Ian Kennedy's Opening Day Start


One of the best things about last night's game was seeing Ian Kennedy return to 2011 form, striking out eight and allowing two runs over seven innings. Let's take a look at it in a little more depth.

Firstly, here's how Kennedy's outing stands among Opening Day starts for Arizona, as judged by Game Score.

Rk Player Year Opp Rslt Dec IP H R ER BB SO HR Pit Str GSc
1 Randy Johnson 2002 SDP W 2-0 W 9.0 6 0 0 1 8 0 130 91 82
2 Randy Johnson 2000 PHI W 6-4 W 8.2 4 3 2 2 10 2 133 86 74
3 Dan Haren 2010 SDP W 6-3 W 7.0 3 1 1 0 4 0 92 63 71
4 Randy Johnson 2001 LAD W 3-2 W 7.0 4 2 2 4 10 0 133 83 67
5 Ian Kennedy 2013 STL W 6-2 W 7.0 5 2 2 1 8 0 94 67 66
6 Brandon Webb 2006 COL L 2-3 ND 7.0 5 1 1 2 2 0 98 66 63
7 Randy Johnson 1999 LAD L 6-8 ND 7.0 5 2 2 6 9 1 126 69 62
8 Brandon Webb 2008 CIN W 4-2 W 6.0 3 2 2 4 6 0 90 56 60
9 Randy Johnson 2004 COL L 2-6 L 6.0 6 3 3 3 6 1 114 76 51
10 Ian Kennedy 2011 COL W 7-6 ND 6.0 6 4 3 3 3 1 108 63 46
11 Ian Kennedy 2012 SFG W 5-4 W 6.2 9 3 3 2 3 1 98 69 45
12 Randy Johnson 2003 LAD L 0-8 L 6.2 9 5 3 2 5 1 102 69 43
13 Andy Benes 1998 COL L 2-9 L 6.1 9 5 5 1 1 1 105 65 35
14 Brandon Webb 2007 COL W 8-6 ND 5.0 8 5 5 3 5 0 96 62 33
15 Brandon Webb 2009 COL W 9-8 ND 4.0 6 6 6 2 2 2 77 42 26
16 Javier Vazquez 2005 CHC L 6-16 L 1.2 10 7 7 0 2 0 42 30 9

Up until the seventh inning, Kennedy had a chance to be behind only the Big Unit, but the hits and run allowed there dropped him back a couple of spots. Even though he gave us quality start in both 2011 and 2012, last night was easily the best Opening Day of Kennedy's career, mostly because it had more strikeouts than the other two combined. Random factoid: Last night's four-run margin of victory was the biggest in Opening Day history for the Diamondbacks. 2010's three-run gap, behind Dan Haren, was the only other time we've won by more than two runs.

How did Kennedy do it? Let's start by breaking down Kennedy's pitch-selection last night. The table below shows the type of pitches he used, the number and percentage thrown, the percentage they were a strike (whether called, swinging, foul or a ball in play), then the average and maximum velocity.

Type #
% used
Strike Avg. Max
2-seam FB 39 41.5% 84.6% 90.7 93.7
4-seam FB 22 23.4% 54.5% 90.7 93.3
Change-up 18 19.1% 66.7% 81.2 82.1
Curveball 12 12.8% 66.7% 78.8 81.5
Cutter 3 3.2% 66.7% 86.3 86.8

If you compare that with his numbers throughout last season, there isn't a great deal of variation in the pitches used. Last year, he threw the two-seamer 43% of the time, and the four-seamer 25%, so a slight downtick in both. The main beneficiary was the curve, which was used only 7.9% of the time in 2012. Interestingly, the "cutter" thrown last night does not appear to have been used at all previously; the stats do show Kennedy throwing s slider, so this may be more a result of a change in the Gameday algorithm that identifies pitches. The similarity ties in with what Nick Piecoro reports: "Kennedy said there was no big adjustment, no major alteration to his game plan."

They key seems to have been control of his two-seamer. In 2012, that was a strike 69% of the time; yesterday, he only missed with it six times all night, an 85% rate. That level of control gives a pitcher more options, because they're usually working ahead in the count - and Kennedy was, throwing strike one to 22 of 25 batters. He reached a three-ball count twice: falling behind Holliday in the first, resulting in a 3-1 pitch dispatched for an RBI double, and the walk to Kozma in the fifth. Every other hitter knew Kennedy didn't have to throw them a strike, because he always had that room to maneuver.

That was particularly the case when it came to two-strike counts. If we look at the 31 pitches thrown by Kennedy in that situation yesterday, we see a much higher percentage of change-ups: 12 of them, or 39%, with that and his curve representing the majority of two-strike pitches by IPK. The change was also responsible for five of the eight strikeouts. One each came on curves, four-seamers and two-seamers, but it was Kennedy's ability to fool the hitters with the change-up which was key to putting them away.

Kennedy also had a little more giddy-up on his fastball. The average was at 90.7 mph, and he came close to 94, reaching his top speed with his 66th pitch of the night, so clearly wasn't wearing down. That compares to an average fastball of 89.5 mph over all of 2012, and is also above the 90.0 mph average posted by Ian on Opening Day that season. On the broadcast, Steve Berthiaume said Kevin Towers reckoned that part of Kennedy's problems last year, were due to a 'hangover' from the seriously-increased workload he had in 2011. While small sample-size obviously applies, Kennedy's arm appears in slightly better shape.

Certainly, it was the kind of start we wanted to see from the man who is expected to anchor our rotation, and will be a key component in its success (or otherwise) this year. I imagine all fingers are crossed that this will become the standard of performance we can expect from Kennedy in 2013.

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