With Justin Verlander’s 22 wins re-igniting the “do pitcher’s wins matter” debate in the American League, Ian Kennedy may be very quietly doing the same thing himself in the National League. Last night, he threw 7 2/3 innings, allowing one run and striking out 11 Padres to earn his 19th victory of 2011, most on the National League. That brings Kennedy’s record to 19-4. While Roy Halladay seemed like a lock for his second straight NL Cy Young, Kennedy’s name is slowly popping up thanks to his fantastic record.
Unlike Verlander, who’s pretty clearly having a spectacular year that’s setting him apart from the rest of the American League (you can make a strong case for CC Sabathia, too, but he’s at best neck and neck with Verlander), Kennedy is pretty clearly behind a few guys in the NL if you ignore win totals. Before last night’s start, he was fifth in the NL in Baseball-Reference WAR, behind Halladay, Cliff Lee, Clayton Kershaw, and Cole Hamels. He’s likely still fifth, as he was more than a half-win behind Hamels and Hamels also pitched strongly last night. Before last night’s start the gap between Kennedy (4.6 WAR) and Halladay (6.2 WAR) was as big as the gap between Kennedy Hiroki Kuroda, Eric O’Flaherty, and Randy Wolf.
The purpose here isn’t to knock Kennedy. At 26, he’s obviously having a career year. He’s trimmed his walks down which has put his K/BB ratio at a career high, he’s keeping the ball in the park better than in the past because he’s forcing more pop-ups, and even though he’s not really a groundball pitcher, he’s getting a few more grounders than last year. He’s finally becoming the pitcher the Yankees hoped he’d be a few years ago and he’s justifying his place in the huge Curtis Granderson deal that saw the Diamondbacks give up Max Scherzer.
It’s just that, as is being argued ad nauseum in the AL MVP race, wins don’t tell you a whole lot about how a pitcher is pitching. Kennedy’s 2.4 BB/9 (before last night) is his career best, but it’s also twice Halladay’s walk rate this year. His strikeout rate (7.7 K/9 before last night) and K/BB rate are both worse than the four guys ahead of him in WAR that I mentioned above. He’s not necessarily getting more run support than all of them (Halladay and Kershaw are getting a bit more, Lee is getting a bit less, Hamels is getting quite a bit less), but they’re all pretty close on run support and any good pitcher is going to rack up wins when his team averages more than four runs per game behind him. Kennedy’s only real standout statistic is wins, which just shouldn’t be enough to put him in the conversation with the NL’s best pitchers.
Also last night: Another blah September night with almost no playoff implications. The Orioles scored a walkoff win over the Yankees with a Roberto Andino single, as mentioned both Kennedy and Cole Hamels spun gems last night. The Braves swept a double-header from the Mets and now hold a 7 1/2 game wild card lead over the Cardinals. Full scoreboard here.
Tonight’s games: Texas hosts Oakland while the Yankees go to Los Angelheim, which may give the Rangers a chance to open things up in the AL West. The Rays have very quietly crept to within 6 1/2 of the Red Sox and they open a three game set with them this weekend in St. Pete. With Wade Davis taking on John Lackey tonight, they could easily trim that lead to 5 1/2 and a sweep this weekend would make things interesting. Roy Halladay and Shaun Marcum take the mound in Milwaukee in game 2 of their playoff preview series. Full schedule is here.