A year ago, (2010, that is, let's not get technical) Ian Kennedy stealthily crept into the Diamondbacks rotation and posted a 3.80 ERA with nearly 200 innings pitched. Many writers and scholars alike pointed at his .256 BABIP and poor walk rate as a means to believe in regression.
Bill James churned out his projection for 2011 soon after and shunned the idea of regression with a projection of a 3.66 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, and 176 K. Not bad for someone who suddenly became the team's "ace" after the departed Dan Haren and Brandon Webb. What we actually got in 2011, well, long story short is... he was good.
Sometimes it only takes a few words to sum up how a season went for a player. This quote comes from a man named Rick Doyle of NESN on the eve of the end of the season...
Kennedy's WPA (win probability added), which is a system that essentially measures a pitcher's ability to help his team win, stands at 5.23. That's the best such mark in the majors -- even higher than Justin Verlander's 5.16.
Really. End of story. Ian Kennedy has significantly helped turnaround the team's success since 2010. I know I'm only here to grade this past season but it can't be stressed enough how important he has been. Plus, he has a beard. AWESOME. See for yourself:
Kennedy started the season strong with two strong quality outings before imploding in a game against the Cardinals. Yeah, it's not just you, I completely forgot about that game too. Ian left that game after only three innings, allowing 9 runs off of 7 hits and 2 walks. A couple of weeks later, this happened:
That outing pretty much set the tone for the rest of the season. Even better is the fact that he totally showed up Cliff Lee in that game. Booya, Philly. Kennedy went on to post a 3.44 ERA in the first half of the season (as well as getting snubbed for the All-Star Game) and followed that up by recording an insane 2.11 ERA after the All-Star break. He was among the top NL leading pitchers in nearly every category at the end of the season. He had the 4th best WAR (5.5), 7th best ERA (2.88), tied for 1st with 21 wins, 6th best WHIP (1.08), 8th most strikeouts (198) and more. Not to mention he was also 4th on the Cy Young balloting.
Kennedy saw some of his magic disappear in the NLCS against the Brewers, most notably taking two of the three losses. He allowed six extra-base hits in the series and never quite showed off that "ace-ness" that he had flaunted throughout the season. All in all, Kennedy topped off a surprise season for the D-backs by one-upping that with an even surpriseier one himself. He posted career highs in nearly every category and he dropped his BB% while improving his K%. That's a recipe that is sugary sweet.
Other SnakePit grades
Well, he didn't win the Cy Young, did he? That's what we expect from Arizona aces. Apart from that and a disappointing playoff performance, this was a magical season, made all the better by the knowledge that the Yankees could really have used Kennedy this year. Instead, we had one of the best pitchers in the majors, for a song. I was particularly impressed how he got better as the season went on - It was almost as if he took the All-Star snub personally, a 2.11 ERA during the second-half was third-best in the majors. The D-backs rotation should be a thing of beauty going forward, and Kennedy stands at its center.