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Kennedy has the edge

Look for Ian Kennedy to make the biggest impact of the Yankees' youngsters
03/10/2008 11:43 AM ET
By Matt Bouffard/DugoutCentral.com

Kennedy could have a bigger impact than Chamberlain.(AP)
The most important young pitcher — and most promising in the immediate sense — for the 2008 New York Yankees isn't Joba Chamberlain or Phil Hughes. It's Ian Kennedy.

Chamberlain and Hughes have received more media attention due to Chamberlain's dominating debut last year and Hughes' constant mentioning as the key to the failed bid to acquire Johan Santana. But because he is a more polished pitcher and will have a higher innings-pitched limit, Kennedy is the one able to make the biggest impact in 2008.

Kennedy, 23, is older and more experienced than both Chamberlain, 22, and Hughes, 21. In 2007, in his first and only professional season (I'm not going to count the three innings he threw in 2006), Kennedy pitched 168.1 innings between A+, AA, AAA and the Yankees. In his three-year stint at USC, Kennedy pitched 311.1 innings. In total he's pitched 479.7 innings since high school. For Chamberlain and Hughes, those numbers are 347.7 and 320.1 innings respectively.

Teams are learning that it is unwise to greatly increase a young pitcher's workload from year to year in terms of both short and long-term health. Gradual progression is becoming the standard. Here is a look at what the three pitchers' innings limits may be for 2008 based on gradual progression.

Pitcher
'07 innings
Estimated '08 limit
Estimated inn. per 32 starts
Kennedy168.12006.25
Chamberlain112.11454.5
Hughes110.11705.3

Note: Hughes pitched 146 innings in 2006 before losing time to injury in 2007, so a jump to 170 in 2008 is not unreasonable. But unless Yankees manager Joe Girardi wants to play musical chairs with his starters by going with Chamberlain some days and Hughes other days, neither Chamberlain nor Hughes can pitch enough innings to fill a full-time spot in the rotation. Kennedy is the one who will hold down a spot for an entire season without the expectation of burning out the bullpen, specifically the middle relief.

I digress here, but it's hard not to imagine the strength the Yankees can create by properly utilizing Hughes and Chamberlain. As I previously argued, the optimal role for Chamberlain is to be used in a set-up role for the entire year, rather than go from the bullpen to starter as appears to be the plan. A twist on my original suggestion is to use Chamberlain in relief, but only when Hughes pitches. Girardi could use Hughes for five innings and Chamberlain for four every fifth day. This plan would fit with their estimated innings limit, while still providing valuable innings for the postseason:

Pitcher
IP/start
Starts
IP
Limit
IP/post
Hughes53216017010
Chamberlain43212814517

Back to Kennedy. It's one thing to have the ability to pitch more, but will the innings be productive ones? Let's try to project Kennedy's 2008 performance. One projection tool we can use is PECOTA — a system created by the folks at Baseball Prospectus. PECOTA projects that Kennedy will produce the following line in 2008.

W
L
IP
BB
SO
ERA
WHIP
BAA
97141681204.241.40.234

That's not a bad line, but I think it's being overly conservative. In particular, a walk rate of 4.34 per nine innings seems high given that he walked 3.08 per nine last year in the Minors. And, I think Kennedy will pitch significantly more than 140 innings as discussed above.

An alternative, more subjective, method of projection is to find a comparable player. Here are Kennedy's Minor League numbers from 2007, when he was 22:

Level
G
W
L
IP
H
BB
SO
ERA
WHIP
K/9
K/BB
A+1161633922721.290.9710.293.27
AA95148.22717572.590.9010.543.35
AAA61134.22511342.081.048.833.09
Total26123146.191501631.910.9610.033.26

Now here are some Minor League stats from another 22 year old in his first two professional seasons. Can you guess who the pitcher is?

Level
G
W
L
IP
H
BB
SO
ERA
WHIP
K/9
K/BB
AA73042.1347401.490.978.505.71
AAA20013.184151.350.9010.133.75
AAA19104122.1108311072.871.147.873.45
Total28134178150421622.421.088.193.86

Recognize the pitcher? How about if we provide the stats for his first two Major League seasons?

Year
G
W
L
IP
H
BB
SO
ERA
WHIP
K/9
K/BB
1991124587.77721522.871.125.332.48
199232185241212481302.541.084.862.71

Those stats belong to current Yankees starter Mike Mussina, now at the end of a very good career. Now do I expect Kennedy to duplicate Mussina's 1992? Of course not, if for no other reason that the Yankees won't allow him to approach Mussina's 241 innings — and for good reason. In 1993, Mussina spent time on the DL with a sore shoulder and his ERA went up by almost two full runs.

I expect Kennedy to come in somewhere between Mussina's 1992 and PECOTA's projection, but closer to PECOTA. In the interest of giving you, the reader, an opportunity to call me an idiot later this year, whether I overestimate or underestimate his production, here's my projection for Kennedy's 2008:

GS
W
L
IP
H
BB
SO
ERA
WHIP
K/9
K/BB
30137190175741554.311.317.342.09
Mike Pagliarulo's www.DugoutCentral.com is where baseball meets its fans, and aspiring writers find their voice. Submit your article for review at writers@dugoutcentral.com.
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