Ian Kennedy and the Cy Young Award
Statistics Aside, The Diamondbacks Hurler Is The Underdog Because Of Low Expectations
By Bob Goodwood
Modern Times Magazine
Sept. 22, 2011 — Coming into the 2011 season, Ian Kennedy was a respected pitcher in major league baseball. His record in college and through his minor league career lived up to expectations for a No. 21 overall draft selection.
The man known as IPK — or Captain Redbeard in 2011 — has a minor league ERA of 1.95 over parts of five seasons.
He was respected, sure, but he was not in the discussion as one of the best hurlers in the game.
The Yankees gave up on him after he struggled in his first big league appearances in 2008 and then later had an arm aneurysm. By the end of his first season in Arizona, where he posted a very respectable 9-10 with a 3.80 ERA for a demoralized team that lost its manager and general manager during the season, he was looking like he could develop into a solid starter.
All of the preseason ‘infotainment’ articles with predictions and glorification of who is going to dominate on the mound over the season talked about Halladay, Lee, Lincecum, Kershaw and the like. It is most likely that no one even thought that Ian Kennedy could be in the hunt for the award this season.
The only people that might have felt that way — maybe — were Kennedy and his family.
The Cy Young Award is just different. It is not often that a pitcher has a season like the one Kennedy is currently executing when he has not at least sniffed 15 wins previously. Tradition and the difficulty of getting big league hitters out is so hard that those who reach the top of their craft are elevated over time and with consistency.
Baseball Prospectus had the following Cy Young award watch-list in the 2011 preseason: Roy Halladay, Tim Lincecum, Clayton Kershaw, Josh Johnson, Cliff Lee, Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels, Tommy Hanson, Matt Cain, Chris Carpenter, Ubaldo Jimenez, R.A. Dickey, Roy Oswalt.
Johnson got hurt and only made nine starts.
Jimenez got lost in Colorado and eventually traded.
Most of the other guys had good years. Halladay, Lee, Hamels, and Oswalt are all Phillies. Lincecum, Cain and Kershaw have been outstanding as were most of the rest.
But it is the case of Zach Greinke that perhaps best illustrates the point that a pitcher has to be great over at least one season before he is truly ‘eligible’ for the award. After that one season, he might be eligible for a few years on reputation alone.
Greinke had a great 2009. He was 16-8 with a 2.16 ERA. He won the Cy Young award. But he set all of that up with a solid 2007 and and even better 2008. He was the best in the game in 2009 and was therefore considered a Cy Young candidate heading into 2011 although he had a 4.71 ERA in 2010.
It is not a question of fair or not fair. It is just baseball.
Pitching, after all, has a lot to do with reputation, so it is only right that the biggest accolade that a pitcher can receive is partially based upon one’s history to a certain extent. Once a pitcher is known as an ace, he already has hitters right where he wants them: doubting.
Kennedy’s numbers are comparable to any starting pitcher in the league. Going into his final start or two, Kennedy is 20-4 with a 2.88 ERA, a 1.083 WHIP and 216 innings pitched.
Halladay is 18-6 with a 2.41 ERA, a 1.0445 WHIP in 227 innings pitched. Cliff Lee is 16-7 with a 2.38 ERA, and a 1.015 WHIP in 219 innings. Kershaw also had a great 2011 although the Dodgers were a joke. He posts a 20-5 record with a league leading 2.27 ERA, and a 0.987 WHIP in 218 innings.
The numbers are the numbers and they can be debated until the cows come home. But these differences are so small and are varied from man to man — one leads in ERA, the other in wins, etc. — that choosing which one to actually get the award must always come down to reputation.
Regardless, Kennedy has made his case with his consistent performances. For example, he stymied his early struggles with his only complete game of the year: late April in Philadelphia.
Keep it up, Captian Redbeard. This Cy Young thing is not a sprint, its a marathon.
If he can lead the Dbacks to the World Series this year, he just might be the front runner for the 2012 Cy Young popularity contest.
Bob Goodwood is a freelance writer currently living in Scottsdale, Ariz.