Kyle Kendrick and Unfair Comparison

I admit that I, like many Philadelphia fans, have been rough on Kyle Kendrick over the last couple of years. Kendrick has flirted mostly with mediocrity during his 6-year career, illustrated by his 4.30 ERA and 4.82 FIP. Since his first call-up in 2007, he’s spent time in both the starting rotation and bullpen, largely overshadowed by star teammates Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, and Roy Oswalt.

Toss Joe Blanton and Vance Worley into that mix, and it’s hard for Kendrick to distinguish himself as much more than a long reliever with spot starter potential. A lack of strikeout stuff (4.64 career K/9) means he’s a sinkerballing, contact-inducing, defense-dependent pitcher — making him something even less than an afterthought for fantasy owners and a whipping boy for the sabermetric community.

He hasn’t been a permanent member of the rotation since 2010, when he posted a 4.73 ERA in 31 starts. He’s made 40 starts in the past 2 seasons combined, filling in for injuries and the like, and spent another 45.1 innings in the bullpen. It’s somewhat of an anti-event when he starts at Citizens Bank Park — if you’re going to a game, you hope he won’t be taking the mound in the top of the first.

Despite his shortcomings and general mockability (that’s definitely a word, and hey, at least his wife looks pretty hot), Kendrick arguably remains an underrated pitcher. He’s streaky and can be difficult to watch at times, but he quietly took (somewhat of) a step forward in 2012: he threw 145.2 innings as a starter, striking out 109 batters (6.55 K/9) while maintaining a decent walk rate (2.41 BB/9), a step up from his 4.63 K/9 in 114.1 innings (83 as a starter) in 2011, perhaps due to the development of his secondary pitches.

He’s also managed a sub-4 ERA as a starter 4 times since 2007 (including his 11.2 inning 2009 season). Though not an overly impressive statistic, those numbers are actually quite good for an end-of-the-rotation option, and they speak to Kendrick’s consistency and reliability as a viable major league pitcher — not to mention he’s never spent a day on the disabled list. During that time he’s been a constant in the Philles’ frequently-evolving pitching equation and was rewarded with a 2-year, $7.5 million extension before last season.

The 28-year-old righty will have another shot at sticking in the rotation in his contract year 2013, given the recent departures of Blanton and Worley. It’s unclear whether he’ll be able to sustain the uptick in strikeouts and repeat his 2012 success, especially facing tough NL East opponents Washington and Atlanta multiple times each. However, last season’s performance indicates that he has the ability to be more than bottom-of-the-barrel filler, and he should be eager to prove to the Phillies that he’s worthy of another extension. It’s easy to overlook Kendrick when he’s standing next to a few potential future Hall of Famers (yeah, I said it), but another strong showing in 2013 could finally be enough to convince Phillies fans that they’re underappreciating a relatively cheap and useful commodity.

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