Well, that was unexpected. Just as the signing of closer Mark Melancon was unexpected, we now have the return of IPK to Sedona Red. Now, GM Mark Hazen had recently said that strengthening Arizona’s bullpen was a priority. That certainly made sense, since it was largely terrible. But did anyone have Ian Kennedy on their list of relievers? Yet, here we apparently are tonight.
Ian Kennedy to the Diamondbacks. $4.75M plus pbs $2.35M in incentives— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) March 14, 2022
Kennedy was originally a Yankee, debuting for them in the majors during the 2007 season. He was traded to the Diamondbacks as part of a 3-way trade with the Tigers, which also involved Arizona getting Edwin Jackson, but at a cost including Max Scherzer. Kennedy then pitched 3 1/2 years for Arizona, going 48-34 with a 3.82 ERA (106 ERA+). That included a stellar 21-4 record in 2011, which saw Kennedy finish fourth in the Cy Young balloting. He was dealt to San Diego in a 2013 deadline deal for Matt Stites and Joe Thatcher.
Since then, Kennedy has also pitched for the Royals, Rangers and, most recently, the Phillies. He moved to the bullpen in 2019 for Kansas City. Over the past three years as a full-time reliever, including an injury curtailed 2020, Ian has a 3.91 ERA (118 ERA+) over 133 games and 133.2 innings, with a K:BB of 150:39. Even though Kennedy did pick up 26 saves in total last year, Melancon will likely be the closer for Arizona, but I'd expect IPK to be the chief set-up man. That may also reduce the incentives due, though as yet there are no specific details on those.
The 37-year-old Kennedy did have a 4.75 FIP last year, which is concerning as it suggests his 3.20 ERA may be tough to reproduce. A BABIP of .246 was well below league average, even though his line-drive rate was close to the mean. But even if he regresses, Kennedy will likely still be better than most of what shambled out from the bullpen for Arizona last season, their relievers posting a dreadful 5.08 ERA.