, over the past two years, but has cruised beyond that, and even beyond his 2007 total of 165.1 IP. After a spell where it looked like he was wearing down, he has an 0.96 ERA over his last four starts, working 28 innings, allowing only 12 hits and striking out more than a better per frame. That included the best outing of his career, seven innings of one-hit ball, with a dozen strikeouts, against the Padres.

The Bad
Kennedy gets a lot of fly-balls. His GB/FB ratio this year is 0.59, among the five lowest in the National League. Generally, the fewer fly-balls he gets, the better he does, In eight outings where Kennedy has allowed nine or less, his ERA is 3.13, compared to 5.15 when there are more than a dozen fly-balls. Keeping the ball in the park is crucial for his success; he has done so well of late, with only one HR in his last seven starts, but that HR/FB rate is probably unsustainable. He also seems to struggle early on - in his first 25 pitches, his OPS against is over .900, compared to below .730 at any other time in the game. Maybe he needs to mentally prepare better in the 'pen?

The Future
A BABIP of .261, forty points below league average, suggests some regression. However, that may not all be luck, with our good outfield defense helping convert more of the fly-balls Ian generates into outs - Arizona's BABIP on fly-balls is .123, better than the league-average of .136. FIP and xFIP roughly agree on Kennedy, putting him at 4.34 and 4.30 respectively. If he can keep the walks under control a little better, and Messrs. Upton, Young and [Player To Be Named Later] keep vacuuming up balls in the outfield next year, then I think an ERA of around or slightly above four should be sustainable for Kennedy.

Barry Enright

Age W L ERA G IP H R ER HR BB IBB SO HBP WP ERA+ WHIP H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
24 6 4 3.39 14 82.1 81 31 31 15 23 0 42 0 0 125 1.263 8.9 1.6 2.5 4.6 1.83

The Good
It was a dream start to a major-league career for Enright, especially considering he had never pitched above Double-A before making his debut for the Diamondbacks. It seemed he could do no wrong, allowing three runs or less each time and going five or more each of his first 12 starts, a streak managed only once since 1920. He had a 2.45 ERA over that time, pitching with an authority and savvy that quite belied his rookie status. Even now, he's still a strike thrower, getting a first-pitch strike 63% of the time (NL avg: 59%), and above average overall, at 65%. A good double-play rate of 16% also perhaps suggests he can get ground-balls when he needs them.

The Bad
Reality check, Aisle 3...  Regression hit Enright, and hit hard, over his past two starts, where he has allowed seven home-runs in nine innings of work - and his BABIP was still below league-average over those contests, at .265. His GB/FB ratio is even more extreme than Kennedy's, at 0.54 - if Enright had enough innings to qualify, it would be the lowest rate of any right-hander in the NL. That's a problem, because more fly-balls tends to mean more home-runs, though Enright's pace there (10.2%) is currently higher than average (7.2%). There's also too much contact being made, with 84% of pitches swung at resulting in lumber hitting horsehide, five percent above the norm.

The Future
Enright needs to start missing more bats. A K-rate of 4.6 is so low, it's very difficult to be successful, especially when combined wth such an extreme fly-ball tendency. The K-rate was higher in the minors: 7.3 overall, and as high as 8.0 at Double-A before his call-up. Obviously, it's a significant jump to the majors, and one wonders if a repertoire that could fool prospects, is found wanting against big-league batters. It may be more plausible to use his decent, rather than superlative, pitch set, to work down in the zone and generate extra ground-balls. A FIP and xFIP that are both over five, suggest work ahead for Enright, if he is to sustain the general success enjoyed to date.

Daniel Hudson

Age W L ERA IP H R ER HR BB IBB SO HBP WP ERA+ WHIP H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
23 6 1 1.67 64.2 46 12 12 6 12 1 59 3 3 254 0.897 6.4 0.8 1.7 8.2 4.92

The Good
Where do I start with this trade? The last time I saw someone get so thoroughly taken advantage of, as the White Sox did here, Rohypnol was involved. [Oops. Did I say that out loud?] We traded a starter for another who is certainly younger, definitely cheaper and quite possibly better than the one we gave away. Got to love that kind of deal, at least from our end. Holding batters to a sub-Ueckerian .199 average to date,. Hudson has dominated - and seems to be getting better, with a 1.29 ERA in his last five games. If he can command his slider consistently (it's still a work in progress), who knows what his ceiling might be?

The Bad
I keep thinking the White Sox are going to invoke some right of rescission clause, cancel the deal and give us Edwin Jackson back. Otherwise, there's not much to say here. Obviously, we have to expect some regression - Hudson won't be a sub-two ERA pitcher forever. The hits will increase: a BABIP of .240 is unsustainably low, and is a factor why the current number, along with Hudson's walk-rate, is better than his minor-league one, of 6.9 and 2.5 respectively. Still, this is a clear case where it's fine to be a flyball pitcher, when you K enough guys and don't walk that many. We'll be okay as long as he doesn't turn back into the 4.72 ERA guy he was with the White Sox.

The Future
Here, I'm largely going to defer to shoewizard, who wrote in an email to me: "Figure at least a 110-120 ERA+ guy most years, with the potential to put up several peak years between 140-160. Yeah...I like him that much." shoe does have a track record with regard to young players - I'm not allowed to forget disparaging TroyBoy a couple of seasons back - so if he tells me that Hudson is the real deal, I'm not going to argue with him. FIP still rates Hudson at 3.17, easily the best of any AZ pitcher with a meaningful number of innings, and xFIP is at 3.59. As a yardstick, Brandon Webb's FIP and xFIP for his entire time here were 3.50 and 3.31.

Conclusions
In these three pitchers, Arizona have the foundation of their rotation for the next five years. Hudson and Kennedy give us two pitchers that may be front of the rotation (ERA of four or better) caliber, with Hudson's upside likely higher than Kennedy. Enright is a little harder to project, not least because the leap from Double-A to the majors presents a steeper learning curve than for the other two. He may flame out into Yusmeiro Petit-like obscurity within a season or two - the Petit Unit posted a 3.41 ERA over his first seven career starts, in 2006-07, before regression and the long-ball brought Yusmeiro crashing down to earth. 

But let's not dwell on that gloomy possibility. Instead, let's project that Barry can learn to use his arsenal effectively, then he will be a cheap, cost-controlled and reliable arm to roll out every fifth day, capable of keeping his team in the game. With Jarrod Parker also looming on the horizon, I am cautiously optimistic that the Diamondbacks' starting pitching should largely take care of itself for the next few seasons.

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