Ask Rotoman: John F. Kennedy or Kennedy Fried Chicken?


Here is my predicament:

I believe in Ian Kennedy! It’s terrible I know. A 4 ERA on the season and a 5.67 ERA over the the last 7 days (this letter was written June 30, since which Mr. Kennedy has had two exemplary starts, allowing two runs in 13 innings, gaining two Wins and striking out 14) doesn’t get many excited. But I can’t get over the fact that he has a 9.67 K/9 on the season and an 11.37 over the past 7 days! If he throws a 6-7 inning 0-2 ER game it’s a gem because he strikes out 7-9 during it.

I guess my question is: Do you see him getting back to 2011 numbers, as we saw at the beginning of the year? Or do you see him regress and be a 2013 Lincecum? (4+ERA, 8.5+ K/9).


Dear Ianized:

Player performance fluctuates. Some of that is due to a player’s health or physical groove, and some of it is random. Our goal in a player projection is to remove the short-term effects of health and team and ballpark and then isolate the player’s skills from the vagaries visited upon him by luck.

This would be a problem if a player’s career was one of constant skills, but the fact is that a playing career consists of many mini-careers. When young a player is physically strong, but probably not as smart as he can be. He is better equipped to overpower than finesse. When he approaches 27 his physical skills are still strong, and with experience has come wisdom and smarts, which is why so many career years happen about this time. As he advances into his 30s a player’s physical skills deteriorate, but survival skills allow him to add abilities that enable him to hold on.

Predicting a player’s season performance means deciding where he is in his career arc, and also in the mini arcs that really define his career.

20041222-jfk-1073The question here is whether Ian Kennedy, as he approaches 30 years old (this coming December), is still a young enough phenom that can recapture the glories of his year 27 season, when he went 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA? John F. Kennedy. Or is he a savvy enough veteran to improve his game by being smarter rather than better physically, holding on by grit and grimace. Kennedy Fried Chicken.

I think the fact that Kennedy hasn’t achieved the way he did in 2011 this year, despite throwing fewer fly balls than ever before and allowing fewer homers per fly ball than ever before and striking out more than ever before, is a tipoff that 2011 was an outlier. That was the perfect storm of the physical, the mental and the lucky, and it is unlikely that he will repeat that for any extended period ever again. He just isn’t good enough.

That said, right now Kennedy is throwing harder than ever before and striking more guys out. He seems to have changed his repertoire to get more ground outs and allow fewer fly balls, and throwing fewer homers at least in part because of that. He is mixing savvy and physical skills, and whatever good performances he’s putting up can be attributable to being a better smarter pitcher, still with young man skills.

For now, he’s a man with a career 3.97 ERA, a career 3.95 FIP, and a 3.71 ERA on the season, striking out 9.67 per nine innings pitched for a team that is scoring runs at a historic low rate.  He could very well help a fantasy team in the second half of the year, because of the strikeouts and some good but not great qualitatives, but savior status is too much to expect.

He’s more Kennedy Fried than JFK, but I like him.